Jonathan Ferrini is a San Diego published author who received his MFA in motion picture and television production from UCLA.
Every morning, “Ricky” the rooster stood underneath my bedroom window and screamed, “Time to wake up!” Today, I was awoken by a disturbing dream, louder than a thousand roosters or alarm clocks. I could only make out faint images of a family in the darkness but the dream was punctuated by the sounds of a door bursting open, screams of children, and a blood-curdling cry of an old woman yelling, “Come home to us”. This dream would haunt me for years to come, growing more intense with each visit, and unraveling a story I didn’t understand nor welcome. Little did I know the dream would be a prelude to a life long journey of self discovery. I grew up on a small ranch in Wyoming outside Casper. It had been decades since it was a working ranch and the only crops were sage brush and the only animals were gophers. Casper was near the oil and gas fields where my father drove an oil tanker. My older brother was killed driving an oil tanker during a snow storm. My father worked hard to provide for the family. No sooner than he would arrive home for supper, he’d be up and gone to clock in for the graveyard shift, eager for overtime. My mom was a waitress at the town diner. Not long after I began primary school, she ran off with a traveling salesman. I remember the morning I ran into the kitchen looking forward to a hug and kiss from mom and finding only my father sitting alone at the breakfast table, smoking his Camel cigarette, with a faraway look on his face. I asked, “Where’s mommy?” He calmly said, “Your mom is gone and never coming back. Now get ready for school. You don’t want to miss the school bus!” That was it. No explanation, no consolation, no opportunity to cry and share our grief. My family was blue collar, paycheck to paycheck, working poor, and simply didn’t have the resources or knowledge about the psychological intervention necessary for processing grief, particularly in the case of children. I remember feeling “emotionally numb” by the end of the school day. I emotionally buried mom’s desertion choosing never to revisit the experience again. My grandfather was widowed and moved in with us. He was an avid reader of Zane Grey and Louis L’Amour and enjoyed minor success writing country western songs. He recognized within me an untamable, restless sprit, and did his best to fill the emotional void left by mom. He was kind, loving, and enjoyed reading to me. He became my shoulder to cry on and always offered sound advice. We weren’t a religious family. I grew up fiercely independent, like a wild mustang running free, unwilling to be corralled by anybody. I’d skip school often and wander off into the woods and revel in the solitude of nature which calmed me. I was taller and stronger than my classmates and always eager to fight anybody. I had briefly entertained the notion of becoming a boxer but wouldn’t commit to the discipline necessary to become a professional boxer. I wasn’t ambitious and was the type of kid who would be fired by his own lemonade stand. I presumed I’d get a job like my father and brother at one of the oil companies when I graduated from high school. The dream I had this morning, put me on edge all day long. I didn’t need the PE coach shouting exercise cadences to us, as our class struggled to complete fifty pushups in the cold Wyoming snow, “Down, Down, Down.” The coach resented me because I rebuffed his invitations to join the football team. He placed his big tennis shoe in my face as he stood above me. I spit on it and his sneaker met my jaw. I leaped to my feet and first with a left jab, followed by a right cross, put the fat, old coach flat on his back. The principal offered me an expulsion versus an assault and battery charge. I chose expulsion. Dad was at work and Grandpa picked me up from the Principals office. I asked Grandpa for career advice and he suggested I join a rodeo, find work on a ranch, or enlist within the military. The oil companies only hired high school graduates. A rodeo circuit is much like a traveling carnival. Instead of ferris wheels or painted horses on a merry-go-round, men risk their lives on ornery bucking broncos or steers, putting on a show for the paying fans. Behind the scenes, low paid employees work the concession stands or pick up trash and manure. That was my job and how I came to know Harmony and her toddler son, Jakie. The “DRC” known as the “Dirksen Rodeo Circuit” was well known and a springboard for many promising rodeo stars. The DRC circuit traveled Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, and Colorado throughout the spring and summer. I took a job as a wrangler which was the name given to a general laborer. If I wasn’t cleaning out stalls or feeding livestock, I was emptying out trash cans and cleaning filthy, portable plastic toilets. I was given the nickname, “Mustang Mickey” by my boss, the owner’s son, Rance Dirksen, who was a big talker promising me a chance to become a rodeo star like a molester teases children with candy. Harmony sold burgers, hot dogs, cotton candy, deep fried Twinkies, and sugary drinks from a trailer at inflated prices. She was a cute, blue eyed, blond who wore her hair short, and, except for a tattoo of a rose on her shoulder, resembled an All American high school cheerleader. She wore skin tight pants, and a tight tea shirt, calling attention to her curvaceous twenty year old figure standing just over five feet tall. Her most ardent admirer was Rance. Harmony was a young, unskilled, single mom providing for her five year old son, Jakie who was a handsome, blond haired, blue eyed, innocent little boy who would be the darling of any casting director scouting child stars. Harmony was trapped in a nowhere job and looking for a way out. She harbored fantasies of stealing Rance from his wife and gave into his sexual advances. As the rodeo day came to an end, it became quiet at night and you could hear the owls and crickets. A cool breeze blew through the rodeo grounds cleansing the dust, dirt, grime, and sweat from our clothes. Closing time also provided us the opportunity to laugh, and vent about the drudgery of the rodeo’s long hours. Harmony befriended me like a sister or a mother. I could give into the testosterone raging through my body but I didn’t want to cross the line and ruin the relationship. She probed about my mother asking if I “missed her” and “what was she like”? I told Harmony, “I didn’t remember much of mom and was uncomfortable speaking about her.” She said it was “traumatic” for a boy to lose his mother holding Jakie close to her. I wasn’t ready or able to ponder how mom’s desertion affected me emotionally or psychologically, but speaking to Harmony made me feel good about myself. She convinced me that my mistakes didn’t “define me” and, I was a “good man”, who would find a “loving woman and happiness”. Harmony sparingly talked about her life and I believe she also had too much pain to speak about it in detail. Harmony loved her son and she would protect him at all costs. Harmony confided in me that Jakie feared Rance, but remained silent when asked “Why do you fear Rance?” I suspected Rance’s interest in Jakie was more than friendly. Jakie was approaching school age and enjoyed living in a trailer at a traveling rodeo because it was like living at Disneyland. Harmony was too busy making ends meet to think beyond the next pay check which included Jakie’s schooling. She claimed she would enroll him in school when the “future looked brighter”. Rance spent many evenings visiting Harmony after closing time. I knew Rance wouldn’t leave his wife for Harmony but enjoyed having her as his mistress. Rance also enjoyed spending time alone with Jakie under the guise of treating the boy to “ice cream and treats”. I also took an interest in Jakie, introducing him to the rodeo stars, and teaching him to ride the tame horses. My buddy, the manager of the shooting gallery, made certain Jakie always won a prize. When Jakie fell asleep during our outings, I carried him back to the trailer, placing him in bed while Harmony slept off an alcohol, pot, or barbiturate induced deep sleep. One evening, I couldn’t sleep so I walked over to Harmony’s trailer to see if she was awake and wanted to talk. The light was on and as I approached, I heard screaming. The door flew open and Rance stumbled out. As I ran past him to check on Harmony and Jakie, he drunkenly muttered, “Well now, rodeo trash coming to the rescue of rodeo trash. You’re too late; I took what I wanted and will be back for more and there’s nothing you can do about it, Mustang Mickey”. Harmony had a black eye and was cradling Jakie who was weeping. Jakie stared at me with a look that had only one unmistakable meaning; his life was scared forever. I feared he, too, would be visited by terrible dreams that only immediate and intensive psychotherapy might treat, but Harmony could never afford to provide. Harmony cried, “I stepped away to check on the laundry, and found Rance fondling Jakie”. I stormed out of the trailer and confronted Rance who attempted to sucker punch me. I hit him hard with a right cross and he fell on his back. I imagined his face was the salesman who took my mother and all the rage I harbored about losing mom, and the endless nights crying in my pillow, flowed through my arms into my fists landing firmly in his face. The screaming family still vivid in my dream enraged me further and I beat Rance for their suffering. It felt good to release my pent up rage and I couldn’t stop punching Rance until his face was a bloody pulp and toothless. He was motionless but had a stupid grin on his face as if enjoying the beating. Harmony pried me off Rance, crying, “He’s hurt badly, Mickey. He’s not breathing”. I felt his carotid artery and there was no pulse. The moon cast an eerie spotlight on his corpse. I was terror-stricken and frozen with fear. Harmony and Jakie placed their arms around me like a family. Harmony pleaded, “You have to run, Mickey. Don’t worry about us. We’ll be ok”. They hugged and kissed me. For the first time, I knew what it felt like to be loved like a father. I reached into Rance’s pocket, removed his wallet, and found three hundred bucks which I gave to Harmony. I told her to get a jar of honey or syrup and bring it to me along with some clean cloth to wrap up my bleeding knuckles with. When she returned, I doused the corpse from head to toe with honey and maple syrup. I ordered Harmony and Jakie into the trailer after farewell hugs and kisses. I dragged his body into the woods hoping the syrup and honey would entice the bears to eat the corpse. I ran for home assuming I’d spend my life in prison but also prayed life would be kind to Harmony and Jakie. I returned home and found grandpa and dad watching TV whilst drinking beer. From the expression on my face and bandaged hands, they knew I was in serious trouble. My pop shouted, “What did you go and do son?” “I killed Rance Dirksen because he was abusing Priscilla and Jakie. I couldn’t help myself. What do I do?” My father rose from his lounge chair, grabbed me by the shoulders saying, “Did you have to defend yourself, son?” “Yes, dad”. The subject of defending my actions in court never came up. We didn’t have the money to hire a skilled attorney to defend me and knew the Public Defender’s office couldn’t get me off the hook. Dad paced the living room before coming up with a suggestion, “You got to get to Mexico!” Grandpa interjected saying, “Mexico has extradition laws, son. You have one choice and that’s to find a country with no extradition laws. I read about Cole Porter’s life in the French Foreign Legion. If you’re accepted, the Legion will give you a new identity and a second chance at life as a French citizen.” Dad argued, “Come on pop, this isn’t the movies. He doesn’t speak French, and never travelled outside the US. He doesn’t even have a passport. Besides, he’s only seventeen.” I think Grandpa had anticipated this calamity and said, “Grab your brother’s passport in my night stand and the roll of money under my mattress. You resemble your brother and the passport shows you as 21. The Legion will take you if you pass their physical and psychological tests, no questions asked, providing you with a new identity. They’ll want five years of your life and it will be hell. They’ll work you hard and send you into some tough scrapes. You may not make it back alive but it’s better than facing a manslaughter charge which will become Murder One at the hands of the Sheriff whose primary election donor was Rance’s father.” Pop agreed, “Son, dad’s right. Leave for the Denver airport now and catch the first flight out of the country”. Grandpa added, “Board the quickest flight to Paris. Ask the Parisian cab driver to drop you in front of the French Foreign Legion Battalion. Leave your identification with us and from now on, use only your brother’s passport. Memorize his date of birth, height, weight, color of his eyes, and anything else you remember about him. Do what you’re told and don’t volunteer any information. The less they know the better. Forget about packing and take only the clothes on your back. There can’t be any communication between us for the next five years. Not even a post card. Now leave before the cops come looking for you.” As I stepped onto the porch to waive goodbye, grandpa shouted, “Boy, I don’t know how this will end up for you but you’re in for one hell of a bronco ride!” Dad stood motionless and waved goodbye. He was the same stoic father I remember at the breakfast table when he said mom wasn’t coming home. Not a single tear flowed from his eyes but he had that faraway look as if he’d never see me again. The passport was a gift from my dead brother I could never repay. We both had brown hair, brown eyes, and were close in height and weight. Along with a new identity and a second chance, I would face new obstacles and opportunities, if, I survived the Legion. I drove four hours to Denver International Airport, careful to obey the traffic laws. I arrived in time to find a Delta flight to Atlanta where I bought a ticket on an Air France flight to Paris. The entire trip would take about twelve hours flying overnight and dropping me in Paris in the morning. I was nervous purchasing the tickets but all went well as the cute ticket agent flirted with a young cowboy. Passing through TSA wasn’t a sure thing. The TSA agent looked me up and down before asking me, “What day and year was I born?” Fortunately, I answered correctly, and was passed through. I took in a big sigh of relief when the Airbus lifted off for Paris. We landed on a rainy, early morning in Paris, and I was wearing only my denim jacket, jeans, boots, and cowboy hat inviting stares throughout Charles de Gaulle Airport. Passing through French Customs was a cinch because the early morning lines weren’t long. The French Customs official was a matronly older woman who quickly looked me up and down, glanced at my passport, and waved me through, chuckling, “Enjoy your stay, Midnight Cowboy.’’ I hailed a taxi and told the driver who was an immigrant to “take me to the French Foreign Legion”. He couldn’t understand English. An elderly Parisian man, wearing a World War II battle ribbon, standing at the taxi stand overheard my conversation, poked his head into the cab, and instructed the driver, “Take him to the French Foreign Legion at Fort Nogent.’’ The driver pulled away from the curb and I waved goodbye to the helpful veteran. The drive was punctuated by loud music from the radio which prevented me from sleeping. I managed to doze off and was awoken by the driver poking me, and pointing to a fortress resembling a prison named, “Foreign Legion”
It was drizzling and the fort was closed. I found a position outside the gates and slept. Some time during the morning, I was awoken by the pitter patter of a young man running back to his mother after leaving off a croissant and cup of coffee for me. He reminded me of Jakie. I tipped my hat in appreciation. I fell back asleep and was revisited by my dream. I dreamt of people herded like cattle onto box cars and a husband and wife gripping a little boy and little girl’s hands as they were ordered to board by shouting soldiers. I awoke to the heel of a boot striking me in the face, and immediately leapt to my feet ready to beat my PE teacher, but found the baton of a Sergeant of the Foreign Legion thrust into my groin pressing me to the gate. He placed his face close to mine, and with glee asked, “You here to join the Legion cowboy?’’ ‘’Yes, sir.’’
He removed the baton from my groin, unlocked the gate, and chided me further, ‘’You’ll learn to respect a Legionnaire!’’
He motioned for me to follow him to his spartan office with concrete walls adorned with photos of French battle campaigns. A lone, squeaky ceiling fan, cooled the office, and the French flag proudly stood erect behind his desk. The Sergeant was French, stocky, short, and looked to be nearing retirement age. His head was shaved bald, and he wore a neatly trimmed, Van Dyke style beard. His face had a knife scar. I knew he was a battle hardened soldier He motioned for me to sit saying, ‘’The Legion shall teach you to speak French!’’ He demanded my passport, inspected it, and further questioned me, ‘’This isn't you cowboy. Perhaps your brother or relative? It doesn't matter, I've seen all the tricks. We'll give you a new name before you leave here.’’ He reached for my hands and examined them carefully. My hands showed a hard life of work and fighting. He looked me in the eye, and asked, ‘’Why are you running cowboy? Kill somebody?’’
He pounded on a bell atop his desk and I heard the boots of a man running towards the office. A young Eurasian corporal entered, stood at attention, and shouted, ‘’Yes, Sergeant. Corporal Pham at your service!’’ . I suspected he was the company clerk to the Sergeant. His khaki uniform was impeccably pressed; boots shined like mirrors, and he wore his white Kapi hat proudly. The corporal couldn’t have been older than twenty one. He was about 5’7”, slightly built; his jet black hair was shaven close on the sides and allowed to grow thick on the top of his head which he combed back. He was handsome. His hands weren’t so attractive. They were scarred, and his knuckles enlarged, suggesting a life of fighting. The Sergeant kept my passport, handed me an enlistment paper to sign, and motioned for me to strip naked. The corporal photographed me from every angle possible with particular attention paid to my hands scarred by a life of fighting. The Sergeant commented, “You're circumcised. You don't look Jewish but I will name you after Jewish nobility. I chose, "David Kohan". The Kohan's were Jews of the priestly class. Your new identity will serve you well during the next five years.’’ The Sergeant ordered the Corporal, ‘’Get this cowboy situated. You’ll be his guide through the examination process.’’ The Sergeant motioned us out of the office.
It was humiliating walking naked through the Spartan bunkhouse, greeted with “cat calls” and whistles by the inductees playing cards or laying in their beds. It didn’t matter to them that Pham was a Corporal who didn’t stop the taunting. I suspect he didn’t want to show any favoritism, which I respected. Pham led me to a storeroom where he provided me underwear, sweatpants, sweatshirt, socks, and sneakers. He also provided me soap, deodorant, toothbrush, toothpaste, and shampoo. He told me I would be housed and fed within the barracks for a week while I underwent physical, psychological, and medical tests.
The barracks was a just an open room with rows of bunk beds, ceiling fans, and walls with Legionnaire posters whose purpose was to motivate the recruits. In the center of the barracks, there were tables where we would sit, take our meals, read, or play card games. Similar to a prison, the tables were occupied by “gangs” of sorts. One table was occupied by “badass” Russians and Eastern Europeans with prison tats suggesting former gang affiliations and hard prison time; one table was “owned” by Middle Eastern Muslims; one table for the Asians; one table for those from Spanish-speaking countries; and another table for citizens of the former British colonies including, Australia, Canada, and South Africa. An old splinter-ridden table and bench, located at the back of the barracks, were for the Blacks. There were no women in the Legion and I was the only American.
Pham suggested I not leave the base as I might be apprehended by Interpol or ripped off by thieves. He was a very thoughtful and unusually sensitive man to be in the Legion. Pham and I began spending our leisure time together and I suffered taunts from the other recruits suggesting a sexual relationship between Corporal Pham and I which wasn’t the case. Given Pham’s status as a corporal, he enjoyed a private bedroom. I admired the many photos of Pham engaged in martial arts contests and trophies which adorned his room. He took notice, and commented, “The day I photographed you, I noticed you had the scarred hands of a fighter like me. We’re brothers of sorts both fighting for survival on the streets of life.” He taught me to play Vietnamese card games, “Tien Lien” and “Catte”. We enjoyed French wines, champagnes, caviar, and pate’. Pham befriended me much like Harmony, kindly and tenderly probing for information in an attempt to understand me as a man. I developed a friendship and respect for him. I suspected he was homosexual or bisexual. He knew I was straight and harbored no expectations other than friendship. He was eager to teach me French, the history and traditions of the Legion, and provided me with a speedy course in the life of a Legionnaire which would serve me well when I entered basic-training known as “The Farm”.
Pham was fascinated with the American west asking me about cowboy life, Wyoming, riding horses, herding cattle, and the rodeo. He dreamed of living in San Francisco or L.A. where he would learn to style hair and become a makeup artist for the stars. Our bond as friends grew stronger because we were both abandoned by our mothers. Pham was saddened when I told him I was abandoned by my mother, and became melancholy when he told me his mother threw him out of the house. He didn’t say why and I didn’t want to hurt him by asking. Because he never knew his father, Pham was very interested in learning about my father, and all I said was, “He’s a hard working, strong, silent type”.
Pham exclaimed, “Ah, like John Wayne?”
I replied, “Not exactly, and not paid as much!”
In later conversations as Pham came to trust me, he related to me that he was born to a prostitute mother and her Legionnaire trick in Hanoi. His mother threw him out of the house at age twelve because she couldn’t afford to feed him and thought he could make a life for himself on the streets of Hanoi as a male prostitute. Although he never knew his father, Pham idolized him and chose to join the Legion in his honor while escaping the poverty of Hanoi.
It didn’t take long for the Sergeant naming me “David Kohan” to have its desired effect. It was commonplace for me to be called a “Kike”, “Hebe” or “Jew boy”. One evening as I prepared to sleep, I found my pillow case marked, “Israel belongs to the Palestinians”. The verbal taunts were annoying but nobody wanted to pick a fight with me, because it would destroy their chance of joining the Legion and they all feared Corporal Pham.
I discussed the anti-Semitism with Pham who opened my mind to the situation. He suggested, “The easy way out for you Mickey is to let the dumb bastards know you’re not Jewish, maybe they’ll believe it, and stop taunting you. Like it or not, your beautiful new name and identity bestows upon you a duty to honor the memory of those defenseless Jews throughout the ages who suffered. You’re an honorable man and would never disavow your duty.”
Pham struck a nerve in me. I could only imagine the homosexual taunts he endured yet he was the most “spit and polished”, perfect example of a Legionnaire, the French could deserve. Pham said, “Mickey, become the best example of a Legionnaire. When you find yourself fighting for your life, those anti-Semitic jerks will have your back. Let them taunt you now because one day they will depend upon you to have their backs.” Pham was wise, and I decided from that moment on, to wear my name, David Kohan, proudly.
It was a hot, sticky, Paris night, and our last day before we received our assignments in the morning. I was alone in the barracks as everybody else was in Paris partying. I fell into a deep sleep but was awoken by Pham gently sitting on the edge of my bed dressed in a smartly pressed Legionnaire bathrobe. Pham was always conscious of his appearance in uniform and out. He brought two cognac snifters and a bottle of cognac, pouring each of us a drink. Pham apologized for waking me, “You passed all of the tests and will be assigned to basic training tomorrow. I can arrange for you to be assigned here to the Regimental Administration office. It will be an easy five year enlistment and we can remain friends. I show you France and when our enlistments are up, you’ll take me to America, yes?”
I couldn’t stand being cooped up any longer, and hungered for adventure. I told Pham, “Thank you, my friend. My nickname is “Mustang” because I can’t be corralled. I need to wander free to run, explore, and fight. I want to join a kick ass infantry brigade.” Pham looked disappointed and reached into the pocket of his robe removing an intricately braided, handmade, leather necklace adorned with a silver elephant and gold Star of David. He gently raised my head from the pillow and placed it around my neck. He then placed each of his hands on both of my cheeks, and kissed each cheek which was customary in France. Pham told me, “Wear this necklace always, Mustang. The elephant will protect you and bring you good fortune. The Star of David will remind you of your duty to lost, suffering souls. I will remember you fondly and you’ll always be in my prayers. I hope one day we meet again in America.”
Pham raised his snifter glass, I followed, and we repeated together, “We drink to the Legion, France, and to our friendship.”
We both downed our cognac. It tasted beautiful and warmed my throat. I asked, “By the way, Pham, whatever happened to my western wear I arrived with?”
“They’re burned along with the rest of the filthy recruit clothing, but I did save your beautiful boots thinking you’d want them back”.
“Keep them as my gift to you, my friend. I hope they fit. ”
Pham was humbled, proud to own a piece of the American west, and could only muster a subdued, “Thank you, Mustang. It’s the most wonderful gift I’ve ever received.” He was touched and made a hasty retreat from the barracks with the bottle of cognac I presumed he would finish easing his emotions. My friendship with Pham made me a stronger and wiser man.
The following morning, we stood at attention within the barracks in our starched, camouflage uniforms, and eagerly awaited our orders to basic training consisting of four months of grueling training at “The Farm” which was the 4th Foreign Infantry Regiment in Southern France. I stood at attention until each soldier was read his orders to report for training. I guess the Sergeant left his favorite recruit for last. Pham read my orders, “The 2nd Foreign Parachute Regiment”.
The Sergeant approached me, stared me squarely in the face, and told me the reason for his hostility towards me, “I’m grateful for the American’s liberation of France from Germany, and I pay tribute to the fallen American soldiers every year at the American Cemetery in Normandy on the anniversary of D-Day, but I have a love-hate relationship with America. I hate Americans, especially cowboys, because the French fought alongside the colonists against the British, we gave you democracy, the Statue of Liberty, and you repay our generosity with slavery, theft of Indian lands, Jim Crow laws, and want to close the doors to immigrants.
“Your western films are garbage. It took the Europeans to accurately depict the American west. Americans use of white hats and black hats depicting good and evil is absurd. There is only grey in battle.
“You’re going to learn to jump from planes, fire sophisticated weapons, drive armored vehicles, and kill for Mother France. In a sense, cowboy, you’ll repay the debt America owes to France. I wish you good luck, Legionnaire David Kohan.”
The Sergeant saluted me, leaned in, and kissed me on both cheeks. I caught a glimpse of Pham with teary eyes before shouting, “Regiment dismissed. Gather your gear. The bus to “The Farm” leaves in thirty minutes.”
It was a quiet eight hour bus ride to “The Farm” as everybody envisioned their respective fates: Were we courageous soldiers or simply the damned?
The four months of basic training was difficult, but I had a tough upbringing in the wilds of Wyoming, and was familiar with firearms. In fact, I considered it a four month holiday compared to the specter of a prison stretch for murder back home. Firing the high powered weapons was like grabbing the ears of a dragon, and I enjoyed watching the fire and death pour from its muzzle. It helped me release pent up hatred, anger, and made me a stone cold-killing machine winning praise for my marksmanship. The marches were long, tedious, and I’d place the rigors of my basic training on “The Farm” up against any in the world including the Marines. Many of my fellow recruits were unable to finish the training and returned to their home countries.
The 2nd Foreign Parachute Regiment was considered the most elite division within the Legion. It was always first into a fight, and the last out. I was a standout recruit and never encountered anti-Semitism again. Skydiving was a job I loved and I couldn’t believe I was being paid to do it. All my living expenses were paid for by the Legion including a salary of about 2000 Euros per month which would leave me with a nest egg at the end of five years of approximately 80,000 Euros, after taxes, which I might use to start a business.
It was in the black of night when our Regiment parachuted into Kharkush, a high mountain in Afghanistan, dotted with caves. I leapt from the plane into the cold night air excited to see action and meet Americans again. We were to join forces with an American SEAL team who had already taken position at one of the caves wherein a Taliban spy was believed to have been hiding. He was given only a number, “DOA#2”, which was short for, “Dead or alive, number two”. Working as a translator for the US Army, he had fingered the position of French and American troops at a “FOB” (Forward Operating Base) resulting in the death of many soldiers at the hands of the Taliban.
Daylight broke, and we communicated with the SEAL team who was stationed within the bowels of the cave. There were twelve of us and I was one of only six sent into the cave while the others stood watch at the entrance. I prayed no Taliban was watching with his finger on the switch of an IUD, exploding the mouth to the cave and entombing us forever. We entered the dark cave and managed to find our way to the SEAL team with night vision glasses mounted to our helmets. The farther and deeper into the cave we marched, the more claustrophobic it felt. It was like being within a dead woman’s womb. There was no life inside and fortunately no Taliban resistance. We spent hours walking the twisting and turning cave. I had another dream that night.
It included the same family being herded off a boxcar, and a crying little boy and girl, snatched from their parents’ hands, forever separated. The screams of the parents were horrifying and I awoke in a cold sweat. The shock of my dream was interrupted by a SEAL operator shouting,
“We got him!”
We ran about one fifty yards into a bedroom size opening where DOA102 had been living alone for months. The cave was strewn with garbage and smelled of urine and excrement. I was surprised to find DOA102 to be an old, frail man, with a long grey beard, dirty long hair, and a torn robe. He was relieved to meet fellow humans again like a prisoner being released from solitary confinement. A SEAL team operator searched him and found no weapons. Other SEAL team operators searched the cave thoroughly and found no booby traps. The commander of the SEAL team was a Lieutenant, and told us, “We can take him dead or alive. All I need is a DNA sample and a photo of the corpse. Let me see a show of hands for taking him alive.”
I remembered the white hat/black hats sermon of my Sergeant and knew there was no right or wrong in battle. Only grey. I regretted killing Rance despite the atrocities he committed. I’d rather see the old Taliban, like Rance, face a court of law. Not a single hand rose but I held my hand high which was met by the Lieutenant commenting, “Ah, one “Frog” has a conscious. I’m sorry but the nays have it.”
Just as a SEAL operator pointed his rifle at DOA102’s forehead, the old man dropped to his knees, weeping, and spoke in broken English, “I’m sorry we were enemies. I hope we meet in the after-life as friends. I ask only that you take my life quickly and dispose of me by Muslim traditions. Allah 'akbar.”(Allah is the greatest).
A single shot rang out hitting the old man between the eyes throwing him backward with a gruesome look of horror on his face and wide open eyes. The Lieutenant asked if there was a Muslim on the team to assist with the burial, and fortunately, it was a Legionnaire who stepped forward. He did his best to cleanse the corpse with water from a canteen, pointed the body toward Mecca, and covered it with shreds of white clothing mimicking a shroud. The Muslim Legionnaire gently closed the old man’s eyes and mouth before reciting a Muslim prayer, "We belong to Allah and to Allah we shall return."
The Lieutenant plucked hair samples and placed them into a plastic bag before taking pictures of the corpse. DOA102 was quickly buried and we all left the cave.
The SEAL’s and Legionnaires decided to camp outside the mouth of the cave for the evening after we permanently closed the entrance with rocket propelled grenades. We shared rations; the SEAL’s preferring the French “MRE’s” (Meals Ready to Eat) to the American equivalent. Later in the evening, I was approached by the SEAL Lieutenant who introduced himself as, “Lieutenant Jonathan Hirsch from Montauk, New York”.
I introduced myself, “David Kohan from Casper, Wyoming”.
Hirsch lit up, “You American? What the hell is a nice Jewish boy from Casper doing in the Legion?”
“It’s a long story.”
Hirsch was sharp and intuitively surmised, “The less I know the better. Want to go home after your tour?”
“I’d like to Lieutenant but I’m in serious trouble back home.”
Hirsch leaned in close to keep our conversation confidential and suggested, “The Legion gave you a new identity. You don’t look Jewish but I consider you a member of the “tribe” having the guts to wear the Star of David around your neck, so here is my advice. When your tour is up, apply for a visa to the US. Did you ever have your fingerprints taken, a DNA sample, or retina scan?”
“No Sir. I never even had a driver license.”
“Good. You’ll arrive in the States under a French passport with no DNA or fingerprint identification showing you were an American. Go to a Navy recruiting office and tell them you want to enlist. I recommend Navy because of your Legionnaire experience. They’ll fast track you into BUDS training if you request it. I think you have the grit to make it through SEAL training, serve your time, get an honorable discharge, and you’ll live as David Kohan on a permanent visa issued as a gift for your military service to the United States. You’ll likely earn your citizenship back.”
It all made sense to me and I was flabbergasted by the possibility of a new start in America with the money I saved in the Legion. I just had to stay alive. The Lieutenant was preparing to leave for his team but I had to ask, “Thank you for the advice Lieutenant, but why the hell did a nice Jewish boy from Montauk join the SEALS?”
He answered, “When those towers came crashing down in flames, it reminded me of the stories my grandparents told of the smoke stacks of Auschwitz. I wanted revenge, so I left a cushy job which is waiting for me and joined the SEALS. If you make it back to the States, look me up. By the way, I admire you for raising your hand to save the old man’s life”. He handed me a business card reading, “David Hirsch, Attorney at Law”.
Four and one half years had passed since I joined the Legion. The days consisted mostly of drills with occasional deployments. The Legion wanted me to re-enlist, promising to promote me to Sergeant but I was eager to get home. I missed my pop and grandfather and wanted to reunite with them somewhere outside Casper where I couldn’t be recognized. I had gotten in touch with Lieutenant Hirsch who had returned to the practice of law, and assured me he would smooth over the Navy and SEAL recruitment process with high level Navy contacts he had cultivated. I was excited about returning home and was counting the days.
With one month left on my five year enlistment, my team was called into duty to rescue a notable French journalist with an Israeli film crew working near the border of Iraq and Iran. Their chopper inadvertently crossed into Iranian airspace and forced to land in a terrible sandstorm clogging the propeller system of the chopper. It wouldn’t be long for the Iranian’s to seize a valuable “bargaining chip” with Israel and France. We mobilized immediately and flew into Israel to meet up with the IDF to coordinate the rescue. We all stood as the “commander” of the mission entered the room. It was a woman wearing no military insignia except for the standard green IDF duty uniform. She introduced herself as “Rebecca” and admitted to being a Mossad agent. She was short with flaming red, wavy hair, physically fit, and a tough as nails, no nonsense woman in her late twenties. The IDF soldiers were a mixture of Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jews, most wearing yarmulkes and beards denoting they were orthodox Jews. My team were handpicked Legionnaires I trained with for years and could count on in a fire fight. The briefing was simple. We’d fly in taking two stealth helicopters, extract the living and the dead, fight if necessary, and return home. Rebecca concluded by saying, “Mossad intel indicates the Iranian Revolutionary Guard is also racing to the crash site.”
At the conclusion of the briefing, Rebecca approached me in the hallway. She was curious about me, asking, “David Kohan? French Foreign Legion? Casper, Wyoming? Quite an eclectic resume you have, David. Have you learned any French?”
“Enough to keep me alive”.
She broke a smile and said, “I’ll keep my eyes on you, David!”
I sarcastically replied, “How many languages do you speak, “Red?”
She didn’t appear offended by the nickname and quickly recited, “Hebrew, English, Farsi, Arabic, French, Italian, and many more. If we get out of this alive, maybe we’ll discover more about each other over dinner.”
Rebecca reminded me of the strong but womanly cowgirls back home. My dad told me mom also had a quick wit and sharp tongue. I wanted to see her after the mission, knowing she was a very special woman.
Time was of the essence and we had only two practice missions before departing. As the sun set, we boarded the helicopter, buckled in, and took off. Rebecca was riding in the back-up copter so it was just my team and the IDF in the lead helicopter. We made small talk, exchanged cigarettes, and talked about our home towns. A couple of the IDF soldiers took out boxes with leather straps, prayed, and wrapped them around their arms. I asked, “What’s that all about?”
I was rebuffed by the commander of the IDF squad, pointing to the Star of David on my collar, reading my name-plate, and chastising me, “You’re a Kohan! You don’t know?” I was embarrassed, but admitted the name was given to me by the Legion as a “joke” to make my life in the Legion more difficult. Another IDF soldier asked, “So, how is life as a Jew treating you?”
“Difficult at first but ask me at the end of this mission.” Everybody laughed knowing our mission was dangerous.
We landed in a terrible standstorm. Each soldier jumped from the helicopter taking up a position forming a perimeter in case there was resistance. Fortunately, the French female journalist and her Israeli crew were still alive, huddled inside the downed chopper shielding them from the standstorm. Rebecca was first to approach them, and quickly identified each of them, lest it be an ambush. She led them to her helicopter where one of my Legionnaires trained as a paramedic administered IV liquids and other medical treatments. Both helicopters safely took off and headed back to Israel through Iraq under the protection of a US Air Force escort.
During the flight back, both teams were exhausted, quiet, and some chose to nap. I learned each of the members of the IDF had relatives who fled Nazi occupied Europe and many never made it out alive, perishing in the concentration camps. Their families arrived in Israel with nothing, and were grateful to make a new life in a thriving, young democratic nation. Many of the soldiers had relatives in the States, and I was besieged by a multitude of questions about American popular culture, Wyoming, cowboy life, until I fell asleep.
The little boy from my dream reappeared. He stood in line as his clothes were ripped from him. He stood naked with other little boys and grown men who cried for their mothers, wives or loved ones. Each boy or man was rudely examined by a Nazi doctor and marked with an “X” or an “O”. The little boy had a black “X” placed on his back and was led outside naked, shoeless, into the cold, snowy day, and towards a large building marked,
Duschen und Cafeteria (Showers and Cafeteria)
There were cries of hope that food and a hot shower awaited them but the unfortunate men and boys found only an empty chamber with no room anywhere but to stand. The little boy cried looking for his sister, mother, and father. The doors slammed shut and a hissing sound came from the ceilings. As it became apparent to the adults that it was no shower or cafeteria, they screamed and ran for the doors and walls trampling the children. The room filled with poisonous gas and bodies began to tumble with vomit, urine, and feces flowing from the dying.
I woke to the pilot handing me a headphone which I placed on my head and heard the most beautiful voice I’ve ever heard softly say, “David, your team did a wonderful job today. See you on the ground in Israel and we’ll plan our dinner.“ I handed the headphones back to the IDF soldier who remarked, “David, you had one hell of a dream. Please share it with somebody who understands you because nightmares can get the best of you over time.“ He was right. I’d share it with Rebecca.
We landed safely in Israel. The journalist and Israeli camera crew were taken to the hospital. Rebecca held a short debriefing, thanking us for a job well done. As a gesture of gratitude, the State of Israel had arranged a week-long pass for each member of the team including hotel, meals, tours, etc. My time in the Legion would be up in a week and my thoughts turned to my future.
Rebecca approached me after the debriefing saying, “I arranged for you to stay at the “King David Hotel“ in Jerusalem. It’s a five star hotel and within walking distance to many of the treasures of Israel. I would like to be your personal tour guide. May I?“ I grabbed her, held her close, and passionately kissed Rebecca. It was primal. My kiss was met by the most sensual, loving, response I had experienced in my life. It felt like we had known each other our entire lives. We eagerly awaited our meeting in the lobby of the hotel in the morning. An IDF driver was assigned to take me to the hotel in Jerusalem about an hours drive away.
We met in the lobby as planned. Rebecca was beautiful. Her flaming red, wavy hair, hung beneath her shoulders and her white cotton dress accentuated her athletic physique. We greeted each other with a kiss on the cheek, and her perfume was lavender but not overpowering. We sat for coffee and enjoyed a light breakfast before heading out for a whirlwind tour of Jerusalem, she had arranged. Our driver, Shlomo, had the stature and look of a Mossad bodyguard. He and I exchanged a firm handshake signifying we were both warriors.
We spent the day visiting both old and new Jerusalem; the Western Wall; The Jewish quarter and the Christian quarter. I wasn’t raised with religion, so much of the religious history was lost on me , but I was mesmerized to be in the company of Rebecca as she explained the relevance of the many historical sites we visited. Shlomo had packed a bag of drinks and snacks to see us through the long day. The day passed quickly and Shlomo delivered us to a romantic, roof top restaurant above a hotel on King Solomon Street with a commanding view of Old Jerusalem. It wasn’t lost on me that Shlomo took a table just far enough away to provide us privacy but close enough to leap into action, if necessary. He didn’t order alcohol. Rebecca was a high level Mossad agent, and a lowly Legionnaire from Casper, Wyoming was fortunate to be her dinner date.
Rebecca politely asked if she could make the dinner selections, assuring me I would enjoy the variety of foods she selected. We began with a bottle of Kosher wine, and, as the alcohol took effect, we both let our guards down, speaking to each other earnestly. Rebecca told me she was an only child growing up in an extended family. Her parents were both high-level government officials and her ancestors were leaders in the formation of the State of Israel back in the late forties. She attended Harvard, returned home to join the IDF, and was recruited by the Mossad. Rebecca said she had a wonderful career including travel and adventure. I asked her, “Why didn’t you get married?“
Rebecca took a sip of wine and answered, “I had plenty of suitors but I’m picky despite pressures from my parents to marry and raise a family.“ Rebecca appeared melancholy about being single and childless explaining, “For now, I’m married to the Mossad. Tell me about you. What was it like growing up in the wild west like a cowboy?“
“Like anywhere else, but more freedom and fewer people. More time to just be a kid and take life as it comes. I was always restless and resented authority, which got me into trouble and led to my leaving the States.“
“But you’ve adjusted to authority by becoming a Legionnaire?“
“Yeah, but when you have no where to run, you make the best of any second chance afforded you. I love the Legion and will always be grateful to it.“
“What will you do when your enlistment is up, Mickey?“
“I’d like to return home to see my dad and grandpa. We’ve been out of touch for almost five years , but I’m afraid of being recognized and arrested. Let’s face it, Rebecca, as a Mossad agent, you know my life’s story so don’t make me rehash it“.
Rebecca held my hand and asked, “Do you think about your mother, Priscilla, and Jakie?“
I became sad and was choking up. “Yes, I do. Kids deserve to grow up with two parents including myself, although dad and grandpa did their best.“
“Do you miss your brother?“
“He was about ten years older so I barely knew him. He enjoyed fishing, hunting, and driving around in his truck“. Rebecca apologized, “Mickey, I ask so many questions because I want to know you intimately. Your background investigation made mention of a recurring terrible dream you have. Tell me about it, please?“
“I’ve been plagued by a dream of a Jewish family pesecuted by the Nazis. It started in Wyoming in high school when I dreamt about a family’s home being broken into by soldiers. Throughout the dream, an old woman cried out to me, “Come back to us!“ I grew up in the wilds of Wyoming and never knew a Jew. So why do I have these dreams, Rebecca?“
“You were witnessing a holocaust tragedy.“
“In the Legion, the dream continued to haunt me depicting a well-to-do family being herded on to box cars, delivered to a concentration camp, then separated.“
I was becoming tense and my hand was shaking. I reached for my glass of wine and downed it quickly. “Take your time, darling,“ Rebecca calmed me.
“There was a little boy who had been stripped, examined by a hack doctor, an “X“ painted on his back, and placed in line with a group of men and boys who marched to a building they thought was a shower room and cafeteria“. I covered my eyes to shield my teary eyes from Rebecca. “I can’t go on, Rebecca, it’s too painful.“
“Please finish, Mickey. Talking about it is good for you.“
“The line of boys and men were led into a room, the door slammed closed, and they were gassed to death. The adult men trampled the boys in a desperate attempt to flee.“ I was visibly shaken.
Rebecca brought my face to her bosom and stroked my hair, saying, “ Do you still have the nightmare?“
“I fear it’s return every night. Why do I have this terrible dream, Rebecca?“
“We’ll never know, darling, but sometimes in life we’re visited by messengers who lead us to our destinies. I believe your destiny was to live in Israel and do good work with the skills you’ve learned“. She dipped the napkin in the water glass, wiped my teary eyes, and said, “That’s enough for now“. Rebecca knew it was time to break the somber mood, and suggested,“Let’s enjoy a light desert and after-dinner drink“. From the corner of my eye, I saw Shlomo wipe a tear from his eye.
We returned to the hotel and proceeded to my suite with a commanding view of Jerusalem. We held each other and kissed passionately on the balcony. Soon, we were locked in a loving embrace in bed. I was making love and not having sex for the first time in my life. As we fell asleep in each others arms, we soon would come to learn, we conceived a beautiful son.
I received my Legionnaire pension and stayed on in Jerusalem. Rebecca invited me to move into her flat in the beautiful old quarter of Jerusalem. It felt nice being domesticated. We frequented the markets together, cooked, visited the many historical sites, and I was happy.
Rebecca arranged a family picnic where I met her parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles all of whom liked me. Many of the men were former IDF officers who respected my service, and the women feigned over Rebecca’s cowboy friend. When we had a moment alone, Rebecca told me she was pregnant, “Mickey, you’ve provided me a wonderful gift and I’m pleased to raise the child by myself. I don’t expect you to marry me, but I’m certain you’ll want to be a part of your son’s life, won’t you?“
“I‘ll have to retire from the Mossad because I can’t raise a baby with the demands of the job but there’s a need in Israel for a professional, private security team for hire to protect foregin journalists, high net-worth tourists, and corporate chieftains. Between my Mossad contacts and your experience in the Legion, we can start a successful business here in Israel, if you stay.“
I knew the necessity of being raised by both a mother and a father. I loved Rebecca and said, “I’ll marry you but won‘t convert to Judaism. I’ve come to respect the Jewish religion, admire it’s people and traditions, but I’m not a Jew and won’t pretend to be one.“
Rebecca held me tight and whispered, “You’re a wonderful man and only need to be a loving father and husband you’re capable of being. My parents will insist on a traditional Jewish wedding, but no pressures for you to convert, I promise. You wear the Star of David and I think the dream was somebody communicating to you from beyond the grave leading you to me and Israel. I believe you already are Jewish but don’t know it.“
We were married at Trask, a beautiful wedding venue adjacent to the port of Tel Aviv. I was busy mingling but caught a glimpse of the Prime Minister of Israel paying respects to Rebecca’s parents. It was the most wonderful day of my life next to the birth of my son months later.
Through Rebecca’s Mossad contacts, our security firm had more business than we could handle. We named our company after the national flower of Israel, “Cyclamen Protection Services”. Our business model was to move quickly, intelligently, with stealth, and to avoid shedding blood whenever possible. I hired a dozen of my former Legionnaires, including Boris, one of the anti-Semite Russians from my barracks who turned out to be the hardest working, most dependable mensch of the team. I remembered Pham’s promise to me that they would “have my back”. The security team was rounded out with handpicked former IDF soldiers Rebecca highly recommended.
The phone rang at home one evening, and we were told by the Mossad that the President of an Israeli bank, his wife, infant daughter, and elderly mother-in-law had been abducted outside a restaurant in Tel Aviv. They were driven into Damascus, Syria, and held for ransom. The Mossad concluded the four kidnappers were amateur criminals not finding no terrorist links. The Mossad believed the motivation for the kidnapping was financial, not political, and concluded that sending in a private team to complete the rescue was politically expedient. Rebecca sprung into action working her many Mossad and IDF contacts which revealed the exact whereabouts of the hotel the family was being held. Our team was assembled of mostly Sephardic, former IDF soldiers so as to blend in with the Syrian hotel staff. They took jobs as room service waiters and a maid. The former Legionnaire team members proceeded to the hotel checking in as “French tourists”. Like the old west not being black or white as depicted by my Sergeant, neither is the Middle East. The Syrian owner of the hotel was friendly to Israel, and would profit financially by cooperating with us. The hotel owner confirmed the four kidnappers and family had checked into the penthouse suite of the low-rise hotel located in the center of Damascus. Our team checked in one floor below the penthouse and positioned listening devices to the ceiling to monitor the penthouse above, confirming the number of kidnappers to be four, confirming all family members were alive, and inside the penthouse. Although the intelligence report on the kidnappers concluded they were “amateur” criminals, we came prepared with a lethal arsenal capable of quashing the most formidable foes. The Sephardic IDF team blended in well as room service attendants and a maid, speaking fluent Arabic, and knowing the local customs. They quickly learned every way in and out of the hotel and produced an extraction plan. Demands for ransom were made over the following week and the family members were being treated well. The meal schedule was consistent with dinner arriving at 9:00, including a child’s dinner consisting of Mac “N “Cheese, pizza, or peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. The Sephardic female team-member, assuming the role of a housekeeper, would arrive at the penthouse and offer maid service. It was necessary to cleverly manufacture a reason for entry because the hostage takers wouldn’t permit anybody into the suite. It had been days since the suite had been cleaned and the hostage takers welcomed the housekeeper who knocked and announced,
“Maid service, sir. May I enter and freshen up your suite?”
A young kidnapper unlocked the door, and invited her to enter with her cleaning cart which wasn’t searched. Secreted within it were both lethal and non-lethal weaponry. She quickly located the mother, father, child, and elderly grandmother who were watching television in the master bedroom. She didn’t leave them, pretending to clean the room with the goal of providing protection to them when all hell broke out. It didn’t take long.
Another knock at the door was heard and the young kidnapper peered through the eye hole identifying three room-service attendants with serving carts of food. He opened the door allowing them to enter with their carts also hiding weaponry. A shout was heard from the commander of the kidnappers, who took his eyes off a soccer match,
“You fool! I told you nobody to come inside. All of you leave immediately!”
He reached for an assault rifle but was quickly shot by a tranquilizer gun by one of the room service team who quickly moved with the others throughout the apartment locating kidnappers. Two kidnappers were sleeping in one of the bedrooms and sedated just they were awoken by the commotion. My operator, Boris, took pride in sedating a fourth kidnapper as he sat on the toilet reading the newspaper. The kidnappers were gagged and tightly bound. No blood was shed. The sedative would keep them asleep for hours. Our team instructed everybody to leave just with the clothes on their backs as not to overburden the escape helicopter with extra weight. An air ambulance helicopter with the Muslim Red Crescent landed on the roof to extract us. The young kidnapper who opened the door permitting our team to enter was a paid Mossad informant, and chose to maintain his “cover”. After receiving a self inflicted black eye and other evidence of a struggle, he too, was sedated, gagged, bound, and left for the authorities to interrogate with the others.
The hotel owner had reported the heart attack of a VIP guest to the hospital which sent the air ambulance helicopter immediately to the rooftop. We knew the police would soon arrive providing us only precious minutes to climb the stairwell onto the roof, enter the helicopter, and take off before the unsympathetic Damascus police arrived. We all boarded, as our pilot gave the “wheels up” signal, and we flew into Israeli airspace within thirty minutes.
As was our Company’s policy and that of the Israeli government, there was no press coverage of the incident. We were invited to the bank President’s lavish Tel Aviv home for a celebratory dinner. Throughout the meal, the elderly mother-in-law wouldn’t take her eyes off me. Even Rebecca noticed it asking, “Have you met before?”
I shrugged my soldiers saying, “Never”.
Rebecca whispered, “You may have seen the end of your dreams”. As the evening ended, our hosts said goodbye, and I was taken aside by the mother-in-law who wrapped her frail arms around me, and cried, repeating, “You came back to us. You came back!” She kissed me and placed something in my coat pocket.
The bank President arranged for limousine transportation for my team and a separate car for Rebecca and me. I reached into my pocket and found a vintage wooden dreidel along with a faded photograph showing a little boy and girl spinning the dreidel at Hanukah sometime around World War II. I didn’t mention the gift to Rebecca. I’ll never understand the connection between the little boy in my dream, sent to his death in Auschwitz, and meeting, possibly, his sister who was rescued by our team. Maybe I was just providing closure to an old woman mistaking me for her brother? Closure is important in our lives. I don’t think I’m supposed to know the connection but this Mustang found redemption, love, and purpose in what started out as a trail to nowhere. I never had the same dream again. Life was good for Rebecca and me. We were deeply in love, enjoyed raising our growing family, and were fortunate to own a thriving business, providing us the independence to spend time together on our terms. We enjoyed a romantic, one year anniversary dinner, in Jerusalem on a warm spring evening with our one year old son, Benjamin, sitting in a high chair. We were also celebrating our soon to be born daughter who would be named “Sarah”. Rebecca was a loving, nurturing, and doting mother and I marveled at her ability to be both a remarkable mother and businesswoman. I was a lucky man, indeed. I delighted in knowing Benjamin and Sarah would grow up in a two parent, loving family, encouraging the children to be good, decent people, and follow their hearts in whatever directions their talents would take them. Benjamin already had Rebecca’s red wavy hair but he certainly had my father and grandfather’s eyes. He could be a little testy at times which I suspected he inherited from me. Looking into his eyes made me determined to contact my dad and grandfather.
Rebecca reached for my hand saying, “I know you miss your father and grandfather, darling. We’ve talked about returning to Casper and worries of being recognized, but we can bring them here to meet their grandson and reunite with you.”
“They’re not sophisticated travelers. Neither has flown and I don’t think either ever left the States nor has a passport”.
“Let’s worry about the logistics later. Its important Benjamin meets his father’s family. I’ll use my intelligence contacts to ascertain the condition of your family and we’ll take it from there.” I had told Rebecca about Harmony, Jakie, and Corporal Pham previously. She continued, “Would you also like to know about your other friends?”
“Yes”, fearing, sometimes the truth is painful, and letting “sleeping dogs lie”, may be best.
About a week later, as we were preparing to sleep, Rebecca moved in close to me with her arms around me saying, “Mickey, I have the answers to your questions, darling. Sometimes memories are best left alone because the truth can hurt”.
“Tell me like it is, Rebecca!”
Rebecca stroked my hair and related the results of her intelligence findings, “Cops made it hard on grandpa and your dad, who was fired from his job at the demand of Rance’s father. Your dad died from emphysema. Your Grandfather passed away in his rocking chair on the porch with Louis L’Amour’s, “Mustang Man” in his lap, a bottle of Jack Daniels nearby, and a cigar in his hand. There was an article in the local paper about the death of a cowboy song writer. The article mentioned his two beloved grandsons who your grandfather referred to as “wild mustangs running free through life”. I was choking up but couldn’t cry. “Want me to continue, sweetheart?” Rebecca asked. I nodded affirmatively. “Harmony was fired from the Rodeo, worked as a stripper, prostitute, and became an addict succumbing to an overdose of heroin laced with Fentanyl. Jakie was handed over to Child Protective Services”. I covered my eyes to hide the flowing tears and turned my back to Rebecca. Rebecca turned me back towards her and said, “There is redemption, Mickey. Jakie was adopted by a retired Colorado couple who operate a dude ranch high in the Rockies with ski slopes. Jakie is almost thirteen now and already an accomplished skier and member of the Ski Patrol. Last but not least, your friend Pham is living in San Francisco, married to a handsome man, and together, they operate a successful hair, nail, and make-up salon in a trendy neighborhood.”
I reached to turn off the light and kissed Rebecca good night. I was thankful for the closure. I thought of the elderly mother-in-law and hoped she was sleeping peacefully having found closure. Rebecca fell asleep with her head on my chest. I held Rebecca close, and reflected. The revelations were bitter sweet, and, although I was saddened by the loss of my dad, grandfather, and Harmony, I was happy for Jakie and Pham. Most of all, I was happy for myself because although my journey from Casper to Jerusalem was “one hell of a bronco ride” like grandpa suggested, my life wasn’t black or grey as the Sergeant suggested, but a brilliant white.