The Folded Flag – Part 2

They folded the flag once, lengthwise, bringing the striped corner up to meet the blue. This fold represented life: something Levi Habanero was full of.

As fate – or Something larger than fate – would have it, I ended up in the same barracks with Levi. As I arranged my belongings in the very small space that would be mine for the ten-week indoctrination course, I watched him out of the corner of my eye. He didn’t look military at all. He was tall and lean, no bulky muscles, and he lacked that hard, determined look that went with being military. Of course, many of the men lacked that look. It was why we were there. A man who passed this training graduated as an airman pararescuer and received “that look”.

What was left of Levi’s hair after it had been cut so short it was practically shaved was like corn silk: smooth and white-blond. He had a pair of small, wire-rimmed glasses that he wore sporadically, sometimes looking through them, but more often perching them atop his head. The bright blue eyes completed the picture, making him look more like that English teacher in junior high that the kids walk all over then a man enlisted in the U.S. Air Force. But it was his mannerism more than anything that distinguished him from the general stereotypical mold of a military man. He had a quietness about him that emanated a certain strength. There was something reflected in his gaze that I couldn’t quite put my finger on. He didn’t seem to belong, and yet, I wasn’t going to be the one to tell him that.

Most every person in the military ends up acquiring a handle, or nickname. Levi unknowingly secured his the first day with the way he introduced himself. For everyone it was the same: “Levi Habanero, like the pepper.” Most of the men I know, including myself, would have cringed at being pegged with the handle “Pepper.” That’s like the tough-kid name you take on when you’re seven and want to rule the playground. In the military ranks, with a gaggle of young adults that are known for an insatiable appetite for humiliating others and a severe stinginess with respect, it was just a target. He took it all in stride, though, nodding at the laughs and jeers with that kind of absent smile of his that said he really found amusement in their vain attempts to shoot him down.

It was pretty much impossible to insult, humiliate, or intimidate Pepper. Even our drill sergeants came to realize that. It relieved a little bit of the pressure off of the rest of us, because they spent so much time trying to break Pepper that they eased up off of us. I don’t know how the kid handled it, to tell you the truth. A normal man would have lost it, I think. Pepper just stood there, stiff and straight, taking in whatever they threw at him with that silent intensity and always responding in exactly the correct way. He may have been the laughing stock of the barracks, but it didn’t take him long to earn the undying respect of our superiors. They couldn’t show it overtly, but we all knew that they held Pepper in high regard. It confused me. In so many ways, he did not seem to fit in, and yet in some ways, he fit in so much that he set the standard for the rest of us. I finally attributed his characteristics to the fact that he must have had some handle on the secret of life that the rest of us couldn’t possibly understand. Either that or he really was an undercover officer, sent in to throw us off.

– S.D. Bullard



~ by sdbullard on April 14, 2012.

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