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Date Posted: 13:10:24 11/23/08 Sun
Freedom by doc
AN: This is my answer to the November 2008 HBX Challenge.
I had hoped to have this piece completed as a celebratory tale dedicated to Veteran’s Day, but the writing of my previous story took longer than I anticipated, and then real life took over as it is wont to do. Despite my tardiness, I hope you will accept this story as it was intended…a humble thanks to all of those who have chosen to serve and sacrifice so that the rest of us may be free. This is a heartfelt token of gratitude from just one of the adoring citizens back home.
Both quotes in this piece are from speeches made by President Ronald Reagan. The first predates his presidency and is from a speech he gave in 1961. The second is from a speech at the D-Day Commemoration in Normandy, France on June 6th, 1984. In my mind, these quotes define and embody the “responsibility” each of us bears to protect the freedoms we enjoy, so they may survive to be passed on to the next generation. I hope that no one will take offense or assume that I make light of that responsibility by utilizing fictional characters to tell this tale. I fully understand the sacrifices those brave souls, who came before me, made in order to ensure my chance for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness…and for that I am eternally grateful.
In order for this story to work, I needed the Rabbs to have a younger family than my ‘A Nickel Trumps a Dime of Fate’ crew. So, even though I love them, I will set them aside for the telling of this tale. I have decided to revisit another Rabb family, which I created for my Christmas ficathon entry a year ago. In case you need to refresh your memory, the Harm, Mac and Maggie of this piece are from my Fortune Cookie trilogy: ‘In the Bleak Midwinter,’ ‘Lo How a Rose E’er Blooming,’ and ‘When a Child is Born.’
As a brief reminder, the first story took place in Season 9 during the episode ‘A Merry Little Christmas’, and found Harm and Mac at odds after he uttered the words, “Forget about it! It’s too important for you to screw up.” Mac, in an attempt to mend the riff, chased after Harm only to be involved in a serious car accident. The first story ended with Harm and Mac engaged, but unforeseen complications resulted in a medical catastrophe. The second story picked up a year later at Christmas time. Harm and Mac were now married and had just learned they were about to experience the best Christmas gift of all…a child. The final story occurred a year after that, as the Harm, Mac and Maggie were preparing to celebrate yet another holiday season together. Key to all of these stories was the importance of Harmon Rabb Sr., who served as a guardian angel to the Rabbs, protecting all those who Harm Jr. held dear.
By the way, the Rabb family is currently stationed in Korea. Captain Harmon Rabb is the SJA to the Admiral who serves as the Commander of U.S. Naval Forces Korea. Colonel Sarah MacKenzie-Rabb has also seen promotion and is the SJA to the Commanding General, U.S. Forces Korea. Oh, and little Miss Maggie is a 3-years old energetic hybrid of both of her folks.
And the tale continues…
Disclaimer: I don’t own JAG or any of the characters. I just take them out and play with them on occasion before replacing them safe and sound back on the shelf. The Reagan quotes in this story appear in “italics” within the body of text.
Special thanks to Mom, my faithful finder and keeper of all things related to spelling and grammar. A special thanks to janlaw, who helped me find suitable duty stations for our favorite dynamic duo!
November 11, 2008
The stranger sat back in the shadows, hidden by the crowds, watching the young family make their way through the benches of the Pentagon Memorial. The tall man of regal-bearing stopped, pointed to a particular bench, then bowed his head in reverence. The elegant woman at his side reached for his hand and gently squeezed in commiseration, before slipping her arm around his waist. Her head dropped sullenly against his shoulder, as his lips fell to her hair in a quiet gesture of comfort. The two stood in silence, motionless and subdued, clearly affected by all that the memorial embodied. It was obvious from their bearing that they were acquainted with one of the fallen from the day.
The weathered man watched the couple for a moment longer, before deflecting his gaze back to the small sprite who had first caught his attention. The little girl toddled and jumped around her parents enjoying the fun of a new adventure, all the while oblivious to the solemness of the ground on which she played. As a small child who had not yet been born when the horrors of the unthinkable had happened, she had yet to understand the significance of all the changes that were wrought by that day.
As a crowd walked past, obstructing his view of the family, the man maneuvered his wheelchair out of the way of the throngs of people paying their respects that day. The wind whipped and churned around him, causing him to tighten his hold on the thin jacket wrapped around his arms. He glanced up to the gray foreboding sky, and thought it appropriate considering the setting and the meaning of the day. A young boy stopped beside him and smiled, before extending a hand in greeting. The old hand, wrinkled and bruised, grasped the small soft hand of youth. The boy leaned closer, whispering a hushed and hurried “thank you,” before galloping off to join the gaggle of school children from his class.
The veteran sat a little taller in his worn old wheelchair, a contented smile lit across his face, and the tinge of a warm glow in his cheeks. There was hope in the future of this generation he mused; that was why they all chose to serve and fight. He reached up to straighten the garrison cap perched upon his head, allowing his gnarled fingers to proudly brush across the tattered emblems embroidered on its side.
When he glanced back to the thinning crowd, he saw the family of three who had first caught his view. Husband and wife now had the mischievous tot in hand, as they wove in and out amongst the other visitors. Just as they were a step away, a wind gust caught the brim of the little girl’s cap sending it flying through the air. The woman dropped the child’s hand, and gave chase to the wayward hat, while dad held tight to their precious cargo. The girl giggled, head thrown back, as the wind whipped through her curly tresses sending them into a wild frenzy. The white-haired gentleman couldn’t help but join in the child’s lighthearted-mirth. His hoarse laughter caught the child’s attention, and she timidly ducked behind her protector, clutching to her father’s knee.
The kind old gentleman smiled and wiggled his fingers hello. She grinned, ducked and giggled, then peeked back in a game of hide-and-seek. Her father laughed at the twosome, before lifting his daughter high in his arms. Her eyes caught the flutter of a miniature flag attached to the old wheelchair. She pointed at the American symbol of red, white and blue, then placed her left hand over her chest. Her father chuckled at the obvious mistake, and traded the right hand for the left, placing it directly over her heart. The old man beamed with pride at the patriotic gesture, and offered his flag to the child. At that moment, the woman returned and the couple continued on their way with a kind nod and utterances of thanks.
The veteran watched as the man lifted his daughter onto his shoulders, and then reached for his wife’s hand. The trio slowed their pace to a meandering gait, observing the sights and sounds around them. Just as they were almost out of sight, the little girl glanced back, and waving the flag aloft at the craggy old vet, executed a nearly flawless military salute.
He watched them disappear from view, before whispering to no one but himself. “They’re what it’s all about…they’re why we fought and died,” he bowed his head, praying to the heavens above, “…don’t let them ever forget.”
A few hours later
U.S. National World War II Memorial
Harm chased after Maggie as she scurried up the walk. Just as he’d almost caught up, the little girl glanced backward over her shoulder then darted left, out of her father’s reach. She giggled at the fun of the game, and veered off for the water of the reflecting pool.
“Maggie, STOP! No, No, don’t go near the water!”
The little girl laughed and hurried her pace. Harm took off on a full run to intercept his daughter just before she had a chance to fall in. Catching her by the waist, he swung her high in the air and settled her onto his shoulders.
“Got’cha…you little…imp,” he gasped out, holding firmly to her legs. He marveled at the speed of the 3-year old, and decided it was best to hold her captive until his wife’s return, lest he permanently lose her amongst the crowd.
“Wait until your mother gets back, young lady,” he poked her in the thigh as a teasing gesture of warning.
“Down,” Maggie giggled, “…me wanna run!”
“No ma’am, you stay right where you are,” he slipped his hands around her feet to control her movements, as she began to kick and struggle in protest against his chest.
“She’s quite the handful,” a gravelly old voice called out followed by a low-pitched rumbling laugh. The laughter soon gave way to fits of wheezy coughing, before the stranger caught his breath and eventually calmed down.
Harm turned around to find the old veteran from early in the day. The older gentleman was comfortably seated in his wheelchair beside one of the park benches. Maggie immediately caught sight of her earlier friend, and grabbed the flag from her father’s pocket. Lifting the banner aloft, she vigorously waved it to and fro as a gesture of greeting. Harm laughed at his daughter’s antics, and turned back to the kindly gentleman.
“Yeah, she’s a character all right,” he shifted his daughter down into his arms, “…she definitely keeps her mom and me on our toes. Don’t you, monkey,” he playfully poked her in the belly. Maggie bashfully ducked her face into her father’s shoulder, hiding from the stranger’s gaze.
“So, are you here visiting family or friends?” the man questioned.
“No, not really…we had to fly back to Pennsylvania when my grandmother took ill,” Harm explained. “We decided to fly through D.C on our way back to Korea.”
The gentleman nodded in acknowledgement, then rephrased his question, “I meant here at the memorial.” He gestured toward the World War II monument, “Do you know someone who fought in the war.”
“Yes,” Harm’s voice dipped a bit with emotion, “…my grandfather was a pilot in World War II. He went down while flying a mission, and never made it home…he never even got a chance to know my father.”
The old veteran nodded, acknowledging the all too frequently told tale, “I’ve heard that story or one similar to it, at least a hundred times. So, you came to pay your respects?” Harm nodded in reply. The gentleman extended his hand, “The name’s Bernard…Bernard Frazier, but my friends call me Barney.”
Harm gently shook the boney old hand, “Harmon Rabb, my friends call me Harm. And this little imp is Miss Maggie,” he bounced her in his arms as way of introduction. “I see your wearing a garrison cap, that must mean you’ve seen battle as well.”
The white head proudly nodded, “Yes sir, I served shipboard as a gunner during the war…stayed in for nearly 30 years.” He fingered the cap on his head, “Retired a Master Chief almost four decades back.”
“Wow, that’s quite an accomplishment,” Harm smiled in awe, “…we owe folks like you a debt of gratitude, Master Chief Frazier.”
“Thank you,” he waved off the compliment, “…please call me Barney.” He glanced off into the distance for a moment or two, lost deep in the thought of past memories, before focusing back on Harm and Maggie. “We did it to protect the future for little ones like her,” he winked at the little girl, “…and I’d happily do it again if given half the chance.”
Maggie shyly winked both eyes in reply, completely taken with the elder gentleman, before a passing jet caught her attention. “Daddy, wook airpwane,” she pointed overhead, “…vroom vroom!”
“I see, doodlebug…that plane is kind of like Daddy’s isn’t it?” They watched the fighter jet bank right on CAP flight maneuvers leaving a white vapor trail in its wake. Harm refocused his attention on the old vet.
“So you’re a pilot?” the gravelly voice asked.
“Yes sir, third generation naval aviator,” Harm answered with pride just before his countenance dropped, “…my father was shot down over Vietnam. On Christmas Eve,” his voice grew softer, “…when I was just 6 years old.”
“Never came back?” Barney’s voice conveyed his sympathy.
“No sir,” Harm’s reply was barely audible over the blowing wind. He wanted to add that his father spent years as a prisoner of war in Russia, but knew that information remained privileged.
Maggie sensed her father’s sadness, and wrapped her arms around his neck, burying her face in his hair. He held on tight, gently rubbing her back, “It’s okay, baby…Daddy’s okay.” He kissed her chubby cheek, and ran his fingers through her hair.
Barney watched the solemn moment play out between the father-daughter pair. The sun ducked behind the thick cloud cover, lending a sense of poignancy to the overwhelming gravity of silence.
Harm’s eyes slowly rose to the expansive horizon, before settling back on the kind old gentleman. “Sorry,” he whispered, then briskly wiped a finger beneath his tear-filled eyes.
“Nothing to be sorry for…your family has paid a huge price in service to this country. We are indebted,” the admiration was evident in Barney’s voice. The old vet took a deep cleansing breath and continued on, “Are you still in the Navy?”
Harm nodded, struggling to calm his emotions. “Yeees,” he cleared his throat, “…ah, yes sir, but I don’t really fly much anymore.”
“Oh?” puzzlement reflected in the wrinkled blue depths of the wizened eyes.
“No sir, I had a ramp strike…eye problems…”
“Oh my, your family history is alarming!” Barneys’ eyes widened in shock. “I’m sorry,” he ducked his head chagrinned, “…I shouldn’t of said that. Please forgive me.”
“It’s nothing that I haven’t thought myself,” Harm chuckled at the irony, thankful for the opening to lighten the mood. “I, ah…I went to law school after my crash and rehab. I’m with the JAG corps now, have been for years…although I did keep up my quals. Well, at least until recently. This little one,” he kissed Maggie atop her head, “…made me rethink that decision. I want to be around to see her grow up.” He glanced off into the distance, “I don’t want to chance a repeat of that particular family legacy.”
Barney nodded, “I can certainly understand that.” His crooked grin turned mischievous, “I suppose the Navy could use a good lawyer…every now and then. If for nothing else than to keep us old blokes honest and toeing the line.”
Harm chuckled back, “You better not let my wife hear you say that…she eats sailors for lunch!”
“A marine?” the old man asked knowingly.
“How’d ya know?”
“That eating sailors comment,” Barney shook his head, “…and I’m guessing it would take a marine to keep up with the likes of you two.” He pointed an arthritic finger toward Maggie.
Harm watched his wife slowly stroll their way, his smile exuding devotion. Muttering softly, he threw a conspiratorial wink, “You have no idea, but let’s keep that between the two of us.”
“Mama!” Maggie squealed.
Once Mac acknowledged them with a wave, Harm set Maggie down on her feet. The little girl took off on a full run; arms extended forward, laughter filling the air. Barney giggled merrily at the beguiling spectacle of exuberance. “She’s a keeper that one,” he uttered between gasps of laughter.
“They both are,” Harm whispered, mesmerized by the sight.
“They’re why we do what we do,” Barney’s expression sobered, “…they make all the sacrificing worthwhile.” Harm nodded his agreement.
“Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn't pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children what it was once like in the United States where men were free,” Barney quoted the words of a past president with quiet determination and resolve.
Harm studied the old vet’s face, as he recited the text. Deeply moved with emotion, he watched his beloved family as they skipped and frolicked along the walk. Eyes shining brightly, he turned his attention back to the aged-face lined deeply with years of wisdom.
“President Ronald Reagan,” Barney answered the unvoiced question, then handed Harm a creased and worn leaflet that had seen better days.
Harm accepted the cherished memento, nodding his agreement, “A conviction we should all live by…and fight for…for this generation and the next.” He reverently touched his fingers to the inspiring words, as if to tattoo them on his soul. Mac arrived at his side with Maggie in tow. He tucked an arm around her waist, holding on tight to those he cherished most.
She looked up to study his face, “Harm? Are you all right?”
“Yeah,” he replied softly, kissing her windblown cheek.
Mac looked around uncertain as to the source of his somber mood. Her gaze finally settled onto the kind face of the wheelchair-bound veteran. “Hello,” she smiled, and the warmth of her eyes rivaled the sun. Recognition dawned in her expression, “You gave Maggie the flag, back at the Pentagon Memorial…right?”
“Yes,” Barney smiled back, “…I’ve been having a rather nice chat with your husband and beautiful little girl.”
Harm startled out of his catatonic trance, “I’m sorry…Mac, this Master Chief Bernard Frazier,” he gestured toward the gentleman. “Barney, this is my wife, Colonel Sarah MacKenzie-Rabb.”
“Can’t say as I’ve ever had the pleasure of serving under a marine who looked like you, ma’am,” Barney’s eyes twinkled with barely controlled mischief, “…doesn’t mean I wouldn’t have liked too, though. In fact, I might have invented ways to let trouble find me…just so’s I’d have need for your legal advice, mind you.”
“And I bet you were a legendary flirt in your day, Master Chief,” Mac shook her head indulgently, all the while laughing away.
“Still am,” he leaned forward, whispering to her from behind a cupped palm, “…just don’t tell my wife. She already has me under constant surveillance with the old hens in her retirement home brood.”
“You are something else,” Mac giggled at his spunk, and pointed a scolding finger his way, “…your wife must be one tough cookie to keep up with you.”
“You have no idea,” he winked back, “…but I wouldn’t have it any other way…best 68 years of my life,” his face glowed with fulfillment and pride.
He shivered then as a frigid wind gust blew past. “Well, I guess I best be getting back, before I catch my death of a chill. It was nice to meet the two of you,” he extended a hand to both Harm and Mac.
“And you, Miss Maggie,” he waved to the tot, “…you absolutely made my day.”
“Bye-bye,” the little girl waved and blew him a noisy kiss.
“Can I see to it that you get home?” Harm asked with deep concern.
“No sir!” Barney answered stoutly and defiantly shook his head, “…I’ve been independent my whole life, don’t plan to stop now!”
Harm bowed his head, grinning at the mild chastisement, and vowed to be much the same at that age. “Got it, Master Chief.”
“The bus for the senior center is waiting right over there,” Barney pointed off in the distance.
“Okay,” Harm smiled, “…it was an honor to speak with you this afternoon, Mr. Frazier.”
“Barney,” the old man corrected.
“Barney,” Harm nodded acknowledgement.
The elderly gentleman began to slowly wheel away, before glancing back once more. “Don’t forget,” he spoke in hushed reverent tones, pegging Harm with a thoughtful stare.
“Never,” Harm whispered back, “…I promise.” Harm watched the proud veteran make his way down the walk, stopping every now and then to greet the youth and passersby.
“What was that about?” Mac huddled into his side seeking his warmth.
“The future,” he enfolded her into his embrace with one arm, before reaching for Maggie with the other.
“Freedom,” he whispered toward the proud figure retreating into the sunset.
A short time later
Harm slowed his stride then stopped a few feet away. Daughter clutched in one arm, he gripped Mac’s hand tightly with the other. Staring at the imposing black marble structure, his eyes took in the columns and rows of names. Remaining silent, thoughtful and still, a violent shiver wracked his body, racing down his arms, before settling as a fine tremor into his hands.
Mac looked up to study her husband, “Harm?”
He didn’t answer for the longest time, eyes fixed to that well-acquainted spot on the Wall. Memories rushed forward, playing through his mind like old 35mm home movies. Images flickering and fleeting, speeding past. He licked the dryness from his lips, then struggled to swallow the hard lump in his throat.
“Sweetheart?” Mac tried again, worried by his reaction. She’d never seen him like this before, in all their trips to visit his father. She brushed a hand over his chest, coming to rest over his heart. Palm flat, fingertips stroking a soothing refrain. She tucked in closer to his side, head against his shoulder. His cheek dropped to her hair, brushing against the softness of the strands, finding solace and peace in the familiarity of its fragrance.
“Your heart is racing,” she whispered, pressing her hand more firmly to his chest.
“Nerves…more like emotions, I guess,” his breath rushed out in an uneasy stutter against her hair.
“Why?” She pulled back to gaze in his eyes, “Why are you nervous?”
“Maggie,” his eyes darted away in embarrassment, “…it’s the first time.” He shook his head, “I’m not making any sense.”
She noted the watery glistening welling in his eyes, “It’s okay…I think I understand.” She cupped his cheek, running the back of her fingers over the emerging stubble of his afternoon beard.
He smiled with gratitude at her patient indulgence, causing a tear to slip from his eyelid and course down his cheek. Burying his face in her neck, he hugged her closer still.
“Do you need a moment to yourself…just you and your dad?” She traced her hand over his side, calming and appeasing, then dipped beneath his leather jacket and thick woolen sweater. Fingertips to skin, she worked to soothe the rawness of the rising emotions.
“Nooo,” he gasped, “…I…I just need yooou…”
“I’m right here,” she wrapped her other arm around her daughter and hugged them all close, “…we both are.”
Maggie remained still in their embrace, not quite understanding the significance of it all, but somehow sensing the solemness of the moment.
Mac felt him shudder against her length. “Breathe for me,” she softly encouraged.
His breath came in short staccato gasps, “I…I…can’t.”
“Sure you can,” her lips brushed over his brow and down his cheeks. She felt his breathing lengthen, deepen then slow. “That’s it…slow and gentle…take your time.”
After several minutes, he pulled back to look in her face, his expression sheepish. “I’m sorry,” his voice was thick and laced with emotion. “It’s just that,” he glanced at his daughter, “…it’s the first time…Maggie…”
“…and your father have met,” she finished the sentence for him.
“Yeah,” his eyes flicked toward the inscribed black monument, “…her first Christmas…it was too cold…and then,” he swallowed hard, “…we were transferred overseas. She’s never…”
He gazed into his daughter’s face, kissed her cheek, eyes swirling with intense feelings and unsaid words. Maggie reached up to wipe her father’s tears, then leaned in and kissed his cheek.
“Wuv you, Daddy,” she whispered into his ear.
“Me too, doodlebug,” he murmured back. “Are you ready to met Grandpa?”
“Yes,” she pointed toward the Wall, “…Papa Harmon in Heaven.”
“Yes, he is,” his smile reflected deep sorrow, “…he’s up there looking after you, and Mommy, and me…but we can talk to him while we’re here. Do you want to say ‘Hi’?”
Maggie nodded her response, and clutched tightly to his neck, slightly frightened by the unknown. As he took a step forward, Mac stayed behind.
“Aren’t you coming?”
“I will...in a minute,” she smiled, “…I think you and Maggie need some time for introductions first.” She nodded her encouragement, and he slowly approached.
His eyes unerringly found the exact spot. Carefully reaching for his daughter’s hand, he intertwined their fingers and brought them to his lips in a reverent kiss. Then brushing their fingertips, small and large, over the cool marble surface, he traced each letter one by one. All the while whispering…
“We will always remember. We will always be proud. We will always be prepared, so we may always be free.”
Taking a moment to gather his thoughts, he waved Mac forward and into his arms, beginning the introductions, “Dad, I’d like you to meet your granddaughter, Maggie…”
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