An elderly man with a young child approaches a fence. All around them are unfamiliar faces stricken with fear, heartache, and tears. The American flag bellows in the wind like a giant blanket covering the grief stricken. He gently squeezes his granddaughter's hand as she hugs in closely.
"Grandpa," a tiny voice calls out, "why is daddy leaving?"
The grandfather looks at his precious granddaughter for a moment with tears welling up. He quickly turns to his son now boarding a plane. For a brief moment the father and son exchange a look that only they know and understand. The son, a soldier, gives one last glance to his beloved daughter before turning and loading on the plane with the others who are Vietnam bound.
"Wave to daddy, little-one", the grandfather says.
As if she had forgotten her question, she begins to wave with all she could. As though those waves are what would bring her daddy home.
They watched with awe as the plane left the runway. So many doubts run through the grandfather's mind. He didn't dare express himself while the child was in his presence.
They slowly walk to the car as the day's events sink into their hearts. The elderly man thought long and hard about his granddaughter's question. Pondering what he could possibly say to ease the child's mind. Her tiny voice with such a large question still ringing in his ears. It broke his heart and touched his soul.
As they pulled out of the airport, traffic came to halt. The busy street that once held cars, now people marched up and down, carrying signs filled with words of hate towards the soldiers that just left. They screamed of peace, mis-justice, and abuse. The little girl looked at her grandfather in confusion. He could only smile at her, his heart heavy with the burden that now lied ahead.
Soon the demonstration came to an end and traffic began to flow again. As they drove down the busy city streets, the grandfather looked at the city as if truly seeing it for the first time. He saw beggars on the streets, chasing pedestrians down and young boys running through alleyways instead of sitting in a classroom. He heard sirens screaming in the distance and people yelling profanity at their neighbors.
" Thief! Baby killers! GET OUT OF MY WAY!" came from all directions humming in his ears...and hers.
They finally came to their driveway. He slowly shut the car door and took his granddaughter's hand. He looked off into the sky as it began to darken. They went inside. The house was dark and musty. He turned the TV on and the news report began, "this evening a suspect was arrested for the shooting and murder of a local shop owner".
Quickly the grandfather turned the TV off. He had enough. He called to his granddaughter to come sit by him. Lightly touching her hair, he breathed a heavy sigh and began speaking to her.
"My dear little one, you asked me earlier why it was your daddy had to go away. Although it breaks our hearts to see him leave, you have to believe that he has a greater purpose.
Daddy left so that those people marching the streets may do so. He fights for their freedom to say what it is they feel. Even though, they hate him... he loves them that much. Daddy left so that the man on the corner can live as he chooses. Daddy fights for that man's freedom to sit on that street corner. And though, your daddy's valor leaves a bitter taste in that man's mouth...he loves him that much.
Daddy left so that the children, who run in the alleyway and skip school, may have the freedom to go to school and learn. Even though, those children don't understand what sacrifices daddy makes...he loves them that much. Daddy left so that men may bear arms without persecution or prejudice. Even though one-day daddy may be at the end of that barrel...he loves them that much. Your daddy left for the love of freedom. To give all that choice even if it is taking away his own freedom.
So little one be proud of your daddy and believe in what he believes in no matter what others may say about what daddy is doing today. One day you will understand the choices your daddy makes. So till then never forget the things I have told you today and always remember that he loves you that much."
The little girl was confused. She trusted her grandfather though and saw the tears that welled in his eyes. She knew in her heart, he meant what it he was saying. So she kissed him on the forehead and gave him a big hug and said, " I won't forget grandpa."
Two years later the little girl lost her daddy. She never got to ask her daddy about what her grandpa had taught her and what freedom had meant to him. She never got the chance to hold his hand, or dance for him in the school play. She didn't get to hear him laugh at her birthday party or have him kiss her good night. She just carried the image of that fateful goodbye and the words of her grandfather.
"PARADE REST!" boomed the voice of the Sergeant.
As they were being briefed, the young soldier thought back to the day her daddy had boarded that plane. Fear, pride, and sorrow began to over whelm her. She could still see her daddy's eyes as he disappeared into the dark. Her heart was racing, as the company begins to load their things. She looked off into the distance at the fence. The same fence where so many years ago her and her grandfather had stood. Slowly a tear fell as, a faded image of her grandfather stood there. Almost as though he had never left. She smiled at the waving image. She exclaimed under her breathe to the ghost. " I never forgot grandpa, I never forgot."
--- Copyright © 2003 Caleb Brouk