Charlie's Pain And HealingbySW_MO_Hermit©
Charlie Fielding was not only following a family tradition. Charlie was following a personal dream. For as long as he could remember he had watched his Grandfather, his Father, his siblings and many of his uncles dress in their uniforms and go off to defend this great nation. When he was young, all he ever wanted to be was a soldier. As he got older, he added to his dream. Now he wanted to be a soldier AND a Veterinarian. The summer between his junior and senior year in high school his parents had signed the paperwork for him to enlist in the Army Reserve. He went to Basic Training that year and proudly wore his uniform to meetings throughout the following year. The summer after he graduated high school he went to Army Advanced Individual Training and came home a Veterinarian Technician.
He was accepted into Oklahoma State University at Stillwater. They had pre veterinary courses and a very good ROTC department. Even before he decided on classes toward his major he filled in the ROTC courses in his course plan. Next Charlie worked his general education and pre Vet courses into the matrix. He already had a part time job as a Vet Tech for a local veterinarian. His life was perfect; he was well on the way toward his goal.
The first day of class Charlie showed up early wanting to get a good seat near the front. He did that so he would miss nothing and so he could learn everything he could about his first career choice. Charlie managed to get a seat in the first row at the front of the room. He chose the aisle end of the long table. He heard other students filing into the room. They were loud and boisterous. Apparently none of them wanted to sit up front. Everyone that came in after Charlie filled in to the rear. He was wondering if he would be the only student at the front table or if the instructor would make someone move. Charlie was waiting impatiently for class to begin when he spied a vision of loveliness gliding down the aisle. She walked up beside Charlie and said, "Excuse me. If those seats aren't taken could I get by to sit in one?"
For the first time in his life Charlie was tongue tied around a female. He could only stare and move his chair clumsily closer to the table so she could get behind him. To his surprise the girl took the seat just beside him instead of one of the other two available. She turned to look at him and smiled. She said, "I always like to sit as close to the instructor as I can so I don't miss anything-well I do at least in the important classes."
By now Charlie had himself more under control and said, "I do too. I got here early to stake out the best seat. Oh, I'm Charlie. Charlie Fielding."
The girl smiled and said, "Charlene Tyler." She stuck her hand out to shake. When Charlie took her hand it felt so soft and feminine he had to force himself to let it go. Before they could talk further the instructor entered the room and demanded quiet. The first semester of classes for Charlie and Charlene had begun.
As the day progressed Charlie found he and Charlene were going to be classmates in three other classes that semester. Since they had already met each other they made it a point to sit together in all their classes. Soon they began studying together. They became partners in the ROTC labs as well. From studying together they became friends then Charlie took the big step. He asked Charlene for a date. He wanted so badly to go out with her his stomach was in a knot until she smiled and said she would go.
From that time on they were a couple. After the first semester of college Charlie and Charlene were inseparable. They took as many classes together as they could. If you saw one, the other was sure to be somewhere near. In fact it became common for invitations to one of them to a function to include the other. Their friends and acquaintances knew if they didn't invite both of them neither would come to the function.
At the end of their sophomore year both Charlie and Charlene signed the contract with the Army to continue in ROTC. They were declaring their intention to obtain a Commission and enter either the Reserves or Active Duty after graduation. In the summer between their Senior and Junior years they had to attend ROTC Advanced Camp for six weeks. They pleaded and cajoled their instructors until they finally made it a point to get them into the same 6-week cycle so they could spend what little free time they had together.
The few weeks after they got out of ROTC Advanced camp Charlie and Charlene spent with their parents, dividing the time equally between the two families. During one of their very few free Sundays they had gone down to the river near Charlie's home. They swam, lay in the sun, and made love to each other. During this outing they had admitted to each other that they were in love and wanted to spend their lives together.
After they had reached their agreement Charlie reached into his pocket and pulled out a beautiful engagement ring. He turned to Charlene and offered it to her as he said, "Charlene we both know we love each other. I want you to be my wife and I want you to wear this ring to show the world just how special you are to me. Will you please marry me?"
Charlene looked at Charlie and got tears in her eyes. Charlie looked into her eyes felt his heart fall when she did not reach out and the ring or offer her finger to him so he could place it on her. Charlene began crying and said, "Oh, Charlie I love you so much and I would like nothing better than to be your wife but, Charlie as much as I love you I can't accept your proposal until you understand I have another love and have to follow my heart to it also."
You know we both will be commissioned and will serve in the Army. Charlie you need to understand that from the first time I really saw an aircraft I have wanted to fly. You know I want to become an Army Aviator and make a career in the Army. Charlie I can't marry you no matter how much I love you unless you can accept my career choice. Can you do that honey?"
Charlie looked at her and smiled. He said, "You already know I come from a military family. I don't have any problem with that. You know we will both be obligated to the service after we finish college. If I get accepted into Veterinarian school my obligation will be as long as yours will be as a pilot. Right now I am not sure if I will stay on active duty or not but even if I don't I have no problem following you from post to post. I do know I will stay in the reserves so we will have to juggle careers in any event."
Charlene smiled and grabbed Charlie. Just as the kisses were getting serious they heard someone walking down the trail toward them. They had just broken apart and adjusted their clothes when some of Charlie's friends walked into the secluded area they were in. Of course they were properly harassed about being out in the woods alone. After the boisterous greeting and excited viewing of the ring by the ladies the afternoon degenerated into a rowdy good time.
During the next two semesters of college Charlie and Charlene continued to grow closer. They had begun living together after she accepted his proposal and began to learn how to merge their lives together. They learned what the other liked in bed and out. They were true soul mates, a couple destined to spend the rest of their lives together.
Finally May came and graduation was approaching. All the future commissionees were invited to the Professor of Military Science's home for that very important social function. They would be 'roasted' and then told what branch the Army had assigned them. Almost all the personnel to be commissioned were nervous about this. The Army does consider the desires of the individual but the needs of the service come first in assigning a branch.
Charlie and Charlene sat together on a love seat holding hands while awaiting the announcement and distribution of the paperwork. When Charlene's name was finally called the Professor of Military Science said, "Charlene congratulations. You've been assigned a very important position in the Army. You are in Transportation."
Charlene gasped and the tears began to leak from her eyes. Charlie glared at the PMS and wrapped his arms around Charlene to comfort her. The PMS walked to Charlene and handed her the branch insignia that she would wear after she was commissioned. Charlene and Charlie barely looked at the insignia because it was such a come down from her desire. Charlene just put the unopened insignia box into her pocket and turned to watch the rest of her friends be assigned their branch.
The Professor scowled at Charlene when she did that and turned to the next "victim". Finally came the "pinning". From now on the cadets would wear their branch insignia along with their cadet rank. When the order was given to pin each other Charlene sighed and handed her insignia to Charlie so he could perform the task.
Charlie began to tear the insignia open and stopped. He looked at the insignia. It wasn't correct for the Transportation Corps. He had Aviation Branch insignia to pin onto Charlene. Now he wondered if there had been an error.
Charlie stood and turned to the Professor of Military Science and said, "Sir I think there's been a mistake. You said Cadet Tyler was assigned to Transportation but you handed her Aviation Branch insignia."
The Professor of Military Science turned to Charlie and said, "No mistake Cadet. That's what pilots do. They transport people and things. Now, pin the Cadet like you're supposed to. Charlene's face lit up and she got the most amazing smile on her face. She squealed and turned to Charlie. She nearly flew into his lap and began hugging and kissing him. Finally through all the catcalls and whistles they heard the Professor of Military Science restoring the proper decorum. She flushed and pulled away from Charlie and allowed him to pin her branch insignia to her collar.
Charlie's branch notification was not as important as Charlene's because he had already been accepted into Vet School. Assuming he got through the program OK he would automatically be inducted into the Army Veterinarian Corps. In the interim he was commissioned in the Medical Service Corps.
The next month was very hectic. Finals, practice for commissioning, commissioning paperwork, practice for graduation, do everything for the wedding. Invitations had to go out for each affair separately. Not everyone invited to one function would be invited to another. Keeping them straight was a nightmare for Charlene and Charlie but they persevered. Finally the days they had been awaiting arrived. First came graduation, then in another location the commissioning for both Charlie and Charlene as Second Lieutenants, U S Army. Finally, three days after they graduated and were commissioned as Officers in the U.S. Army Charlie and Charlene were married.
The two newlyweds' took a three week long honeymoon. They had no destination in mind; rather they just packed Charlie's truck and drove west. They spent time in the Colorado Rockies, then drove to California and turned north at the coast. They took a leisurely drive up the coast highway, US1 and 101. They spent a week in the Seattle and Tacoma Washington area and fell in love with it. They decided to extend their first obligation to the service so they would be guaranteed posting at Ft. Lewis, WA. It was a very sorrowful couple that finally wended their way home and stepped back into reality.
That fall Charlie had to go on to Veterinarian school. Near the end of the summer Charlene was ordered first to her Officer's entry course, then to Pilot's training at Fort Rucker Alabama. She was realizing her childhood dream of flying but the separation from Charlie was heart breaking. She and Charlie were apart more than they were together for the next two years.
Finally Charlene's graduation from Pilot Training arrived. She had finally achieved her childhood goal and was ecstatically happy. Charlie cut some classes and surprised her when he attended her graduation. He was so proud when he pinned her newly minted wings on Charlene's chest
The couple was happy with each other and their marriage but so very sad about their many separations. In the first three years of marriage they were only together for the occasional weekend and a few weeks in the summer. The Army guaranteed they would be assigned to the same post after they were both on active duty. The day they could live together had seemed to take so very long. Charlie first had to finish his degree and internship.
Finally the happy day arrived. Charlie and Charlene were both assigned to Ft. Lewis Washington. For five glorious months they got to live together and explore the Puget Sound area. Suddenly they were called to go into harms way. Their unit was assigned to Iraq for operation Desert Storm. Of course they did get to see each other regularly. The army even had married housing for them. Unfortunately, their duties conflicted somewhat and they spent a lot of time apart. Charlie, now a Captain, had to travel to perform his primary duty of inspecting food. Charlene flew at all hours of the day. She would leave early and come back very late at night. They gloried in their short time together however and were even talking about starting a family when they returned to the states.
Finally the short war was over and President George "the First" Bush withdrew U S Forces. They lived, loved and once again gloried in each other but no children were conceived. After the many tests were completed it was discovered Charlene was barren. The pain was intense but finally they accepted the fact and got on with their lives.
Years passed and Charlie's active duty obligation was up. He elected to get out of the service and was released from active duty. He immediately sat up a Veterinary clinic. He stayed in the reserves. Charlene loved flying and stayed in the Army. Her unit was called to Afghanistan. She was a Major and commanded a Helicopter Company when she deployed. Charlie was so very proud of her.
They exchanged e-mail or talked nearly every night. Then one day he received nothing. The next day there was nothing. Charlie began to worry. Mid morning the third day he saw an Army sedan pull up in front of his clinic. He saw a Lt. Colonel and a Chaplain get out of the back seat and he knew. He turned pale and collapsed into a chair. His assistant saw this and thought he was ill. She walked hurriedly up to him and saw the tears.
Just as she was going to ask him what was wrong she heard the door open. She felt her heart lurch when she saw the Lt. Colonel and two other officers walk into the reception area. Charlie looked up into the Lt. Colonel's face and forced himself to struggle to his feet. He came as nearly to attention as he possibly could and said, "Yes Sir?"
The Colonel saw the ashen complexion on the man facing him and knew he already suspected why he was there. He was, after all, a reserve Major. He said, "Major Fielding?"
At Charlie's nod and whispered, "Yes Sir," the Colonel continued, "I have the unfortunate duty to inform you that your wife Major Charlene Fielding crashed on landing at Bagrham Airbase, Afghanistan on Tuesday last. Her unit had been supporting ground operations in the mountains and her aircraft took small arms damage. Major, I'm sorry to tell you she sustained fatal injuries in that crash. Her last words were "Tell Charlie I love him and I'm so sorry".
Charlie broke down and let the grief and tears consume him. He vaguely remembered hearing the Lt. Colonel say that Captain Stewart would call back and assist with the necessary paperwork and the services. He never knew when the three officers left. He finally regained enough of his senses to realize his assistant was sitting beside him holding him to her breast while he cried out in his grief. His other two Veterinarian Technicians were standing crying with them. They all loved and respected Charlene and were devastated by Charlie's loss.
Charlie's clinic was very near the main gate to Ft. Lewis. Several of the people who worked in the nearby businesses were either in the service or were dependents. As soon as the army sedan had left a waitress from the café across the street came over. Her husband was a First Sergeant on post and she knew the significance of the sedan carrying the three officers, one of which was a chaplain. They were a notification team. When she had first seen it she prayed they were only asking directions but when the sedan left and returned toward post she knew.
Sonja walked into the office and saw the three women and Charlie crying. She heard enough to be sure Charlene was dead and turned back to the door, leaving as quietly as she could. She ran back across the parking lot to the café. Before Charlie and his assistants had recovered enough to begin the necessary tasks they now had, word was going out. Major Fielding had been killed in Afghanistan. Charlie's friends and acquaintances were being notified. After all, the Army takes care of its own.
After Charlie regained a semblance of control he rose and walked to his office. Sherry, his assistant followed him through his door. He sat behind his desk and looked up at her red eyes. "Sherry, please arrange to either cancel all our appointments or for Harold to cover them for us. Tell everyone I am canceling office hours indefinitely and ask Harold if he can arrange to cover my work for an indefinite period. Please change the message on the answering system to correspond with our plans. I will be here making the necessary phone calls. I don't want to talk to anyone but family, close friends or the military."
In a hoarse voice Sherry only said, "Yes Sir. Charlie? Charlie I'm so sorry." She walked from the room to begin her sad duties for her employer. Her first call was to her husband. She told him the news and asked him to make some of the calls to people she knew Charlie would want contacted.
Throughout the afternoon one well wisher after another called or visited the office. Many offered whatever help Charlie needed. Sherry and the other two assistants handled phone calls and cancelled appointments. Where necessary they called other Veterinarians to request they take the business for a customer. They could overhear Charlie from time to time and their hearts went out to him. Nearly all the time one or the other of them was hovering over Charlie like a mother hen. They were fiercely protective of his privacy in his grief.
Finally closing time came and they began the end of day shutdown of equipment. The animals remaining in the office were fed and the women got ready to go home. Charlie was still in the office. The three women walked up to the door and watched Charlie just stare into space. His eyes were vacant and haunted looking. Until Sherry spoke he had no idea they were there.
"Charlie," she said. "We're done. It's time to go home. We've cancelled all the appointments and made arrangements for other Veterinarians to take your cases for the indefinite future. Some of the animals are still in the back but we will come in tomorrow to be sure they are cared for. We will be sure their owners pick them up as soon as possible. Can we do anything for you before we leave?"
Charlie just shook his head and mumbled, "No. Thank you." He watched as the three looked at him a moment longer then walked on down the hallway and out of his sight. He heard the back door close and was left with his sorrow. He once again felt the despair settle over him and darken his life.
Later that day Charlie heard the front door of the Clinic open and steps come down the hallway. He glanced at the clock and saw it was almost twelve. There were two sets of steps, one familiar-a lighter tapping-one heavier as if made with heavy work boots. He forced himself to look up and saw Sherry and her husband David standing in his door.