The Folded Flag – Part 6

Fold five. Fold the triangle down and to the right. This is a tribute to our country, and Levi Habanero had a pretty good handle on what our country means.

Pararescue training is a process that takes over two years. The indoctrination course is just the beginning. There are seven other schools that the trainees must attend. We traveled as a class to each different school, so I was with Pepper throughout the entire training. By the time the Fourth of July rolled around, we had made it to the US Army Combat Diver’s School. Our class was somewhat smaller than it had been at the very beginning of the indoctrination course, and we seemed to lose at least one man at every school. And yet, Pepper was still going strong. Originally, I had him pegged as one that wouldn’t last a week. He didn’t look like a military man, and he didn’t act like a military man. He had an inner strength though, and I had come to realize he did have the heart of a military man. I didn’t expect him to quit anymore. In fact, I would have been shocked if he had. And I didn’t want him to quit anymore. I wouldn’t admit we were friends at that time. It took me a very long time to admit that. There was still a certain stigma that went along with being Pepper’s friend, and I wasn’t willing to risk my image by acquiring that label no matter how much I liked or admired the guy. But we were friends, regardless of what I would admit.

We arrived at the school in Florida on July third. They gave us the Fourth as a free day. It was not enough time to go anywhere, and we weren’t even allowed to leave the base, but we weren’t required to actually do any work. We could live with the compromise. They arranged to have a firework display for us that night. This wasn’t anything big, but it meant a lot to us because it allowed us a little piece of normal life, which was something we hadn’t seen for a while.

Pepper and I decided to check out the base, so after arranging a poker game for that night, we headed out.

“Isn’t this great?” Pepper said. I looked over at him.


“The fact that we’re here, and alive, and free. It’s so cool to think about the fact that over two hundred years ago, on this day, our nation was really born.” I looked at him sharply.

“You’re not gonna break into a rendition of ‘Happy Birthday,’ are you?” Pepper grinned.

“Oh, I don’t know. I haven’t decided yet.”

“Well, keep me posted,” I said. “I want to be given a fair shot at running away.” He ignored this comment.

“I’ve always loved this holiday. It gives us a chance to remember everything and everyone it took to become who we are. Do you ever think about that, Thatch?” I raised my eyebrows.

“Mostly I just think about fireworks,” I answered. Pepper smiled, but it was a very reserved smile.

“I think it’s kind of sad, that we take every important day and commercialize it so much that we forget what it was really about to begin with. Don’t get me wrong,” he held up his hand. “I love fireworks. But that is pretty much the only thing people think of when they think about the Fourth of July. That’s not what this day is about. It’s about our independence, our country.”

“Yeah,” I agreed; I didn’t want him to think that I didn’t care about anything really important. “This is a pretty great chunk of land.”

“I’m not even talking about the land,” Pepper said. “I know when we talk about our country we tend to have the ‘this land is your land, this land is my land’ mindset, but I don’t think it’s the land that makes our country. Yeah, the United States is ours, but it’s just a chunk of dirt where we can put the real country: the people. It’s the people and their ideas that made this country, and it’s the truly heroic people that made it great.”

“George Washington,” I said.

“Yes, him, and Abraham Lincoln, and Martin Luther King, and all those other famous names we know, but they’re not the only ones. There are innumerable heroes of the past whose names we’ll never know, but that contributed: cops that gave their lives, teachers who molded some of these well-named people, doctors who have saved countless lives, many military men and women.” He paused and looked at the ground for a minute, with a somewhat pained expression. I wanted to ask what was wrong, but I held my tongue. He looked back at me. “Thatch, there are hidden heroes walking among us each and every day, people that will really make a difference, even though they will never be famous for it. They make our country and they are the reason for today.” We walked in thoughtful silence for a few minutes before I looked back over at him.

“Boy Pepper, you sure know how to take a happy vacation day and turn it somber.” He laughed

“I think I know a way to lighten the mood.”

“How,” I asked suspiciously. The grin he sent me was almost sinister as he stepped a little closer and crooned,

“Happy Birthday, to you…”

– S.D. Bullard


~ by sdbullard on April 21, 2012.

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