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Greetings from Afar

The Flight Home

The telephone rang at three o’clock. Barbara glanced out the window… dark as the inside of a pile of coal. Then she looked at the clock on the nightstand by her bed. Who could be calling at such an ungodly hour? The thought frightened her. Instinct told her that it just had to be bad news. She rolled over and glared at it for a moment or two and then groggily picked up the receiver, answering on the third ring…

“Hello?” She whispered sleepily.

Silence. In the background she could hear the muffled sounds that accompany large numbers of people packed into a small and crowded space.

“Hello?” She repeated… a little louder this time. There was a short pause, then a voice answered her.

“Barb,” came the reply. A tinny and distant voice echoed and reverberated slightly as it came through the receiver to her tired, and still sleepy ear. “This is Johnny… can you hear me?”

“Hey, Little Brother, wha-cha you up to? I didn’t know that they even had phones where you are”.

“Oh, they got ‘em all right… I’m not in Nam, Barb. I’m at some Air Force Base, in Maine for God’s sake. I got here over an hour ago. I’ll be home tomorrow. Can you meet me at DFW?”

She thought for a moment. Dallas was a good four hour drive, in the very best of conditions. It was pouring down rain. Conditions were not good. At least six hours, she thought to herself as she answered her brother… “What time?” she asked.

“I’ll be on flight 387. It arrives at 7:25 tomorrow night”, came the reply.

“OK…” she said cheerily. “I’ll have to get somebody to go with me, though. You know I’m due in about six weeks, and Roger’s still in Germany on that Temporary Duty. HEY… What are you doing home, anyway? I thought your tour ran another three months…”

“Things change, Sis. Got to come home early. Why don’t you get Jimmy to come with you? He’s in on leave, isn’t he?”

“Yeah, he is… I hadn’t thought of that. He’s got a new car, too. Maybe we can pick you up in style”.

“Don’t worry about that, Sis… just be there to meet me, OK?”

”You know it Little Brother. You wouldn’t believe how glad I am to hear you’re home. The news says things are getting pretty bad over there”.

“Yeah, they are, but I’m outta it now. See you tomorrow, OK?”

“OK… see you tomorrow”.

There was a click at the other end of the line, and then the hum of a dial tone. Barbara went back to sleep. A little later in the morning, she called her cousin Jimmy, who was in on leave from the Marines, and asked him to drive her to Dallas to pick up Johnny. Two hours later, just before noon, they were sitting in Jimmy’s new Ford Mustang headed up U.S. Highway 59 toward it’s intersection with I-20 leading to Dallas. Three packs of cigarettes, eight “pit stops” and six hours later, the two arrived in Dallas. Rain was still pouring down in sheets when the rolled into the metered parking lot of Dallas-Fort Worth Intercontinental Airport… the biggest Airport in the World. In spite of the weather, they had made it early, and settled into the lounge to wait for the flight.

The lounge was packed. But when Flight 387 taxied into view outside the wall-sized picture window that overlooked the tarmac and the loading ramp, Barbara and Jimmy squeezed to the very front of the crowd that was gathered in front of the double doors leading to the newly arrived Boeing 727. They looked expectantly toward the door as each passenger entered the lobby, but… Sergeant John D. Lightfoot, USMC, failed to appear.

Gradually the stream of incoming passengers changed from a flood to a trickle, and finally stopped altogether. The two looked slowly and expectantly back and forth, between each other and the door…

“Maybe he missed his flight,” Barbara commented.

“That’s not like him,” Jimmy answered. Johnny’s too anxious to get home. The last time I talked to him, he was about ready to try and swim it…”

“I know”, the nervous looking woman replied. “I’ll go to the desk and see if they know anything”.

Just as she started to move away, toward the information desk, the double metal doors opened one last time. This time, they were held open by two uniformed marines. A few seconds later, six more marines entered the lobby. They were carrying Sergeant John D. Lightfoot’s coffin. He had been dead for just over a week.

Barbara fainted.

This story in memory of my cousin, Sgt. John D. Lightfoot, USMC (16 July, 1951-21 August, 1972). One of the few, the proud… the Marines. Your name’s carved on the wall, Johnny, but it’s carved even deeper in the hearts of those who knew and loved you. HAPPY BIRTHDAY JOHNNY!