Heroes–Prologue

SIMI VALLEY, CALIFORNIA
JUNE 1968
The warm summer sun shone down brightly on the bleachers in the football field of Simi Valley High School, while on the field, seated on folding chairs, the Class of 1968 anxiously awaited the graduation ceremony.
The weather was hot as was usually the case at that time of year in the bedroom community that lay northwest of Los Angeles, the warm Santa Ana winds occasionally blowing through to cool things slightly.
Tommy McPherson sat midway back in the rows of seats as he waited for the principal, Mr. Jacob, to start the ceremony. Though his immediate mind was on the ceremony, his mind was also on the War.
To young men of his age, the War meant Viet Nam. Five years ago, he had not even known where Viet Nam was. It still remained only a place half the world away. Early on in high school, he was determined to join the Army upon graduation.
As the date drew closer when he would graduate, some of his friends tried to dissuade him from going. Things were becoming extremely heated across the United States as university students protested. Large groups held rallies to burn their draft cards. Some young men fled to Canada rather than fight. And this spring, students in protest had taken over administration buildings of the universities as they had at Columbia in New York.
The national scene was intense, not only for the protests, but because of the assassinations of Martin Luther King, and just that month, Bobby Kennedy, who was likely to win the nomination for the Presidency was shot down in Los Angeles. He recalled how he and his girlfriend Cheryll had heard the news on KHJ radio as they had sat in the front of his 1965 Mustang on the hill behind the drive-in.
Cheryll had begun to weep, and he also was greatly moved. It wasn’t quite five years since JFK had been shot, and the nation had seemed to go haywire after that.
Tommy recalled how he had made the final decision to go, despite everything that was happening, despite his friends viewpoints. He knew many disagreed with the War, but his parents had instilled in him a strong love for his country. America meant something to him. And he hated communism.
He knew others in his class who were also going: his best friend, Peter Wall, and Peter’s cousin, Fred. Both had enlisted in the Marines, and would be driving down to Camp Pendleton near San Diego once the graduation celebrations were over.
Tommy himself had chosen the Army. He had always loved the Army as a kid. He had watched all the TV shows about World War II. He had gone to the Army-Navy store in the San Fernando Valley and bought Army fatigues, a canteen, everything he could put his hands on. His mom thought he would grow out of it, but as manhood approached, his boyhood love had honed into a strong determination to go and serve.
She had tried to talk him out of going, had hoped he could avoid the draft, but when he told her he had enlisted, she wept.
“Tommy”, she cried that night, sitting out on the back patio as the sun set over the valley and the shadows eased across the lawn, “I don’t want you to go, son. You might be killed. I’ve seen such terrible things on the news.”
He had knelt beside her and held her hand and tried to explain to her how he felt. It didn’t matter, that some of his friends didn’t understand. It didn’t matter how the country was reacting to the war. What mattered most to him was he felt a strong sense of duty within himself to do it.
“Mom, I have to. It’s something I have to do. It’s…it doesn’t matter to me what anyone thinks. I have to do this for myself. I realize there is a lot of things going on in this country, and not everyone agrees with the war. But I hate to see people trampled on. We are in Viet Nam to help people stay free of communism. That’s important to me.”
He wiped her tears, and she hugged him to her. “You’re my only child, my only son. What would I do if you were lost to me?”
He kissed her head gently, “I love you, Mom. And I will miss you and Dad very much. Please try to understand. You both raised me to love this country. We have what we have because someone went and fought. That’s what I’m doing. I’m keeping the world safe for you and Dad.”
She raised her head and looked into his eyes, nodding, and while she felt a sudden pride at his determination, it was with reluctance that she accepted his decision.
His Dad had more readily accepted it, and had given him a pep talk about keeping himself clean and straight-thinking because he was going into a place that was chaotic. Tommy had always been close to his father, and knew he would miss his strong, steady example.
They would give him a party for graduation, and once that was over, they had planned to drive him up the coast to Monterey, to the Army training camp at Fort Ord for his basic training.
The hard part would be letting go of Cheryll. Cheryll had been his girl friend since junior high. They had met through Peter Wall who knew Cheryll’s brother. He had gone with their friends to Chi Chi’s Pizza and they had talked for most the night. Since that time, they had been practically inseparable, driving their parents to distraction with long telephone calls, dropping in at each other’s houses, prom dates. Once they reached high school, everyone assumed they would get married after graduation.
Cheryll was the one person who tried to understand his reasons for going. She did her best to support him, and they had an understanding that once he had an income, and came home on leave, they would become engaged. It was a difficult decision, particularly since it could mean they might not get married for a couple of years, but they both wanted to make that commitment before he left.
Leaving his best girl behind was not easy. She had been a steady part of his life for five years. He wanted to marry her, and, once he came home, have a family with her. She was a beautiful girl, with long, straight blonde hair and lovely almond shaped green eyes framed by a slender face. Like Tommy, she wasn’t extremely outgoing or popular, but loved quiet, peaceful places, and books, and taking long walks together. She wasn’t always into parties and while she dressed nicely, she wasn’t into style. She dressed more conservatively than other girls, since her parents were conservative people. Her father was in shock when one of her girlfriends starting wearing mini-skirts. He had put his foot down that his daughter wouldn’t wear them, which was perfectly fine for Cheryll.
He planned to spend his last night with her, taking her out for a nice dinner where they could just talk. He loved her, and wanted to absorb all the memories he could before leaving.
When he had told Cheryll he was going, they had just come back from a party at Peter’s house, and he had driven her home. He pulled up in front of her house in the Texas tract, and she waited for him see her in.
“Cheryll”, he had started, and then quietly said, “I’m going into the Army.”
At first she said nothing, but searched his face. He hadn’t expected an outburst—Cheryll wasn’t like that. But after a moment, tears began to flow.
“I knew this would happen one day, Tommy.” Her words were even despite her emotion. “We’ve known each other for awhile, and I know how much you’ve wanted to go in the Army, ever since you were a kid. I had hoped you would change your mind, but I guess it’s something you have to do.”
He nodded and then embraced her gently. He wanted her to know that even though he was going away, her feelings for her hadn’t changed.
“You know how I feel about you, Cher. You know I still want to get married.”
“Yes, I know, Tommy, and….I will wait for you. I love you, and I want us to someday be together. I had just hoped that would happen soon.”
He looked into her eyes and then quietly said, “I would ask you to get married before I left but I don’t want you to go through that. I mean, some guys end up captured, prisoners of war. If that were to happen to me, I wouldn’t want you to feel bound to wait. It would be very hard on a person.”
She hadn’t considered that, but then there were many stories of prisoners of war. She didn’t know what she would do if that happened to him.
So, they had made plans as much as they could, and when he saw her to the door, she threw her arms around his neck and kissed him, and then ran inside. He walked back to the car, and headed home, but the sight of her tears and the lingering kiss filled his dreams that night.
He came out of his thoughts to realize that the ceremony had begun. Everyone was standing for the Pledge of Allegiance. Followed by the Ivy girls and Mr. Jacob giving a speech, the valedictorian also gave a speech. Shortly thereafter, they began to call the graduates up to the stage for their diplomas.
In some ways it seemed unreal that he had arrived to this point, but at the same time, he felt in the coming months, he would look back on this day as golden. His life would never be the same, he knew, and the people he loved would never be the same, and their lives were changing rapidly, their world headed God only knows where.
He heard his name called, and he headed up to the platform, following those in front of him. He came to stand beside Mr. Jacob, who warmly shook his hand and handed him his diploma. He held it high so Mom and Dad could see, and then headed off the stage, headed toward his future, headed toward Fort Ord, basic training and Viet Nam.
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JOSIAH and Heroes project

After a couple of weeks rest, I am working on a couple of projects.

The first is the book about King Josiah from the Bible that I had promised my grandson.

The second is a book about a returning Vietnam Vet and his experience with the shame and degradation heaped on him by an ungrateful, unfriendly nation.  With the help of a Christian friend, he finds new purpose in Jesus Christ.

A Two-Edged Blade

This is an excerpt that a future project that I am doing which will take off from A Wounded Heart.  Rick Sartori is a former street kid who is training to become a preacher/youth leader.

 

Rick kept his gaze on Jerry Cruz.   As Jerry wielded the switchblade against him, Rick recalled many a time he had done the same thing, including against his teacher Sam Treadwell.  He hoped Jerry would get the same rude awakening he had.   Rick’s life on the streets had hardened him, but it took Jesus to put him on his knees.

“Jerry, please put that away.  Man, I know where you’re coming from.  I’ve been there.  But just because you don’t like my words, you’re going to come against me?  I will tell you the same thing someone told me Jerry—you need Jesus in your life.  Now if you don’t like that, do your worst, man.”

Jerry Cruz continued to hold the blade for what seemed to Rick a long time and then he lowered it.    His eyes were clouded by hot tears, the tears of anger and anguish.   Angry because his girl had left him for the church; angry because Rick was stirring up things on the street, angry because the only life he knew was the gang.  They were his brotherhood, not these wimpy Jesus guys.  He had known Rick since they were kids, though because he was an Anglo, they weren’t friends.

Now, as he looked at Rick he wondered what had happened to him.  Oh sure, he knew Rick said he got Jesus.  But he wasn’t ready to believe that.  He went to Mass, he knew all the teachings of the Church and he did them, for his Mama.  But in his inner core, Jesus seemed so far removed from his everyday world, a world of violence and survival, of proving oneself man enough to get through it all.

He turned and walked away and Rick sighed, saying a quick prayer and thanking God for His protection.  He knew many of the Latinos, as well as the other gangs did not like him spreading the Word through the streets.  But they needed it.  They needed to hear the same message of power and love that he had heard within a jail cell.

As he leaned against the graffiti-filled wall, he thanked God for bringing him to a place where he had to face himself, to face what he had done to Connie, but overall, just to face that his anger and his hate were taking him nowhere.    Jesus had seen beyond that to his deep inner need for healing his brokenness and sent him Sam Treadwell.   Sent a man to pick him up, and pull him out of the pit he had made for himself.

As he recovered himself, he walked down the alley and turned back to Figueroa Street, walking toward home and to the woman he loved.  He was so thankful for Connie’s love which had helped to heal his life.  It was because of her that he had been able to accept Jesus.  She was such a sweet lady.   Together they had turned away from their past life and embraced the change God had made in them both four years earlier.  He decided he would stop by the florist on his way home and pick up some roses to give to her.  He couldn’t show her enough how much she meant to him.

Once he reached their apartment, he skipped up the steps until he reached the 2nd floor where they lived.  He opened the door, and Connie was sitting on the couch, knitting.  He looked surprised, as she didn’t do that often, but she looked up and smiled broadly at him.

“Rick, sweetheart.  I’m so glad you are home.”  She went to give him a hug, and then brought him a nice cold pop from the refrigerator.  He took the cap off and sat down on the sofa beside her.
“Dinner is ready, dear.  Would you like to eat?”  She got up to go in the kitchen of their small apartment, and he took her hand.

“I’m not hungry yet, Connie.  I just want to sit with you for awhile.  I brought you something.”  He handed her the box with the roses in it, and she opened it, smiling at him.

“Rick!  They are lovely.  Thank you, sweetheart.”  She gave him a hug.   She couldn’t believe sometimes the changes in him.  If anyone proved you became a new person in Jesus, it was Rick.  He simply was not the same as the young man she had known in high school, a man torn by inner torment.

She smiled, her eyes twinkling as she set the roses aside and took his hands.  “Rick, I went to the doctor today.”

“Yes?”

“Rick, I…we are going to have a baby.”

He looked in her eyes as his heart was overwhelmed with emotion…joy, that must be it.  He knew how happy that would make her, and it did him as well.  He had sensed since their marriage her longing for a child, and he knew her heart still hurt for their baby back east, little Samuel.   Samuel had been born before they were married, because of their past, because of their relationship at the time.  They always held the hope that they would be able to bring him home to live with them.

He reached out and embraced her and held her.  “Are you ok, Connie?”

She laughed.  Why did men always ask that?  “Of course, I’m ok, Rick.  I’ve been waiting all day to tell you, and I thought I would start knitting some things for the baby.  We just need to start saving for the doctor bill, and of course for things for it.”

Rick nodded.  His job as a mechanic was going fairly well.  God had taken care of all their needs.  “Connie”, he said, thinking aloud mostly, “Perhaps this means we should bring our baby home.  Once this one is old enough. Of course, I don’t want it to be too much for you, but if we are going to start having a family, we should include him in it.”  Rick knew what it was like, not having a normal family, and he wanted his son to be a part of theirs.

Connie nodded, surprised.   He was so considerate now, so caring.  It made her so happy that he had not forgotten about little Sam.  Her heart had ached for him so at first when she had to leave him, but at the time, it had been best to leave him with her aunt.  But Rick was right.  Now it did not make sense not to bring him home.

“Yes, sweetheart.  As soon as we can afford it, we’ll bring Sam home.”  She added, “Thank you, Rick.  Thank you for not forgetting him.”

He smiled at her.   Since the day God had given him his Spirit, things had begun to be restored in his life, and though he and Connie had taken their time, he knew she was the woman he wanted to marry.  She had seen him when he was a wretch and had loved him.   He hoped he could do the same with his son and be a real dad to him.    He would put the things of God in his life, teach him about Jesus, just as he would this new child.  Things his father had never taught him.

“Connie, I hope to put into our children the things I never had.  A love for God, a real family.  And I know you will help me to do that.”  He kissed her forehead, and then said, “I think I’m ready for dinner now, dear.  I can share with you some things that happened to me today.”

She nodded and went to the kitchen to retrieve him a plate of the pasta dinner she had prepared for him.  Rick always complemented her and said she made pasta like his Mama used to make.  She always did her best to make things the way he liked them.  She tried to give him the life that neither of them had had as young people, and thanked God that He had given them that.

Wounded Heart near completion

A Wounded Heart and time off

A Wounded Heart is getting very near to completion. I have one more editing to do, and then a quick read through for grammar, punctuation, etc.
 
This has been a very busy month! I will probably take a couple of weeks off before starting my next project, a children’s book on King Josiah for my grandson Josiah.

Liberty’s Promise–editing complete

I completed the final editing on Liberty’s Promise and will be doing one final read-through before submitting it for publishing through Amazon.

Next I will be starting editing on A Wounded Heart and further outlining of Josiah book.  I’m in the process of learning to illustrate, which I will do once the actual text is complete.

My feeling at this point on Across the River is that I may write the prologue and then write remaining chapters as they come to me.

I’m praying about another project which would be a work of non-fiction, a book on Brokenness and Healing within a Christian context, aimed at educating others on the experience of sexual abuse/sexual assault.   With the whole #metoo campaign, and some other connections I’ve made in my church group, I feel the Lord leading me in this direction.

 

Liberty’s Promise and Josiah project

I’m on the 2nd edit of Liberty’s Promise and hope to have the final edit done by weekend or early next week.  This novel went really smoothe and I don’t foresee a lot in the finally editing stages.  Hopefully by month’s end will have it out on Amazon.

Have outlined my next project, Josiah: the Young King Who Served God, and plan to start doing some writing soon as well as learning how to illustrate it.   A couple of things I need to research is: average length of book for 2nd graders (the age of my grandson),  word usage, as well as how to put some biblical language into language that is appropriate to the age.  Josiah cleaned out a lot of filthy things from Israel, and some of these things are so despicable one has to sanitize it a little for little eyes.

I think I’m falling into a pattern of writing my next project while editing the previous, which seems to be working well.

I’m also looking into Audible books.  One person asked me if my books were in an audible format, and I see I can do this.  One thing that holds me back is, my voice tends to be high and childlike.  Would need to think about whether I can train my voice to an appropriate tone to do this.