My platoon suffered huge losses defending the ammunition dump in the southeast corner of the Korean peninsula near the city of Pusan. Four of us had been left behind to safeguard the mustard-colored brick building filled with enough explosives to blow us to kingdom come and then some. I stood watch while the others slept. I was tired, homesick...scared.
As I paced back and forth to stay warm, early memories of my dad came rushing back—the time he painstakingly taught me how to ride a bike and as I took off on the first try, “a natural,” he laughed; the day he dropped me off at the bus that would whisk me away to basic training and when I whispered thanks for everything, he lowered his head and wept. Now it was my turn to choke back tears while I read my sister's letter by flashlight—our father was near death with pancreatic cancer.
Gunfire erupted in the distance and was promptly quieted by the boom of a tank. Scattered shots continued for a few moments more and then faded away. Nighttime returned to normalcy and the war-weary heavens released a stunning array of stars as a token of man’s inferiority—my own inadequacy was in prolonging my return, not wanting to believe he would die, until it was too late.
I looked down at my dad's flashlight that I had brought as a reminder of home and traced his initials etched in the metal. Every monster he sheltered me from in childhood, everything he taught me rose up to give me strength. Even in the dark, half a world away, my dad was with me.
I should have been there for him.
More Henry: Renewed | The Tree Stand | A Good Day | Downhill Racer