Disclaimer – I do not own GI Joe or the characters they are owned by Devil’s Due, Hasbro, Sunbow and whoever has copyrights. I am also borrowing from the television show MASH and the character Radar. I have also borrowed the song Because I Love You by Alison Kraus and Union Station Railroad off of their new CD called Live. I did borrow a small snippet of “Already There” by the group Lonestar. All lyrics to these two songs are owned by someone other than me. I am borrowing all this without permission, but I do not make a profit off of this. I am doing this for fun; please do not sue. All lyrics have been pulled due to new rules at please email me if you need a copy since the lyrics set the story.
Author’s Notes – A very big thank you to Storm O and Scarlett Phoenix for doing the intense Beta work. Without you, my writing could not be a success. I thank you from the bottom of my heart. I also thank the many fans for the wonderful emails and reviews you have sent and given me. Without you, this story could not be a success also.
I do have one small favor, Flower in the Wind. Please get in touch with me via email.
Rating PG 13 (Violent scenes and descriptions)
BY – Medic (MedicLifeline)
Reviews – Always welcome.
Chapter 3: Homecoming.
As the C-130 circled for a final time, Lifeline sat in his seat, his heart starting to pound. Soldiers around him were making small talk. His eyes darted to the window and then to the landing strip. A grin appeared on his face; he knew Carla and the children were in the crowd somewhere below. His thoughts went back to two days ago when he received the news that he was going home.
One Week Ago
Lifeline lay on his cot, sleeping on his side. His glasses were off to the side on a makeshift dresser made from a wooden crate, which at one time held oranges. Drawings and pictures from his children were taped to the makeshift shelves. His gear was stacked about him, his medic’s bag sat under his cot with his Kevlar helmet and body armor lying next to it. The soldiers in the tent with him were all sleeping. The first morning rays of sunlight crept in, shattering his dreams of Carla and his children once again.
He had been dreaming of the morning he left home, six months ago; it seemed like forever. He could smell Carla cooking breakfast. His son was sitting in his highchair, drinking juice. He cherished the warmth of his wife’s hand in his as she drove him to the awaiting plane. In her booster seat, Lisa cried, realizing her father was going to be gone for a long time. He thought of his wifes final tender kiss before he stepped aboard the awaiting plane. I love you, he whispered softly to her.
Lifeline had dreamt of them so many times; that was what kept him going. He carried their picture in his pocket no matter what he was doing or where he went. He saved all of the cards, letters, original packages and boxes, emails, and drawings that his children and Carla sent him. He could feel their love even though he was on the other side of the planet. However, at times like this, he felt like he was back home.
Lifeline often reflected on the times before he had a loving wife and two beautiful children. He really missed them during those moments. There had been advantages when he was single and not concerned with family life. He could come and go as he pleased, but he also knew that time of his life was lonely and a void compared to what he had now.
When he had been told of the possible extension to their deployment, he had stopped counting the days until his deployment was over since no answers were given as to how long they would be gone. Why keep count if there is no reason? The commander had also stated that they might still yet get to go home and that he was just trying to prepare them in case of the worst. But just like a sandstorm in the desert, one can prepare for it but never be really sure how to handle it, until it reaches you. Lifeline was still waiting for the news to reach him and the others in his squad.
Lifeline groaned and stretched, his long frame barely fitting the standard issued cot. His feet hung off the end a bit. He had not yet told Carla of the possible upcoming extension, as he knew she would understand after her service with the former GI Joe team and as an Army doctor. They had tried to make a few plans during their last ten-minute allotted phone time. Lifeline had a feeling those dreams may have to be put on hold again. As the morning sun became brighter outside, Lifeline knew the heat of the day would come with it. Reaching for his pillow, he placed it over his head as he tried to hide from the world he was living in a little bit longer, but the wounded would most likely come in anyway. He had heard the choppers last night; he assumed they were carrying another load, which could have been anything from patients, soldiers, or even equipment. He also heard the rumblings of the vehicles leaving for another patrol search for COBRA sympathizers.
His anniversary was coming up, and he wanted to be home with his wife and children. Half asleep, he smiled, dreaming of a special evening for just the two of them. He asked another medic, who was going into a village that had once been under Cobras control, to pick up a piece of jewelry for him. Lifeline had not been in that village, but the other patrol went there frequently, and the local population had warmed up to them. He knew Ron and Courtney would watch the children for a few days so that they could have some time to themselves. But, what did he want to do? He had no desire to hide away in a cabin in the snowy woods. That held too many bad memories of a past, disastrous relationship. Besides everyone did that, even on a soap opera that a few of the squads watched in the recreation tent. He rolled over and lay face down in the pillow, trying to shut the noises out again and hoping to get a few more minutes of sleep.
Carla looked at the clock; it was getting late and she had to be in the office tomorrow. She could not leave the children with Courtney or Ron, since their teams were going out on assignment. Carla sighed; it seemed like everyone was going somewhere these days. Ron was going one way, Courtney another, although, Scarlett had dropped by to see her and the children a few days earlier.
Carla recalled her and Ed’s last phone call. She smiled at the thought of their conversation. She could hardly wait as the red X’s on the calendar were getting closer to the “coming home” mark. Little did Carla know that the homecoming might be delayed. Her mind went to the conversation with her husband.
Carla had been folding laundry, her mind on things that had happened at the office that day, when the familiar sound of the telephone ringing brought her out of her thoughts. Walking over and picking up the receiver, she placed it to her ear. Her heart skipped a beat, realizing it was Ed.
“Carla?” Lifeline had asked, when she answered. The phone connection crackled a bit.
“Ed? Ed,” she cried, hearing his voice. “It is you,” she happily said as Lisa and Jacob tugged on her shirt.
“Is that Daddy?” Lisa asked, starting to jump up and down.
“Yes Lisa, it is Daddy,” Carla said, placing her hand over the receiver so her husband did not get an earful of Lisa and Jacob’s cheerful yelling.
“Daddy! Daddy,” They both cried out, jumping up and down in place, realizing their father was on the phone.
Lifeline laughed on the other end of the phone, standing by the phone pole. He had waited in line quite a while to hear their voices. He stood there in the heat of the day as the dust blew around him at times, readjusting his boonie hat as he spoke.
“Carla, are you all doing okay?” he asked with a bit of worry in his voice. She had written him, telling him she had to take some time off since the children had gotten sick.
“Yes, Ed, we are doing fine now. The children are feeling better and so am I,” Carla reassured him,” Would you like to talk to them?”
“I most certainly do!” Lifeline replied.
Carla handed the phone to Lisa.
“Daddy?” Lisa questioned as she spoke to her father.
“Yes, Lisa, how are you?” Lifeline asked, smiling.
“I am fine, Daddy. When are you coming home?” Lisa asked.
Lifeline took a deep breath, placing the phone to his chest and then returning it to his ear. “I hope to be home soon,” Lifeline told her. “You know what?”
“What, Daddy?” Lisa asked.
“Close your eyes,” Lifeline told her gently, smiling.
“Okay Daddy. They are closed,” Lisa said, closing her eyes tight.
“I am already there, Lisa, ” Lifeline told her, “I am always there with you, and when you are scared, hold on to Mr. Eeyore. I’m already there. Take a look around. I’m the sunshine in your hair. I’m the shadow on the ground. I’m the whisper in the wind. I’m your imaginary friend. And I know, I’m in your prayers. I’m already there.
“Daddy, I love you,” Lisa said in a small voice, slowly opening her eyes, quickly shutting them, and thinking of her father.
“I love you too, Darling. May I talk to Jacob, please?” Lifeline asked
In the background, Lifeline heard Lisa hand the phone to Jacob and say, “Daddy wants to talk to you, Jakey.”
“Daddy?” his two-year-old son hesitatingly asked.
“Hello, Jacob. How is my little guy?”
“Daddy!” Jacob excitedly shrieked, not really knowing what to say but smiling, hearing his father’s voice.
“I hope to see you soon, Jacob,” Lifeline smiled “I love you, and behave for Mom,” Lifeline chuckled as he told his son, knowing his son had expendable energy like the Energizer Bunny. “I need to talk to Mommy now.”
Lifeline heard Jacob say,” Mommy,” and imagined him trying to hand her the phone.
Carla came back on the line, “Ed, honey, are you still there?”
“Yes, Carla, I am,” Lifeline told her as another burst of static interrupted the line.
“Carla, I have been thinking. Sometime, after I get home, what if you and I do something special honey? Just the two of us?” Lifeline asked her. I know if Ron and Courtney are not off traveling the globe, they would watch the children for a day or two. Once we have had time to catch up.” A mischievous look came to his eyes, thinking of his wife on the other end.
“You know, Ed, that would be wonderful,” she replied in a seductive voice. “But then, you realize what happened the last time we did that,” she smiled looking to their son.
“How could I forget? Lifeline asked, wiping the sweat from his brow. “But, it was well worth it.”
“How did I get so lucky?” he seriously asked her.
“I ask myself that daily, Ed,” Carla softly answered, wiping a tear away from her cheek.
Lifeline sighed, “I do not know how you put up with me some days, Carla. But know this; I am grateful for all you do. I love you.”
“I love you too, Ed,” Carla sighed. “Just be careful.”
“I will, honey. I hope to see you and the children soon.” Lifeline, in a low voice, told her, trying to keep it from cracking with emotion.
Carla hung up the phone after she said goodbye. Lifeline stood there a moment longer, collecting his thoughts and emotions before he stepped away from the pole, as someone else needed to call their loved ones.
Thinking of Carla and the children, Lifeline whispered, “Oh, I love you.”
Carla looked about the room. Turning off the light, she went and lay down on the bed that she and Ed shared. Taking her hand and running it over the spot where Ed would have been sleeping, she whispered, “I love you, Ed, as she, once again, fell asleep.
One week ago…
“Everybody up and at ’em,” Lifeline heard the cry of the squad leader to those trying to sleep in the tent. Among the many groans, his could be heard amongst the group of GI Joes of his tent. Throwing the blanket off, Lifeline sat up. Today was to be the start of a three-day mission. Looking around, he watched the other soldiers, rubbing their eyes and moaning.
“Well, at least the floor ain’t cold,” he heard Moonpie say.
“How would you know, Moonpie?” replied a soldier as big as or bigger than Road Block. “I mean, I believe you sleep with your boots on,” Big E continued.
Several of the others laughed. Lifeline listened to them continue to kid each other as they all started to dress. Looking at his watch, they had an hour before the patrol started. Picking up his gear, he figured he would get cleaned up before going out. As he grabbed a clean desert BDU, something fell to the floor. It was the letter Carla had mailed him a few weeks ago. He got it the other day. He smiled as he picked it up; her perfume lingered on the envelope. He loved his wife and children more than life itself. He had so much love for them. He never imagined that he could care for them nor have the ability to love anyone until he married and had a family. How he wished that love was all they needed to live on; they would never want or need anything else. But sadly, that was not the way of the world; otherwise, she would be in his arms, and he would never let go of her.
Carla had written and said that she was finally getting more patients since moving to the new Joe base since they had relocated from Texas. She had to apply for a license in the state that they were now living in and pass the Boards within that state to remain a certified specialist. The malpractice insurance premiums had gone up, higher than what they had expected. Lifeline almost fell off his cot when he saw the figure. Plus, they were finally starting to get the hospital bills paid off from Jacob’s birth and her surgery, Lifeline was relieved that some of their accumulated debt was being paid off, but, it still worried him that the bills kept piling up.
Lifeline stepped out of the tent into the morning sun; the day was hot already and dust blew around him. Someone had placed a sign out in front of the tent. Ed laughed, thinking of a few in his tent, who would think up an idea like this, and shook his head.
TENT FOR RENT!
Air Conditioning, Corner Lot
Desert View, Gated Community
Sleeps eight, 24-hour security system
Plus many more extras!
He walked to the shower tent even though he planned to only shave and brush his teeth. He had showered the night before just in case an emergency occurred. His back was already damp with sweat as he reached the tent, but he reminded himself that this was the last chance for a shower and shave for several days.
Walking in the shower tent, it was crowded as usual from people just getting off patrol. Lifeline waved hello to several soldiers he knew. Finding a mirror hung on a post, he put some water in the steel kidney pan he carried and set it down on a makeshift bench.
Lifeline soaped his face and stood there, looking in the mirror. He started to think. How many years had he been doing this now? Running his hand through his coal black hair, he saw it was starting to get fine silver in it. He was almost forty now. Counting the years, he realized that he had been in the military for seventeen years. The years had flown past. Sure there were days he had thought of getting out and finding another job so he could be with Carla and the children, but this, for now, had paid the bills. Besides, he had been doing this for so long, what else would he do? He could not go back to being a paramedic like he had been before. He would have to go through school again since a military medic status does not mean the same as a civilian one, and each state had different requirements. A desk job was not for him, and to go work in a hospital as a tech, there was no money in that either. He sighed; he knew he would never leave the Army. His heart was here now, no matter how many times he thought of leaving.
He had discussed his choice to stay in the military with Carla several times, and Carla had supported him but firmly told him that she was out and enjoyed her growing private practice. When the GI Joe team was called up, Carla had been asked to return. She politely declined. He now worked under Dr. Link Talbot. But at times, he wondered if Carla ever missed the team, and when he was down, he often wondered what kept her with a simple medic; she could have done better in life. Had they not married, would she still have turned down the offer to come back? She would smile, walk over, and hug him, telling him to stop acting foolish; she couldn’t have done any better, no matter what he had thought at that moment.
With a sigh, Lifeline started to shave. Still trying to figure out how he would break the news to Carla that they were to be deployed longer than expected. Finishing his shave, he brushed his teeth. He had to hurry. Quickly wiping the last of the soap off his face, he grabbed his stuff and ran down the dusty row between the tents to the one he called home. Above their tent, someone had placed a pirate flag with the Jolly Rodger on in, and embroidered under the skull and crossbones were the words: Operation Excellentia.
As he re-entered the tent, Lifeline watched the others get the rest of their gear together. He quietly walked over to his little area and placed his things in their spots. Reaching down to his old BDU shirt, he opened the left breast pocket and pulled out the photo of his wife and children. Lightly running his finger over the photo, Lifeline gently kissed the photo before placing it in his pocket.
Lifeline placed his flak jacket on and grabbed his helmet and medical kit. He slowly fell in line with the other men to go out on patrol. As they went to their vehicles, another convoy rolled past, leaving a trail of dust in its wake. Lifeline climbed in the Humvee, along with Moonpie, Big E, and Green Bean.
As Moonpie started the vehicle, Big E took the fifty caliber machine gun on top. Lifeline climbed into the back, and the new kid, Green Bean, rode upfront. Lifeline looked ahead of them from the back seat as they started to move, keeping a steady pace with the VAMP in front of them. Passing a line of Wolverines and some of the newer Abrams, Lifeline thought of Cover Girl. He had wondered how she and his best friend, Dusty, were fairing. He wondered if Dusty was out here in the desert someplace. He was grateful that they were so close to the two of them. They were his children’s godparents, and Carla and Courtney over the years, even before the disbanding, became inseparable as friends. That was what put Lifeline at ease, while he was gone. Somehow, he knew Courtney and Ron would try to be there for his family, and for that, he could never thank them enough.
Lifeline came out of his trance as the men in the vehicle started to talk and discuss what was going on and where they were headed. Lifeline just hoped that this day, and the next two, went better than the last time he went out on patrol. He and the other medic, Sandtrap, almost could not keep up. They had been hit so hard in the ambush. So many wounded, so much blood.
Two Days Later…
“Ah, another beautiful day for a drive,” Moonpie joked, knowing the village they had to pass through had shot up several of the vehicles that had relieved them earlier that morning.
“Yes, where else can you find better, picture perfect scenery?” Green Bean asked.
The last two days had gone fairly well for the patrol; the other convoy, coming to relieve them, had arrived this morning. All the men were looking forward to getting back to camp. Some were more anxious than others. Everyone in the Humvee knew of the others’ families by now since they had been together so long these last several months.
As they started to drive back to their camp, Big E called down to Lifeline, “Hey Lifeline?”
“What is it, E?” Lifeline asked concerned.
“You tell your wife of our extension yet? How did she take it?” Big E asked, surveying all around him, seeing the small village they had to pass through. Last time they went through, snipers fired at the convoy as they drove through the main street, hitting a soldier on the VAMP ahead of them and then killing the driver. Big E got the sniper, but only after the sniper had plucked off another soldier on a fifty caliber machine gun on the Humvee ahead of them.
“No,” Lifeline spoke slowly, clearing his throat and realizing Big E did not hear him. Lifeline spoke louder, “No, I have not had the heart to tell her. You know she is ex-Army, but I know she is still waiting for me to come home. I just don’t know how to tell her, I mean…” Lifeline looked to the vehicle in front of them.
Big E hollered down. “Yeah, me too. I figured I would call when we get back. Rosie will be upset. I have not heard yea or nay on this, but figured I’d better say something, you know.” Big E started to scan the rooftops of the approaching village as it came closer.
“How about you, Green Bean? You told your gal about staying?” Moonpie asked the kid.
Lifeline liked Green Bean. The kid reminded him of himself in so many ways when he was younger. Private Bean had showed up a little after Lifeline had arrived. Lifeline thought back to that morning when Green Bean had arrived.
Everyone was sitting at the chow table, getting to know one another when the new private walked in. As they looked to the new babyfaced private with bulky glasses, the poor kid had a dumbfounded and lost look on his face. Someone by the door had pointed out the correct table to him where his new squad was sitting. The new private scanned the crowd before him and shrugged before he headed for the chow line.
“What ya think guys?” a soldier sitting with them, called Combs, asked.
“I think the kid is green,” the other medic, called Sandtrap, answered, taking a bite.
“Ha ha, that is funny Sandtrap. Get it green? Last name Bean,” Moonpie laughed. Hey code name: Green Bean.”
“Hey yes. That ain’t bad, but let’s wait,” Big E said. “The kid might have combat under his belt.”
“Then we can call him String Bean.” Moonpie grinned, taking a drink.
“You know we all have to be trained at one time,” Lifeline commented, defending the new kid.
“That is true,” Combs stated, holding his fork. “Quiet guys, here comes the new guy.”
Private Bean sat down at the table, looking at all of the men around him.
“Hey, Bean, you want your roll?” Big E asked him.
The kid looked at the big man and handed his roll over. “You can have it.”
The guys introduced themselves to him, and finally Moonpie asked, “You ever been in combat, Bean?”
“Yes and no,” Bean replied, looking nervous. “I have been in simulated combat.”
Moonpie and Big E gave each other a high five. “Green Bean, it is.”
“Your new code name is Green Bean,” Combs smiled. “Guys, please welcome Green Bean to the group.”
Lifeline smiled at his memory and looked at his group, not hearing Green Bean’s answer. They had all laughed, joked, and even cried together, having lost so many of their squad and friends. They had all adopted the kid, watching out for him. They all had commented on how he reminded them of Radar from the show MASH. The kid had an innocence about him, and he even hailed from Iowa just like Radar. But Green Bean had a young daughter, where Radar did not even have a girlfriend.
“What about you, Moonpie? You told Natasha yet?” Green Bean asked. Everyone’s eyes went to Moonpie since they all had heard of the feisty Russian wife and her temper.
“Uh, no,” he stuttered,” I was uh…waiting.”
Big E and Green Bean laughed. “If you know what is good for you, you’d better call home,” Big E told him.
The village was now getting closer, and Lifeline saw the buildings as they began their slow trek down Main Street. Suddenly, the snipers started to open fire.
“Keep your heads down!” Moonpie screamed as he drove and Big E opened up with the fifty caliber machine gun, taking out everything in his path. The vehicles ahead of them started to do the same.
Lifeline kept down, and Green Bean ducked. Moonpie cursed, trying to drive faster but swerved to get out of the way of the burning tires in the street. Lifeline heard an explosion as a shell hit the building on the corner; their Humvee was pelted with debris. “Get us out of…” Big E yelled.
Lifeline looked up, waiting for Big E to continue his sentence when, suddenly, he was splattered with blood. Big E had been hit. Lifeline pulled him down the rest of the way. Green Bean stared as Lifeline rolled him over. Lifeline looked at Big E, but he knew it was too late. He had been hit in the chest twice and once in his forehead.
“Get up there, Green Bean,” Moonpie screamed, trying to get them out of there. A huge fireball went up in front of them, hitting the VAMP ahead of them. Green Bean scurried to the weapon and started shooting at the rooftops.
Moonpie swerved and pulled in front of the burning VAMP. Green Bean covered Moonpie and Lifeline as they dragged the two dead soldiers out of the VAMP and put them in the back of the vehicle with Big E. Bullets bounced as Lifeline ran back to the vehicle. He saw a soldier in the street get hit as Moonpie got in. Bullets licked at Lifeline’s heels as he gathered the other dead soldier and tossed the body into the back of the vehicle, diving in afterward. “Go! Go! Go!” Lifeline yelled over the noise of the battle and the noise coming from Green Bean. Moonpie sped off, following another VAMP in front of them.
Lifeline looked ahead, thankful that they were almost out. Another explosion hit the corner of another building. Green Bean was firing away when Lifeline heard a yelp and then saw the kid slump over. Lifeline pulled him down and saw that Green Bean had been hit in the throat. Lifeline tried to cover the gruesome wound with his hand, and as he did, bright red arterial blood spurted out all over his BDU shirt from the wound. He moved his other hand to reach for his kit, which had slid just out of reach, in order to try to save the kids airway, knowing that too was a lost cause, since there was nothing left and both arteries had been destroyed by the bullet. With a last reach, Lifeline gave up on the medic kit, knowing it was of no use to him anyway, and decided to do what he could at that moment with his hands.
Lifeline’s hands worked as quickly as he could. Moonpie glanced back to see Lifeline covered in blood and working feverishly. He heard a sickening, choking, and gurgling sound. “Lifeline?” Moonpie asked, looking ahead.
Green Bean’s eyes were wide with fear at first realizing what was happening to him. He had felt Lifeline pull him down into the safety of the vehicle. The blood was coming out quickly. He could feel the slick wetness running down his chest and soaking his uniform. He could feel himself getting cold and the things before him were becoming dim. In the shadow of the dimness, he saw the medic, who had been a close friend, trying to save him. He felt his friends hands applying pressure. Hearing Lifeline pleading with him to hang on, he wanted to tell him, “It is no use,” but could not speak; his eyelids were getting heavy. With the last of his strength, he reached for his friend’s hand, wanting to know that the medic was still there with him, reassuring him that he would not die alone. Green Bean felt the medic grasp his hand and slipped into the darkness.
“Oh no…Oh no…” Lifeline kept on saying, knowing the kid was not going to make it. Tears of frustration, anger, and fear started to blur his vision as he watched. Another life was snuffed out in front of him, and he was not able to do anything about it. Lifeline held his hand as the kid took his last breath. Blood now saturated the back of the Humvee making the floor slick as Lifeline tried to move. He slid and fell, catching himself on his hands.
Moonpie did not hear an answer, just Lifeline saying no, no no,” over and over again. With a cloud of dust, the village was behind them. Seeing the Skystrikers, Moonpie yelled, “Level that stinking village! Cobra sympathizers…Get those sons of …”
The convoy roared into camp as if it were being chased by banshees. Soldiers came running to the vehicles, lifting the wounded and dead out of them. Lifeline climbed out of the back, standing there wiping his hands on his pants, not really finding a clean place. He looked at the floor of the vehicle, smelling the familiar metal scent of blood as it dripped onto the desert floor. The back of it would have to be hosed out.
Rubbing his neck, he stood there as his teammates were lifted out. He started to walk away. Moonpie ran up and grabbed his arm. “Life…Green Bean?”
Lifeline shook his head, staring at the ground.
“Tell me you at least were able to save the kid. Tell me you were able to help Bean. Moonpie almost begged, knowing the answer before he spoke the words, but his heart prayed that it had been wrong. Lifeline’s eyes, dark with sadness, could not look at his friend as he begged for the answer he could not give him.
His parched throat was not able to find the word ‘no’. Licking his lips, he hoarsely and barely audibly said, “No.”
Crouching down on the desert floor, Moonpie started to cry. He had lost two more of his best friends. Lifeline wrapped his arms around the man as he sobbed. After a few minutes, Moonpie sniffed back his sorrow and said, “I’m okay. Really, I am.”
Looking over, they saw another medic they knew being carried on a litter. It was a man about Lifeline’s age; he had been hit in the legs. Looking closely and recognizing the voice, Lifeline realized that it was Sandtrap. Lifeline walked over to his friend, seeing the pain on his face. Moonpie wiped away the last of his tears with the back of his hand as he followed Lifeline.
“Sandtrap, I knew you would find a way to get home, buddy,” Moonpie kidded half-heartedly, knowing the soldier would never intentionally do anything, but Moonpie tried to lighten the mood even if for a moment. The medic had two more months to go on his deployment, and like everyone else, was getting anxious to get home.
Sandtrap looked up with pain in his eyes, but a grin on his face, flipping the soldier off. “Yes, this was my secret plan, Pie. You got it.”
“I will see you back in the States, my friends.” Sandtrap shook both men’s hands as he was carried and lifted into an awaiting chopper with the rest of the injured; the plane had not arrived yet.
Lifeline and Moonpie quietly walked over to their vehicle and opened the back. Lifeline sighed at the sight of the dried blood. Moonpie drove it to the cleaning area, and Lifeline got a disinfectant solution and threw it in the back. Moonpie turned on the hose and quickly rinsed out the back with a wave of brown and red. Within moments, nothing remained of the patrol; all signs of the men were now washed away, and soon the sand would dry and blow away.
Lifeline looked down at his uniform; it was now covered in a mixture of blood and dirt after three days in the field. Raising his hand to his chin, he felt the days worth of stubble he now had. “I need to call my wife,” Lifeline told Moonpie, making his mind up then and there to call her.
“Yeah, me too. You going to go now?” Moonpie asked.
“Yes, I am. She needs to know. Besides I need…” Lifeline let the sentence die, wanting to say, “…need to hear the sound of her voice.” Lifeline reached into his pocket and pulled out the photo of his family, clasping it firmly in his hand as he walked.
As Lifeline started to walk off, Moonpie cried after the medic. “Lifeline, wait up! I’ll go with you. I have to call Tasha.”
Lifeline kept walking, knowing his teammate would catch up with his footsteps.
Carla had been sleeping but was tossing and turning. The night would not allow her any sleep. She did not know what was going on but her sixth sense told her something was wrong. She just could not place her finger on it. Carla looked at the clock, noting the time. She had to get up soon to go to the office. Looking out the window as she laid there, Carla placed her hand on her husband’s pillow. “I miss you, Ed,” she whispered, before falling in to a fitful sleep again
Lifeline stood in line for the phone. A few soldiers stared at them. Some knew what had just occurred since things like that move quickly among the troops. One loss is everyone’s loss. As he stood there waiting for the man in front of him to finish his ten-minute call, Moonpie kicked a rock around with his foot.
Lifeline looked at the picture in his hand. It had blood on it, but the plastic coating had kept it safe. Hearing the soldier in front of him hang up the phone, Lifeline walked up and dialed his number; it started to ring.
In the meantime, Combs was running around looking for Lifeline and Moonpie. Finally, he heard,” I thought I saw them walk to the phone poles.” Nodding, he ran in that direction.
As the phone rang, Lifeline looked at his watch and realized that he was calling early in the morning, before the sun came up. He hoped that he had not done something wrong, knowing that Carla, between caring for the children and being on call, needed her sleep.
Carla picked up the phone. Hello?” she asked sleepily.
“Carla, Honey?” Lifeline answered.
Carla’s eyes shot open. “Ed? I was just thinking of you. Are you alright?”
“Yes, I am. How are you and the children?” Lifeline asked.
“We are doing okay. Ed, are you sure nothing is wrong?” Carla asked concerned.
In the meantime, the other phone had been cleared, and Moonpie walked up and started to talk to his wife. Suddenly, Combs ran up. “MoonPie and Lifeline,” he said out of breath. Both men stared at him, and Moonpie made the motion of pointing to the phone.
“I know guys, but this is important,” Combs told them.
Moonpie covered the receiver of his phone. “Combs, this better be important. You got it? This is my ten-minute phone call that I am allotted, and you are wasting it.”
Combs looked to him and Lifeline.
“What is going on, Ed?” Carla asked again, hearing static.
“Carla, hold on, Honey,” Lifeline told her.
Taking a deep breath Combs quickly said, “We are going home! Our relief arrived today. We have to pack. We are going home.”
“You sure? Moonpie asked, looking suspiciously at him.
“Yes, I am sure. I was given the order,” Combs nodded. Both men looked at their squad leader. Lifeline had to keep his jaw from dropping. “Please tell me you are not kidding,” Lifeline pleaded.
“Ed?” Carla said again.
“No, I am not,” Combs told them. “We’ll be home in two days.”
Lifeline put the phone to his ear, his hand shaking. “Carla, I have some news just now.”
“Ed!” Carla franticly said. “What is going on? Are you okay? What is it?”
A sad smile broke across Lifeline’s lips. “Carla I am fine. Calm down, Honey. I have to give you some news.”
“Okay,” Carla answered, her lip starting to quiver and her mind racing thinking the worst possible thoughts at that moment. She was not a fool; Carla knew all about news. She had delivered it, good or bad, and knew when it came to the military, the news given could be a blessing or your worst nightmare.
Lifeline’s throat closed at that moment. He was finally telling her the words he had dreamt about all these months. Lifeline told her, “Carla…I am coming home.”
At that moment, Carla could not believe what she was hearing. She burst into tears. He was coming home. Home… All the emotion she had pent up started to come through, “Sssshhhh,” she heard him say. Wiping away her tears of joy, she asked, “When Ed?”
“I should be home in two days, Love,” Lifeline told her. “That is if the plane gets here.”
“Oh Ed!” Carla cried in happiness. The line beeped letting them know they had about a minute left.
“Carla, I love you, and kiss the children for me. I will see you in a few days.” Lifeline told her.
“I love you, Ed,” Carla told him back. “I will. They miss their father so much.”
“I love you,” he told her again.
Lifeline hung up the phone. Moonpie and Combs were standing there, waiting on him. “Let’s go guys.” Combs started to walk away with Moonpie and Lifeline in tow.
All three men walked to their tent. Lifeline noticed the flag had been taken down. Several were putting their things in their bags. “I need to get cleaned up,” Lifeline sighed. “I can’t stay like this.” He looked again at his uniform covered in blood and gore.
Moonpie looked at his friend, shaking his head, “Yes, that might be best.”
Lifeline headed towards the bath tent. When he entered, he looked in the mirrors and noticed how filthy he was from living in the desert for three days and the fighting that he endured. His eyes were dark and sad from the loss of his friends. Pulling his glasses off, he had a ring where his goggles rested on his face over his glasses at times. Turning away and peeling off his uniform, he quickly cleaned up, knowing he was pressed for time.
Having finished and put on his uniform, Lifeline quickly shaved, knowing that by the time they arrived home, he would have a face full of stubble, but at least, he would not have a full grown beard. Carla hated it when he would come in from the field and scratch her with his stubble as he kissed her. Lifeline stood there looking into the mirror as he thought, “What was it going to take to get COBRA to stop?”
Right now, he was too tired to ponder that question. He had to pack. Lifeline quickly went back to the tent and began taking his things and placing them into his duffle bag. Looking over, he saw Green Bean and Big Es cots. Combs saw them all standing there and ordered the soldiers to pack; he would take care of the rest.
“The plane will be here in two hours,” Combs walked in and told them loudly. “So make sure everything is packed and on the pallet! You also need to finish any paperwork to be processed; otherwise, your butt is staying here. Do not forget. Otherwise, you will not be getting on that plane.”
All of the soldiers knew that if the paperwork was not taken to the proper personnel for final processing and approval, no one would be getting on that plane. Combs started to walk around, handing each man his traveling papers. Lifeline took his, knowing even if it got slowed up, it was processed and he could get on that plane. But in order to do that, he had better hurry. He looked at each item as he took and put them away. There were pictures, drawings, and little things. He came across a small carving that Big E had made from a spare piece of wood. Lifeline took his forefinger and thumb and placed them on his nose, rubbing the bridge under his glasses. Big E had managed to make a carving for each person in the tent at Christmas. Lifeline tried to hurry as he placed the items in his bag. He would have enough sand in the bottom of his bag for that sandbox Jacob wanted, Lifeline smiled at the thought of going home.
Finishing, he locked the bag and his gear and took them two at a time to the pallet outside. Moonpie bumped into him re-entering the tent. “Sorry Life,” Moonpie told him, trying to carry his things.
Lifeline and Moonpie walked back into their tent and saw several of their teammates looking at Green Bean and Big E’s belongings.
“Who is gonna pack it?” someone asked.
“Combs is staying behind. He offered to do it. Besides, he is the top ranking person here,” Moonpie solemnly told them. A few heads nodded; no one really knew what to say but goodbye.
“Come on guys, we have to get to the processing tent,” Moonpie said, looking at them. “I mean, Bean and E would want us on that plane.” There were several “yeahs” and “you’re rights”.
Finding the processing tent, the clerk looked up as they all filed in. “Afternoon guys. How can I help you? the clerk asked but then quickly continued, but I have a feeling I already know.
One by one, they went to the desk and had their papers processed. “You boys have a safe trip home, you hear?” The clerk stated and quietly went back to work as each soldier shuffled out. They had a half hour before the plane was to get there; it was now near dark. The planes always tried to land or take off after the sun went down. Reaching the landing strip, several of them sat down on the dirt. Lifeline had checked his pack and his med kit one last time, looking into the distance at their tent one final time.
Combs walked up with a cloth bag in his hand, calling all of the soldiers around. Several of the soldiers realized what he had in his hand. They were black metal name bracelets. The outside was engraved with the name and date of those who perished in battle or another way. The tradition started back in Vietnam for the POW/MIA and the fallen. Now, it was being continued here. Combs knew several were friends with Big E and Green Bean. Reaching in the bag, he pulled out the black bracelets.
“These were made while you were getting ready to leave,” Combs said very somberly. He continued, “I know several of you were friends with Green Bean and Big E. Hell, we all were. Whoever wants a bracelet come forward.”
As he started to pass them out, Lifeline realized Combs had five on him between the two wrists. He recognized two of the five of them were for Bean and Big E. Lifeline had seen so many he knew perish or wounded, but he had been closest to these two soldiers. Holding his hand out, Combs asked who and how many. Lifeline had replied one of each for Green Bean and Big E.
Lifeline slipped the metal bracelet on. It felt cool against his skin. Looking down, he read the names. They read Michael “Green Bean” Bean and Elijah “Big E” Sommers. Lifeline smiled, noticing the name. It was the same first name as his father. He wiped a tear away for his two teammates.
Combs wished everyone a safe trip. He didn’t say much more, got into a jeep, and drove away, leaving a cloud of dust.
Squinting and looking at their tent for the last time, Lifeline watched Combs jeep drive up to the tent. He watched Combs carry a duffle bag out, walk back in, and get another, placing them all in a jeep before driving off. Lifeline knew that Combs had packed their teammates’ belongings.
Hearing the scream of engines above, Lifeline looked up and saw their plane circling as it got ready to land. It was twenty minutes late. Holding his helmet on his head and adjusting his pack, he watched the plane slow to a stop; the ramp opened. Only a few more steps and he would be on his way home, home to his family.
The loadmaster had the heavy equipment loaded along with the pallet of their personal gear. Looking up, he gave the all clear to board. “Come on, boys, we are on a schedule here,” the loadmaster chided them.
The men did not have to be told twice to get on the plane and find a seat.
Lifeline found a webseat next to Moonpie, hearing the soldier say, “Home…I am going home.”
“Yes, we most certainly are,” Lifeline quietly told him, knowing what Moonpie was thinking.
Taking off his helmet, Lifeline sat it on his knee and smoothed down his hair, his eyes watching the ramp close in back. The plane started to move forward, ever quicker down the strip until it had lifted itself off the ground. Lifeline looked down at the camp below, giving a small wave.
On the home front
Carla lay there in bed, no longer able to sleep. Her husband was coming home in a few days. She could barely wait. Pulling her cell phone out, she called her parents. Even at this early hour, they were excited to hear that their son-in-law was coming home. After her conversation with her parents, Carla got ready for work and then woke up the children. She wanted to wait until the day the plane was to arrive before she told them that their father would be home. She dropped them off at daycare and went to start her day. Arriving at the office, she quickly called Ed’s father and sister to inform them of the joyous news. Both were ecstatic to hear that Ed was on his way back after such a long time away.
Carla was exhausted at the end of her frantic workday, but she still had so much to do before Ed made it back. As she walked through the commissary trying to get a few last minute things, she ran into Scarlett. The redhead was carrying a small basket of groceries.
“Shana,” Carla happily greeted her friend.
“Carla,” Scarlett grinned. “Have you heard the good news?” her friend asked cautiously, wondering if she knew that her husband was on his way home.
“You mean Ed coming home?” Carla grinned. “He called earlier this morning.”
Scarlett nodded. “I was going to tell you this evening, but I wanted to make sure you were home. The orders just came across Duke’s desk this morning. I bet you are excited.”
“I am ecstatic,” Carla told her friend. “I miss him. I just can’t believe it still. I just wish Ron and Courtney were here,” Carla sighed.
Scarlett understood, even though the former Joe doctor did not belong with the team anymore, she still had all her friends. Scarlett knew Carla and Courtney were best friends as were Ron and Ed. The four of them had always managed to keep in touch when the team had disbanded and even been assigned at the same places at times.
Scarlett hated to go but knew Carla had several things to do yet. “Carla, I have to get going. Tell Ed to stop by the office when he gets back. I am happy to hear our medic is returning to us. We have missed him. The infirmary has not been the same since hes been gone.”
“I will see you later,” Carla waved. “Id better get going too.” She started to laugh. “I do not want my ice cream to melt,” Carla said, looking in her basket at the Vanilla Bean flavored ice cream, Ed’s favorite.
Scarlett smiled. “No, you do not want that. Take care,” she said, continuing down the aisle and leaving Carla to finish her shopping.
After checking out, Carla went and picked up the children. ‘Ron and Courtney would be so surprised’, she thought, wondering when both her friends would return.
Later that night, when everything was done, Carla went to lie down. She sat on the bed that she shared with her husband and picked up a photograph. Gently rubbing her fingertips across it, she whispered, “Ed, sweetheart, I cannot wait till you are home.”
The Next Day
Lifeline sat on a plane heading back to the United States, his tour of duty done for now. Smiling, this was the third plane he had been on in less than twenty-four hours. Lifeline figured he had flown through so many time zones that he had most likely passed himself in one of them. Carla and the children would be waiting for him when they landed at the base that now housed the PITT, which was disguised as a normal military base. He looked around at the planeload of soldiers surrounding him. Everyone was tired, dirty, and jetlagged to say the least; some were wounded, some not, some sleeping, some reading, and others just talking. They talked of home, their mission, their families that they left behind, and some of the comrades that they had lost.
The C-130 started to descend, and Lifeline’s heart started to pound, his reunion only moments away. With a bump, the plane landed. It grew quiet, so quiet he swore he could hear a pin drop.
Lifeline watched as the ramp was lowered. The medical vehicles were waiting as the wounded were unloaded first. He watched them lift and carry the litters to the awaiting busses and ambulances. As they were carried off, Lifeline had caught the glimpse of a shine from the purple hearts, which were pinned to the blankets or shirts of each of the injured soldiers. Each soldier, who was waiting to de-board the plane, focused on each litter lifted off the plane. When they were done, his group slowly stood up. Now was the moment they all had been waiting for.
“Okay boys, the loadmaster said. “Go to you families and friends.”
No one had to be told twice. Lifeline adjusted his boonie as he prepared to walk off the plane to his waiting family.
Among a crowd of other anxiously awaiting families, Carla and the children stood there, waiting for Lifeline to exit the plane. Lisa waved her flag as her big, brown eyes looked for her father. The little girl watched as the plane was unloaded. “What are those, Mommy?” Lisa asked about the busses and ambulances with the big red crosses on them.
“Those are emergency vehicles. They are for the people who are hurt,” Carla gently explained.
“You mean daddy is hurt?” Lisa asked, her eyes wide with apprehension.
Carla looked down to her daughter. “No honey. Daddy is fine, but some of the people with him are not.”
“Oh…” Lisa answered, “Do you see Daddy yet?”
“Keep looking, I bet you see him first.” Carla smiled, wiping a tear away and thinking that Ed could have easily been on one of the litters.
Carla watched as the ambulances and busses drove away. Looking closely, Carla watched as the soldiers began to walk off the plane. As families and friends realized it was their loved ones, they ran to them. Carla’s eyes anxiously looked for her husband.
Ed adjusted his pack and walked down the ramp of the plane. He had three more steps and counted them as he took them. “One, two, three. He was now walking on the blacktop of the tarmac. He saw all the smiling faces of the soldiers with him, embracing the loved ones who waited for them. Several had new children.
Looking over he saw a beautiful woman run to Moonpie, embracing him as he lifted her off the ground in a hug and planting a kiss on her lips. Scanning the crowd, he searched for Carla. Off in the distance, he saw them; he quickly picked up his pace from a fast walk to a jog and finally to a run. As he ran, he dropped his medic bag and his pack, letting it clunk to where it landed.
Carla looked as people started to exit the back of the plane. She scanned the faces of all the happy soldiers until she saw someone that looked like her husband. Looking closer, it was him.
“There is Daddy!” she proclaimed to Lisa and Jacob. Lisa squealed with delight. Carla did not recognize Ed at first, until he was making a mad dash to them. He was much thinner, looked exhausted, and had a five o’clock shadow; but it was her husband. Carla and the kids started to wade through the crowd. She never took her eyes off her husband and saw him suddenly drop his things as he got closer to them.
As his wife approached, Ed held his arms wide open, tears starting to run down his cheeks, ready to embrace the family he missed so dearly. Stopping, he knelt down as Lisa broke away from her mother and took her brother’s hand. Both children ran and yelled, “Daddy! Daddy!”
They reached him and ran into his arms. Lifeline embraced his children, hugging them tightly. Kissing each of them, a few more tears ran down his cheek as his children hugged and kissed him, repeating, “Daddy, Daddy.”
Ed glanced up and noticed Carla standing there off in the distance, watching the scene unfold in front of her with her husband and the children. He stood up as both children clung to his legs, beckoning his wife to come closer. Overwhelmed with joy, Carla moved quickly into Lifeline’s awaiting arms.
Lifeline hugged her tightly and placing his lips firmly to hers, tasting the salt from her tears on her lips. Kissing her deeply before he whispered, “I love you. His voice cracked, and he was almost unable to get the words out due to his suddenly parched throat, which closed from emotion.
Carla kissed her husband; breaking the kiss, she took and rubbed her hand over his cheek, feeling the stubble against her fingertips and tracing the tear lines on his dirty face. Looking into his eyes, she saw darkness and sadness but mostly relief and love. She kissed him again as a gentle breeze blew his boonie off his head and hung on his back. “I love you Ed,” she whispered after the kiss. “Welcome home.”