tagMatureDuty, Honor, Country

Duty, Honor, Country

bykomrad1156©

*Author's Note: The credit for the plot goes to a reader named Steven who emailed it to me and asked if it was something I could use. It is so I am, and my thanks to him for the idea. The details of the story are, for better or for worse, mine alone.

*****

"Just moments from now, each of you will become commissioned officers in the U.S. military. Virtually all of you will become Army officers and I, your families, and your nation could not be more proud of you.

Before you begin the greatest adventure of your lives, I am wont to remind you of the words of perhaps the most well-known of our predecessors, General Douglas MacArthur. All of you are very familiar with the words of his farewell speech to the corps of cadets, but there is no better time to refresh our minds with them than right here, right now.

On that day, General MacArthur famously uttered these three words: 'Duty. Honor. Country.'

He went on to say, 'Those three hallowed words reverently dictate what you ought to be, what you can be, what you will be. They are your rallying points: to build courage when courage seems to fail; to regain faith when there seems to be little cause for faith; to create hope when hope becomes forlorn.'

Skipping slightly ahead, he told us, 'They build your basic character. They mold you for your future roles as the custodians of the nation's defense. They make you strong enough to know when you are weak, and brave enough to face yourself when you are afraid. They teach you to be proud and unbending in honest failure, but humble and gentle in success; not to substitute words for actions, not to seek the path of comfort, but to face the stress and spur of difficulty and challenge; to learn to stand up in the storm but to have compassion on those who fall; to master yourself before you seek to master others; to have a heart that is clean, a goal that is high; to learn to laugh, yet never forget how to weep; to reach into the future yet never neglect the past; to be serious yet never to take yourself too seriously; to be modest so that you will remember the simplicity of true greatness, the open mind of true wisdom, the meekness of true strength. They give you a temper of the will, a quality of the imagination, a vigor of the emotions, a freshness of the deep springs of life, a temperamental predominance of courage over timidity, of an appetite for adventure over love of ease. They create in your heart the sense of wonder, the unfailing hope of what next, and the joy and inspiration of life. They teach you in this way to be an officer and a gentleman.'

I would now add 'gentlewomen' or some correspondingly meaningful word."

There was a mild chuckle before the Superintendent of Cadets, Army Major General Richard R. Callaghan, continued speaking.

"Today, a portion of the mantle of this nation's leadership is passed on to you. Put your soldiers ahead of you at all times, and always put your nation ahead of them. Your duty is not to me or to any commander or even to any Commander in Chief. The oath to which you will soon swear is to The Constitution of the United Sates and it your solemn duty to protect it against all enemies, foreign and domestic.

I wish each of you luck and most of all success as your nation is depending on you to provide it with the safety and security it needs to allow its people to quietly go about their lives never having to worry about such things. You will encounter many challenges throughout your time on active duty, and you will rise to meet each and every one of them. Not to do so is unconscionable. To fail is unforgivable. Always, always remember these three words. Duty, honor, country."

General Callaghan paused then said, "I would be remiss not to take a brief moment and break with tradition. As you know, my own son, Richard, Jr., sits here today among you. His mother and I are very proud of him. It's not easy to succeed here and when your old man is the boss, it's ever more difficult. Son? We wish you all the best. Oh, and Rick? Don't screw it up."

There was raucous laughter as the West Point class of 2017 prepared to stand and take the oath of office making them second lieutenants in the United States Army along with two others who had chosen to become Air Force officers. That was very unusual but not unheard of by any means.

"Congratulations, Lieutenant," his father said as the new officer saluted him for the first time.

"Congratulations, honey!" his mother, Marie Callaghan said. "So what's next?"

"I think I'm gonna spend the day with Sarah if that's okay," Rick told them knowing the reaction he would get from his mother.

"Oh, okay," she said in 'that' tone of voice.

He knew she'd never approved of their relationship for a number of reasons, not the least of which was that Sarah Carpenter was six years older than him. She also hadn't have what anyone would call a stable childhood. So no matter how many times Rick had tried to assure his mother she was an intelligent, mature, thoughtful girl, she refused to even try and warm up to her.

Making matters worse, his father thought the world of her, and now that his parents were going through a bitter divorce, the possibility of reconciling all this seemed slim to none.

"I wish you'd reconsider, Richard," his mom said using his full name the way she did whenever she was disappointed in or angry with her son.

"Mom, I really like Sarah. A lot."

"No. Go on. Have a good time. Lord knows you've earned it, son," his father said without looking at his estranged wife, drawing an icy stare from the woman who'd recently moved out after 26 years of marriage.

She never did give her husband a valid reason for leaving unless 'needing her space' constituted being valid. She'd simply announced how she'd 'grown tired' of being his wife and wanted to try something new. Now that their only child was out of college, she saw no reason to carry on the facade of being happy any longer, so she'd left him around two weeks ago, once Rick's final exams were over so the divorce wouldn't be a distraction to their very handsome and very intelligent only son.

Unlike her husband who was still what the Army called a 'PT animal' with PT standing for physical training, Marie had gained a lot of weight and had been drinking a lot for the last two or three years. She blamed that on her husband whom she blamed for her not having an identity she could call her own.

She'd enjoyed being an Army wife up until around the time Richard had made colonel and taken command of an Army brigade. He'd always been gone a lot, and that wasn't the problem. What she grew to resent was feeling like she had to be available around the clock for every one of the several hundred wives in the brigade. Her life was essentially his life, and it chaffed at her to no end and continued doing so until she'd finally had enough.

She'd not only held off until her son's graduation was all but assured, but her husband's career was also coming to an end the following month. West Point had been his last assignment over a 30-year career in which he'd been promoted ahead of his peers three different times.

Richard Callaghan, Sr., was a soldier's soldier. He was 6'2" and weighed a muscular 200 pounds with virtually no fat on his still-hard body. At 52, he had a touch of gray around his temples which made the closely-cropped, very dark hair on the rest of his head give him that distinguished look men his age coveted. He had deep-blue, piercing eyes and a smile that was immediately disarming. Around his soldiers, he was 'hard as woodpecker lips' in both peace and war, but was also a gentleman in the truest sense of the word.

All officers received a certain amount of respect by virtue of their rank, but anything beyond that had to be earned. In General Callaghan's case, it had been earned at every level from the platoon to an armored division. Men from his long and illustrious career would have willingly followed him into hell with a squirt gun, and he would have willingly laid down his own life for any one of them.

The purple heart he wore next to the Army Distinguished Service Cross, the nation's second highest medal, was evidence of that. The medal, along with the purple heart, had been awarded as he'd been seriously wounded while personally covering the movement of his men with a vehicle-mounted machine gun during a vicious ambush in Iraq when he was a battalion commander. As the senior officer, he had no place doing that, but fate made him the man closest to the weapon, and were he to have waited even several seconds to order someone else up there, many of his men may have been killed. So he did what any good soldier would do and humbly accepted the recognition that came with it giving all of the credit to his men.

He'd done his best to convince his wife to stay and had even agreed to retire early in hopes it would show her how serious he was. He'd been offered a third star and a plum assignment but had turned it down to try and save his marriage. But in spite of his best efforts, Marie had informed him she was leaving and that her decision was final. It was now too late to stop his retirement so he was now resigned to making the most of civilian life.

Richard had been deeply hurt but wasn't angry. Among many other things, he was a pragmatic man and a realist; one driven by the watchwords—duty, honor, country. He'd done all that he could, and knew the decision was hers to make. He accepted it the way he always accepted life's realities and did his best to move on living his life in the most honorable way he could.

Trying not to be rude to his mother, Rick said quietly, "Thanks, Dad. I think I will."

His father extended a hand for one more handshake and the briefest of hugs in uniform, and his mother reluctantly hugged her son, too. The reluctance wasn't a lack of love or affection for Rick, it was her passive-aggressive way of showing her displeasure for his choice of female companionship.

"Oh, before I forget. When are you leaving town, Mom?" he asked.

"I'll be here for two more days and then I'll be flying to Miami," she told him making sure his father heard, too.

Marie Callaghan was sick of the cold and West Point, situated along the Hudson River in upstate New York, got very, very cold. Miami had always appealed to her even though neither her husband nor her son could understand why as she hated heat and humidity just as much.

"Okay. I'll uh, I'll be sure to stop by tomorrow and then again before you leave," he told her knowing he had ten days leave time before having to report to Fort Benning, Georgia for Infantry Basic Officer Training.

Sarah had agreed not to attend today to avoid another blowout with Marie even though Rick had tried to assure her that wouldn't happen. The truth was that she knew that was a promise he couldn't keep, and she knew from past experience it was a near certainty if she showed up, so she chose not to attend.

Rick not only liked this beautiful, older woman very much, he was in love with her, something he wasn't about to tell his mother. At least not for the time being, anyway. In fact, he hadn't even told Sarah although he felt reasonably confident she had to know.

In spite of a rather checkered past that included running away twice and getting involved with drugs early on, Sarah had managed to pull herself together and had put herself through college. It had taken her eight long years to do so, but she'd finally graduated two ago and begun teaching elementary school back in her hometown of Highland Falls, New York, just a stone's through from West Point.

Having grown up there, she'd been around cadets all her life, and like many other girls, had vowed never to get involved with one. But when she met Richard Callaghan, Junior, all that changed in an instant.

He was not only unbelievably handsome, he was the kindest, gentlest, most caring human being she'd ever met. Her resolve and her vow both dissolved on their first date, and in the year and a half she'd known him she'd fallen head over heels in love with him. She was hoping and praying he would propose before commissioning, and when he hadn't, she began wondering whether or not he ever would. He still hadn't even said, 'I love you', and she now doubted whether or not he even did. Even so, her love for him was as strong as it had ever been so she would wait. Patiently. For as long as it took.

She'd had a half day at work that final day of the school year. She could have blown it off as there were no students in school, but the ideals of duty, honor, country had rubbed off on her, so she did her duty and went to work.

"Will you be returning next year, Miss Carpenter?" the principal asked on her way out.

"Honestly? I'm hoping the answer will be 'no', but so far someone hasn't asked me the question I was hoping to hear by now," she said holding up a bare left hand.

"Ah, yes. Your young cadet. Well, if he doesn't propose, it will be his loss. I can assure you that. And if he does, it will ours. Please let me know as soon as you can, okay?"

She promised she would, and with that went home to change clothes to spend the day with the man she loved.

Sarah Carpenter was 28 and as beautiful as Rick Callaghan was handsome. She'd dated her fair share of guys since high school, but had never fallen in love. Having grown up poor she had come to believe that education was her ticket out of poverty, so school and later college had become her priorities.

She'd worked full-time and attended classes at night, on-line, and on weekends slowly but steadily racking up the credits she needed to get her bachelor's degree in elementary education. So while it had taken her nearly twice as long to get a degree as her friends whose parents had money, she was justifiably proud of her accomplishments, and Rick admired her greatly for her tenacity.

His mother, on the other hand, could only see a drug-addicted runaway who wasn't good enough for her only son. Rick, and later Richard, had told Sarah it was mostly jealousy. Marie saw Sarah as an older woman who was 'stealing' her little boy and quite frankly, she was far more beautiful than Marie had ever thought of being, although she had been rather attractive once upon a time. Pretty enough to attract the attention of one very handsome Army lieutenant name Richard Callaghan, Senior.

"Hi, and congratulations, Lieutenant!" Sarah said excitedly when Rick came to her door still in uniform. "Wow. Don't you look handsome!"

"Ah, shucks, ma'am," he said doing his southern 'yuk-yuk' thing.

He hugged and said, "I really wish you could have been there."

"Me, too," she said. "But there was no way I could risk ruining the most important day of your life."

"You wouldn't have ruined anything," he assured her. "I'm just glad to be able to see you."

"Yeah. Me, too," she told him. "So...did you maybe want to...you know..."

"I do know and yes, I would love to," he told her as he began removing his green jacket.

As they lay there together basking in the afterglow, out of the blue, Rick said, "I love you, Sarah."

Her head was resting on his chest, and in an instant she turned around and looked at him.

"What did you just say?" she asked quietly, wanting to hear it again.

"I said I love you," he repeated.

"Oh, my God! I love you, too!" she said as her eyes filled with tears as she kissed him tenderly.

"I, uh...I was thinking about our future," he continued.

"Oh?" she said, her heart pounding with anticipation.

"You know I have to finish infantry training before my first real assignment, right?"

"Yes. It's 17 weeks long, right?" she asked knowing the answer as she was very familiar with everything the love of her life did.

"Right. And I was thinking maybe after I finish IBOLC (the abbreviation for Infantry Basic Officer Leadership Course) we could maybe, you know..."

"Um...no, I don't know, Rick. What are you saying?" she asked, her emotional high now gone.

"Well, I was thinking we could maybe try living together for a while and see if..."

Sarah sat up and for a moment didn't say anything. Then she looked at him and said, "I'm in love with you, Rick. But I won't shack up with you. I can't. If you love me the way you say you do, then ask me to marry you and I will. Today. Tomorrow. Anytime, anyplace. But I haven't spent all this time with you so I can be your live-in girlfriend."

"I'm sorry, Sarah. I guess I'm just a little skittish after watching my mom and dad's marriage end like this. I had no idea. I truly believed they were happy and would always be together. It's kind of made me rethink the whole idea of marriage."

He looked right at her and said, "I really do love you. I just can't get past the feeling that no matter how hard I try, my marriage could end one day. I don't expect you to understand. I'm only asking you to try and see how I feel."

"I do," she told him. "My parents are still together, but I'm always wondering when one of them will walk away. They're both a mess and yet they keep hanging on. Your parents seemed to have this unshakeable bond, and yet your mom walked away from 26 years of marriage. So, yes. I get it. But that doesn't mean I ever would. And...and I can give you my word—on my honor—that I never would."

Rick finally looked away then said, "I just need some more time, okay? I have to work through this at my own speed in my own way. I trust you more than anyone on earth—except possibly my father—but this divorce has really just...blown my mind."

"Then take time," she said sweetly. "Take as much as you need. I only plan to fall in love once in my life. I plan to only marry once. And I've fallen in love with you, Rick Callaghan. So if time is what you need then time is what I'll give."

"I'm gonna hate being away from you," he told her.

"Same here, but you're going to be working very long days during IBOLC and even if I did go with you, we wouldn't have much time together. I can go back to teaching in September and after you graduate, we'll see."

Rick saw the hurt in her eyes even as her words sounded strong. It killed him to know she was hurting like that, but there was no possible way he could ask her to marry him until he could convince himself it would last for life while knowing full well no one could ever know such a thing for sure.

"I feel so lucky to have you in my life," he told her. "And I really, truly do love you, Sarah."

She smiled externally then said, "Well, then why don't you show me? Again."

Even when they were together, Sarah felt hollow the rest of that week, and when the time came to say goodbye, it was all she could do to keep from falling apart. She couldn't help but wonder if she'd ever see him again let alone be his wife.

"I'll call as often as I can," he told her.

"Same here. And email me. Text me, too, okay? And I'll do the same. I promise," she said blinking back tears.

"I...will," he told her. "So um...I'll um...I'll see you then."

"Right. See you," she said barely able to speak.

They told each other 'I love you' before he left, but for the first time, Sarah wondered if he really meant it. Just like Richard, she'd been dealt a hand she didn't want to play, but playing it was her only option.

As she let go of him she wondered something even worse. Would she ever even see him again? Would he still want her to come visit over the 4th of July weekend or was this possibly goodbye forever?

She knew she would ask herself those same questions a thousand more times until he either did propose or ended things. So for now she smiled bravely and waved as he drove off.

Richard had said his goodbyes already and was standing a good 40 feet away to give them their privacy. Once Rick drove off, he walked over to Sarah and put a gentle arm around her shoulder as they walked and said, "You doin' okay?"

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