Johnny Came Marching Home

Sometime; just sometimes, when all the kids are grown, educated and you no longer, from desire or need, relentlessly pursue the means to have what you want, a liberating understanding of purpose illuminates your mind forever as you realize you now truly want what you have.

Purpose is a road weaving in and out of our lives, rarely traveled in a straight or unbroken line, its constant change or destination not made clear until one nears the journey’s end.

In 1993, while shopping in a large hardware store in Northern Virginia, I was walking past end caps, looking down each long aisle, when I noticed a tall man at the far end looking directly into my eyes. Transfixed for a few moments, I watched him turn and begin to walk away, but then he back-stepped into the center of the aisle. In that same instant, we recognized each other! In the time it took to walk the sixty feet to reach him, my memory was jolted back thirty years in time, flashing vivid scenes, colors and audio effects like some form of dysfunctional instant replay..

In the dead of night, torrential, tropical rains and ankle deep mud made it hard to move or run. Mortar rounds were exploding, small arms fire cracking from the perimeter of the ammo dump, and shrapnel cutting through vehicles, tents, and a tall soldier caught in the open.

The captain, my CO, hit in both legs after moving his men to safety, sank slowly to his knees. Without thought, I ran to catch him at the waist as he fell forward. I lifted him across my back and shoulders.

Captain Johnathan MacDonald, respected by all and known affectionately as “Captain Johnny Mac”, was so long and tall I could feel his finger tips touching the heels of my boots as his weight pushed me ever deeper into the mud.

Struggling, exhausted, moving toward a secured area, I managed to return fire with my free hand.

I soon felt the helping hands of medics grabbing my shoulders and pulling the captain to a stretcher on the soaked ground. These amazing soldiers stopped the bleeding and in seconds carried the captain away from heavy enemy fire. Captain Johnny Mac managed to grab my sleeve and utter a breathless, “Thank you Sergeant, get me home.”

He was whisked away, one arm falling out limply to the side of the stretcher. I never saw or heard from him again; I thought he had died that night in the rain.

Yet now, this moment, I was looking into the smiling eyes of Captain Johnny Mac as he hugged me so hard I was lifted off my feet.

The rest of the conversation was a blur. He survived! He was married; had two kids. He was the store manager and being transferred out of state that very week. We would keep in touch.

Hard to share or explain these emotions with my beautiful wife, the love of my life who had not yet been born until one year past what was then my world. Perhaps that time served a purpose after all?

Late in 2016, I learned that a very special member of my unit was being laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery making me the last surviving member.

The honor guard for Captain Johnny Mac, dressed in formal Army blues was solemn and respectful to his family as they presented his wife the carefully folded American flag.

I had remained some distance in the background, privately showing my respect; quietly saying goodbye. As I turned to leave, the voice of a young woman interrupted my thoughts, speaking quietly, “You must be him; the young Sergeant,” she said. “His young Sergeant?”

Before I could answer, she went on to say, “My name is Margaret. He was my grandfather. He said you would come; you would know. We should look for you.” She continued, “He said to tell you, thank you.”

She walked to me, kissed my cheek and repeated through soft, quiet tears, “And, I thank you.”

No more needed to be said. She turned and walked back to grieve with her family.

Margaret was tall, slender, had her grandfather’s deep blue eyes, light red hair, and a family that loved her.

Now this road, the link, this purpose in my life had come to a meaningful, unexpected close.
All this.
All this time.
All these things.
All because . . .
Johnny came marching home.