The Folded Flag – Part 11

Fold ten, down to the right, a tribute to the father, and the reminder of a conversation I will never forget.

 

We were two weeks from actually completing our training when I walked in one night and found Pepper sitting on his bed, cross-legged, a somber look on his face. He reminded me of a small child whose dog has just died. He was focused on something that lay on his bed, and was manipulating the object with his fingers. I walked over and clapped him on the shoulder, and he jumped slightly.

“Hey, Thatch. I didn’t see you there.” His voice was so quiet and subdued, it worried me.

“What are you doing?” I asked, trying to figure out what he held. He finished what he was doing and held up a small, blue triangle for my inspection. It was about ¾ of an inch across, and it took me a few seconds to figure out that it was a tiny, folded flag.

“That is very dexterous of you, Pep. What’s it for?” He picked up a box that was lying on his bed, and pulled out a wood-framed picture. It was a photo of a man that looked very much like an older representation of Pepper. His face was a little broader, he had no glasses and he sported a goatee, but the resemblance was uncanny. He wore an Air Force uniform with the silver colonel eagles on his shoulders. There was a chain glued around the edge of the frame and dangling from one corner was a pair of old dog tags. I twisted them around and read them: Alexander Habanero.

“Your Dad?” I asked.

“You remember when you asked me why I joined the Air Force?” I nodded, feeling a little embarrassed that I had never bothered to get the rest of the story. “My dad was in the Air Force Special Ops,” he said. “It took him away from our family a lot, which is why I never wanted to be in the military. Don’t get me wrong. I was very proud of my dad. I loved spending time with him, and could never wait for him to get home. Then, one time, he didn’t come home. Instead, we got a folded flag, his dog tags, and a ‘classified’ speech all about why they couldn’t tell us what happened. But we knew enough. Even I knew and I was only ten. He had been on a mission, and it had gone wrong. And no one helped him. There were no prarescuers to pull him out. He was on his own, and he didn’t make it. I remember standing at his funeral, and watching them fold that flag, and thinking that no child should have to lose their father when they were so young. My mom gave me his dog tags, and I made this.” He ran his finger over the chain on the picture frame. “I started folding one of these small flags on the anniversary of his death every year.” He held the box out to me, and I saw the small blue triangles in the bottom. He dropped the most recent one into the bottom. “This makes eleven. I decided when I was twelve that I was going to do the best I could to not let this happen to any other kid. So, that is when I decided to be a PJ. That way I could pull out Special Ops guys and return them to their families, so that their ten-year-olds wouldn’t have to stand at their father’s funerals and watch them fold a flag.” He gave me a sad smile and stood, squeezed my shoulder and walked off. I took one more look at the picture, then gently placed in back in the box on its bed of small, folded flags.

 – S.D. Bullard

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~ by sdbullard on April 30, 2012.

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