People respond to dangerous situations differently. I remember as a kid seeing horror movies, “Jaws” among them, and seeing a wide range of reactions from the characters: crying, running, bravery, and so on. My dad told me about an instant in his life, when he was in the army. Now, as he was in charge of supplies, he didn’t see much combat. Typically, he was behind the lines. Yet, there were a couple instances where he was in a tough situation.
One time, he was leading a convoy toward Rome, and he had to slam on the brakes. He popped the door, stood up on the fender and held up a closed fist. The trucks behind him came to a stop. Before them was a narrow, winding dirt road. Dense trees lined both sides as it meandered across the countryside. My Dad and his buddy Kane climbed down from their cab. The other men did likewise, and they all gathered at the front of the lead truck. The trees on both sides of the road had boxes strapped to them. Wires ran from one box to another.
My Dad kicked a stone in frustration. “Dagnabit!”
“What’s wrong?” one of the men said.
Kane looked at him as if he had three head. “Son, what are y’all, a nut? Them trees is wired to blow.”
“Everyone hold your positions. I’ll check it out,” my Dad said, moving forward.
Slowly, picking his steps with care, he reached the first box. Cautiously, he ran his hands up and down it. Taking ahold of the wires coming out of it, he gave them a gentle tug. He moved on, examining several more boxes, and then returned to the men. Rooting around in the toolbox, he pulled out some wire cutters.
“So, what y’all think, Robbie?” Kane said.
“I don’t think they’ve been armed. I think it’s the Last Man Out Syndrome.”
“The what?” another of the men said.
“When an army retreats, they plant mines; they booby-trap bridges, and carry out general mayhem. Thing is, it’s the last man out who’s responsible to do it.”
“So,” most of the men said together.
“So, think about it,” my Dad replied. “You’re the last man. It’s going to take you hours to wire all these boxes. You don’t know when that dust cloud coming down the road is the wind or the enemy. So, since you are the last man, who’s going to know if you don’t bother with the wiring?”
The men responded with a collective, “Ah.”
“Any-who, you boys wait here; I’ll clip the first box to test my theory.”
Kane rubbed the three-days of growth on his chin. “Robbie, what if y’all is wrong?”
“Then you guys can watch me break the record for the hundred-yard dash.”
The men chuckled, all except Kane. My Dad crossed to the first box, took the wires and slowly gripped them in the cutter, even as he cringed. He started to close his eyes, but then stopped as he realized something. Given his distance from the box, if it did go off, there was no hope of his surviving. So, if this was his final moment on earth, he would not go out with a whimper. He looked around. Despite the ravages of war, this was just about the most beautiful countryside he’d ever seen, at least outside of Martha’s Vineyard Island. So, standing tall, he gave the wires a quick snip, shuddered, and waited.
He looked back at the men and smiled. Moving on to the other boxes, he snipped their wires. Once he was done, he returned to his truck, and he and Kane led the convoy past the trees. Not the bravest of military actions, but my Dad said it taught him an important lesson:
Never cower, even in the face of Death; face your fear and you’re halfway to defeating it.
Combining the gimlet-eye, of Philip Roth, with the precisive mind of Lionel Trilling, AJ Robinson writes about what goes bump in the mind, of 21st century adults. Raised in Boston, with summers on Martha's Vineyard, AJ now lives in Florida. Most of the time he writes, but sometimes he works at Disney World to renew his fantasies and get a few dollars more. AJ writes, with insight and passion, about his family and his dog. His liberal, note the small "l," sensibilities often lead to bouts of righteous indignation, well focused and true.
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