A Warriors Promise
By R. Wolfe

I remember the day we made the promise to each other. We had just come in from night recon near the Laotian border. Some Montagnards - the local indigenous hill people, sent a message that there was a major North Vietnamese Army build-up in the area. Our team was assigned the recon to gather intelligence. There was a large concentration there and we had been hit pretty hard on the way to extraction. We took two casualties before the choppers showed up-one of them was in the bag, both were fresh meat. We learned early that in combat you didn't make friends too quickly. The casualty rate was high for the first few weeks of combat for replacements. Inexperience can kill you in a hot zone.

My I-0, a big Lakota Sioux from North Dakota, and I had come off the 707 in Da Nang, together. After a year of combat together we knew each other pretty well. That afternoon he stuck his head in my hootch and asked if he could buy me a drink, our double-talk for 'come on man we need to talk.' He handed me a brew and sat down next to me on the sandbags.

"Shooter- ask you a question?"

He sounded strange, like he was not really thinking of me or the jungle that surrounded us.

"Sure Gary, ask away, no guarantee I'll answer."

"Shooter, in your tribe, how do you Honor the Warriors who come home with their Lance broken?" He seemed to be a little embarrassed to ask me that. He and I had spoken often of our respective tribes and the customs taught to us as children. I thought about it for a couple of sips on the brew.

"Not the way your people do, Gary. A new Lance is made for them and we sing the song that each family owns to remember their fallen with. There is a prayer spoken for them and the Lance is left at the marker of their passing-usually it's their headstone, but not always. We do the singing wherever their marker is. My Uncle's was left at the Pearl Harbor Memorial. They did give my Dad a hard time for doing it, though."

He tossed his empty in the 13, "Tell you what Shooter, if I don't make it out, and I get my name on some piece of rock somewhere, my family can't get to you'll do that for me. I'll do the same for you, in my tribe's way."

My empty missed the 13, so I walked over to pick it up. "OK, Gary, but it won't ever come to that. We're going to make it home just fine."

That was in '68.

In '69, he bought the whole farm saving some green replacement from his own stupidity in a rank jungle a long way from home. He was just being Gary.

When his wife called me and said he had asked that I stand Honor Guard Post and speak for him at the Tribal Veterans memorial services, it couldn't be put off anymore. A promise in the Traditional Way had to be kept, no matter the cost.

The cab stopped in front of the Wall Memorial Park. I'd never been to DC before and never really wanted to go, but I promised a good man and a damned fine Marine I would. When the Doc told me I didn't have much time, the thought of that promise began to eat at me almost as bad as the growth in my innards. I had made resolutions over and over to do this, and never kept them. I was here to see it through, no matter how hard it was. It was going to be the hardest duty I'd ever done. I began the longest march in my life, it was all of 200 yards, maybe less - but in my heart it was a light year.

I hear a raspy voice in my inner ear, "Its time, Marine, so suck it up and soldier."

Anyone who had been in any service basic training never forgets his T.I.'s voice.

As I make my way down the walk, I can see the beginning of the Wall. At first it's short, with a few names on it ~1964, 1965 ~ The black marble gets higher and higher as the years pass by. My way is blocked by a man in a wheelchair. I start around him but notice his colors and stop. "Hey, pilot, recon here. Can I guide you?"

He seems to be looking off into the distance. When I speak, he jumps a bit and looks up, "Yeah recon, I came to remember, and to forget. It's time we did some demon killing." He wheels around to face me. "What year, recon?"

"1969, pilot," I look at the year in front of us- 1967. "It's over a couple of slabs."

He turns the chair down the walk. "Think I'll go with you, recon, I'd like to spend some more time here. Seems like I've been here forever- but it's not long enough."

We wheel and walk to the slab I knew the name was on. Running my fingers down the names, I find the one I came for - Gary's name and the rest of the information they put on the Wall. It wasn't enough - nowhere near enough.

Almost anonymous. No mention of his wife, kids, friends, enemies, his humor or his loyalty. It didn't say anything about him. We were closer than brothers - kinship that only a man who has been in combat with other men could understand.

I take the Lance out of the carry and attach the Eagle feathers, four in all. The sacred number, the number of all things that are holy. The cut glass beadwork glitters in the softening sunlight. I hold it in the traditional way, palms up and open, and begin my family Honoring song.

"Yah Yo ho ya oh way yo way ho ayyyyy, Boe-kheto Ah soh hah Don khe Eih dohn sohn . "

I find it harder to do than I thought it would be without the drum, but I get through it. Out of the corner of my eye, I see the Army guard start my way. The Marine guard stops him and shakes his head. Once the song has been sung, I offer the prayer of custom for the fallen.

"Enhyet' che yusen ghot ingi Nkosh Don'ke Eigh boh." Creator, give me the peace that he knows now, and the wisdom to wait for mine. Then, as I apologize to the Earth Mother for wounding her, I plant the Lance in the soft dirt at the base of the wall.

I turn away from the Wall and find the man in the wheelchair gone. Disappointed, I throw the carry into the trash can and walk up the Wall to the Marine guard on duty. He is at Post attention and calmly watches me come his way. I know he has been here for some time. Those who draw this duty tend to stay with it. It takes a special man to stand post at this kind of place. I stop in front of him "Marine, that man in the wheel chair - did you see where he went?"

He looks a little confused, "Sir! There was no man with you. There hasn't been anyone here but you for over an hour."

I knew who the man was then, and I knew I had never been alone at any time here. I turn back to the young Marine, he hadn't even been born when we were in country.

"Marine," I softened my voice. "We are not alone- there are 58,169 brothers and sisters here with us."

It seems the words hit him low and hard. He comes to full dress attention and salutes me. "Sir, you are correct sir!"

I see his eyes get bright and I turn to leave.

As I walk back to the street the mournful strains of Taps echo across the immaculate grounds. I stand and uncover as the Colors are retired for the night. When it's done I walk into the darkness, without some of the demons that had haunted my personal darkness for so long. In every war there are men who surpass the rest. They are true warriors, They do their duty, in a way that inspires the soldiers that serve with them to be better than they ever thought they could be. A warrior hates war, their main objective is to finish it and go home, with the least amount of bloodshed possible. The man who inspired this was one of those, all who knew him grew to admire, and love, him. I miss him. Semper Fi, Gary, many eyes shed tears for you.

© WolfeHouse 2001

~ Placed With Pride by Dave ~ PalletMaster

Dave - The PalletMaster

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© 2001 David L. Griffith

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