An unfortunate cold front was settling in, whipping the tiny flags planted along the parade route in frenetic waves, threatening to pull some of the little dowel rod flagpoles right from the ground. Spectators tugged coats tight while trying to hold onto their hats. Through it all Harry Hernandez sat well bundled in his wheelchair, his daughter Mary Anne constantly fussing with his trappings. In the aftermath of a particularly vicious gust she leaned down and pulled his collar up, snugging it tighter around his neck.
“Quit your fussing,” he said.
“Don’t argue with me,” she countered. “I don’t want you coming down with pneumonia.”
Her daughter, Rebecca, stood huddled next to him, her hand resting lightly on his shoulder. While he would never admit it to Mary, Rebecca’s hand felt good there, the slight pressure just enough to cut off a little shaft of chill that tried to seep in through his coat.
He glanced up when the clapping started. A police escort of two motorcycles led the parade around the corner from Elm onto Main, followed by a red flatbed truck. It advertised Al & Ray’s Appliances, Since 1974, on the doors. Its sides bore banners that read, “They Served To Keep You Free,” and threatened to rip free at any time in the fierce wind. Atop the bed Mayor Jones and the more hardy members of the city council stood rosy cheeked, each waving an American flag. The children who normally threw candy from the truck bed were absent due to safety concerns, sensibility overriding tradition.
Harry Hernandez saluted but shook his head as the World War II contingent passed by. It was now reduced to Sam Anderson sitting in the passenger seat of his grandson’s pickup truck. Occasionally Sam would raise his hand and offer a weak wave in response to shouts of “Thank you!” from the crowd. The Anderson’s green Ford F-150 was followed by the Franklin High School Marching Band.
“Here comes Amy,” Rebecca said, removing the comfort of her hand so she could wave to her daughter, Harry’s great granddaughter. “Hi, Amy!”
The third drummer turned slightly toward them. Without missing a beat she managed to raise her drumstick to her forehead in a salute to her grandfather. Harry smiled and waved in return. She was a great kid.
When the veterans of the Koren War started rounding the corner Harry began to work his way up out of his wheelchair. He felt a restraining hand on his back. Mary leaned down and whispered, “Pop, don’t.”
But Rebecca stooped and hooked her arm under his to help raise him up. “It’s important, Mom.” It was the first year Harry was not out there marching with his compatriots. Mary Anne sighed in resignation then stepped to the other side, adding her assistance.
“Don’t over do it,” she urged.
Harry stood on wobbly legs saluting as the short column of five men came abreast. Dick Gurney turned toward him and returned the salute, while Reed Harris dipped the banner of Company A in his direction.
“So few left,” Mary Anne whispered, touching Harry on the shoulder.
“So few left,” Lieutenant Shea said, scanning down the line of the defensive positions. He looked down at his badly wounded Staff Sargent, Harry Hernandez, and clapped him on the shoulder. “You’re out of here, Harry.”
“I can still shoot, Lieutenant.” Harry struggled to try and sit up on the litter. The medic gently pushed him back down. Another shell exploded nearby.
“Get ‘em out of here, Charlie.” Lieutenant Shea ordered, slapping the side of the evac APC loaded with his wounded men. With a lurch the vehicle lumbered forward. Harry strained upward onto one elbow to watch as his wounded Lieutenant turned back into the fray.
As the column passed Harry sank back down into his wheelchair, muscles trembling from the effort.
“Good men, every one,” Harry said, his voice catching a bit in his throat. He gave another salute for Lieutenant Shea.
Historical note: First Lieutenant Richard Shea received the Congressional Medal of Honor posthumously for his actions in the final weeks of the Korean War. While wounded he personally lead several counter attacks to try and repel enemy advancements in what is now known as the Second Battle of Pork Chop Hill. You can read more about him here. All other charters in this story are completely fictional. I salute Lieutenant Shea, and all veterans of our armed forces, both living and dead.
© 2011 by J. M. Strother, all rights reserved.
Picture from Wikimedia Commons.