I walked into the room, turned, and handed the orders to my wife, tossing the useless envelope it’d come in onto the couch located across our small living room.

“Hand-delivered by a Naval messenger,” I said, not knowing what else to say, my mind already beginning to adjust to going back into the A Shau Valley.

My wife read the orders slowly, then re-read them, standing before the small coffee table in front of the couch where Pat sat, with Julie next to her playing with some of her stuffed toys in her lap.

“What is it?” Pat asked, directing her question to Mary since all I did was stand aside and stare out toward the single window the apartment had that allowed any view of the street out in front of our place.

I had to gather what gear I had, I knew, and also provide somehow for my wife and daughter to be taken care of again while I was gone. My SGLI life insurance was for $20,000 but I had no idea how quickly that would pay when I was killed. There was no way in hell, I knew deep inside my core, that I could possibly survive in my condition, in any condition really, back down in that valley. I would not be going to some cushy ‘in the rear with the gear’ billet. I knew that as well. If the Colonel could pull off getting the orders issued that he had then he, no doubt, had plenty of horsepower to have me back down inside that valley with little effort. The Second of the Seventh was a great outfit, but my first regiment had also been great, and it’d been terribly, near completely, decimated.

“The race is on a Saturday, but I have to leave before then,” I said into the silence that had followed Pat’s asking of her question. “I have to somehow get the car back or you won’t have anything.”

“Shut up,” my wife said, without looking over at me, the tone one that I had never heard from her before.

“These orders are for Vietnam, leaving on Monday,” Mary went on, finally answering Pat’s question.

“What are we going to do?’ Pat asked, her voice going up an entire octave.

Julie started to cry, not understanding anything except things were not going the way they normally did, and whatever way they were going wasn’t good.

“I’m thinking,” my wife said, her stare, directed at Pat, as hard as my own, but with fire instead of resignation in it.

“Canada,” Pat said.

“Canada?” I repeated, stunned by the fact that Pat would consider running for the border or at least having me run for the border to avoid going back. Running after receiving such orders, sending me back into combat, however, would not be considered an unauthorized absence. It’d be considered desertion under fire or in the face of the enemy. That was not going to happen, but I stayed quiet.

“Take that green knight thing off,” my wife said, still not talking to me like the kind gentlewoman I knew her to be. “You’re a Marine Officer and a great one. Put on the Marine sweatshirt, the one you got at Quantico. You’re not going back into combat on Monday. You’re in combat right now, we all are.
I’m calling Headquarters Marine Corps. I want that same Colonel I talked to who let you stay home for Julie’s delivery before they sent you over the first time.”

Mary rummaged inside her purse. Neither she nor I had taken a seat since I’d walked through the door. I slowly made my way to the couch and took a seat at the end that Pat and Julie were not occupying. My wife seemed to know exactly what she was doing. I pulled off the Green Knight St. Norbert sweatshirt she’d somehow come to find offensive. It was time to change my dressings and release the wrap. Julie looked across the short distance from which she sat, her back pressed into Pat’s left hip. She gurgled out a giggle and stretched out one small hand toward me. I looked down. The light coming in from the single window was reflecting brightly off the stretched plastic wrapped around my torso in moving sparkles as I turned.

Mary walked to the telephone, having found the scrap of paper she searched for that was secreted at the bottom of her purse. She dialed a number. She talked for only a few seconds before hanging up. I couldn’t hear the conversation from where I sat but was surprised at how short it was.

The phone rang, almost as soon as she hung it up.

“Long-distance is a dollar a minute from here,” Mary explained, picking up the receiver.

Mary talked briefly on the phone, turning her back and speaking in a low tone. I made no effort to leave the couch and try to hear what was being said. For some reason, the notification of orders to return to Vietnam had placed me in a sort of stasis, and I was having a hard time doing or saying anything. I knew I was not myself but was helpless to influence the strange effect.

She hung up the phone once more but didn’t move away from it for a few minutes.

“What are you waiting for, another call?” I asked her.

“I can send a message to Steve to see what he can do from over there,” Pat said, from her place near me on the couch.

Julie played between us, oblivious to what was happening. Steve was Pat’s husband, serving his Vietnam tour in Da Nang at the 1st Marine Division’s legal offices.

The phone rang again. Mary picked it up on the first ring, waiting for a few seconds, and then began to talk. She quickly laid out what had happened, detailing the orders I’d been notified of as well as my recent surgeries required by the injuries I’d suffered. The call went on for a full fifteen minutes until Mary finally stopped and held the phone out to me.

I got up and stepped close to her, wondering what I was supposed to say.

“I’m Colonel Holden, Adjutant General, Headquarters Marine Corps,” the deep voice at the other end of the line said. “Where do you want to serve out your time stateside lieutenant?”

When I didn’t instantly reply, the Colonel continued, “Probably little doubt you’ll soon be up on a medical evaluation to terminate your service, from what your wife says. I’ll pull the medical records to support the change in your orders.”

Thinking as fast as I could, with a sudden flood of questions popping into my head, I worked to slow down and consider. Seconds went by. He’d asked where I wanted to serve, and, although the real answer was; anywhere but where I was, I also knew that was not the answer the man was looking for.

“Camp Pendleton,” I blurted out. I’d heard of the Southern California Marine Base, although I’d never been there. It was close, on the ocean, and maybe not a training center dedicated to sending Marines over into the war. I didn’t know that for certain, but I had to have a place to go or I might get sent to a duty station even worse than the one I was coming out of.

“You’re on medical leave right now, for the next thirty days,” the Colonel said, “and I’ll have your new orders cut and off to you by tomorrow. Do not, and I repeat, do not return to your former duty station. I’ll also enclose a letter from my commanding officer to the division commander there that your physical condition is to be respected fully while you serve out your remaining term of service.”

“Thank you, sir,” was all I could think to reply.

“Welcome home lieutenant,” the Colonel replied with a short laugh. “You might have your hands full while you recover, with that firebrand you married.”

The phone went dead before I could say anything further. “Firebrand?” I whispered to myself, placing the handset back on the receiver base.

“What?” my wife asked.

“Nothing,” I replied, changing the subject. “I have to go to the base one last time to visit the Sergeant Major and thank him,” I said, getting the lie out just as quickly and flatly as I could.

I was going to see Lightning Bolt if I could find him. He’d not met Junior, and I thought it was high time he did.

“Okay if we borrow your car for a bit?” my wife asked Pat.

“Fine,” Pat replied, but I’ve got to leave in an hour from here.”

“Can you get a ride back from the base or have Mickey pick you up if I drop you?” Mary asked.

“Sure,” I replied, thinking of the sergeant and his motorcycle. I had no plan at all for my encounter with my former commanding officer. I knew one would rise up to serve me once I was in front of him, however.

It took me half an hour to get undressed, unwrapped from my Saran Wrap covering, change my bandages and then get my wife’s help. I could not wrap myself in the plastic alone. Mary was busy doing something, I assumed it had to do with Julie, so Pat helped me get re-wrapped.

“What are you going to wear?” Mary asked, asked when I came out of the bedroom without a shirt on.

“Just my Marine sweatshirt, pants, and tennis shoes,” I replied, hoping she would not probe further. Her instincts were so sharp; however, I knew she hadn’t asked her question out of mere curiosity.

“So, you won’t be going to the lighthouse then?” She asked.

“No, not a chance,” I replied. “I’m out of there.”

The ride to the base was a silent one. I knew Mary was not believing what I’d told her but refused to encounter me about it. She had no doubt, I felt, decided that her place was to ride it out and trust that I would not do anything totally stupid.

Knowing where the Sergeant Major’s office was down the hall I walked past workers behind the counter, stopped at his open door, and then angled my head to look inside the space.  The Sergeant Major was sitting back in his swivel, a smile on his face.

“Wondered if you’d be back,” he said, waving me inside.