Author: Steve Traywick
The Green refers to Fiddler’s Green from A Cavalryman’s Poem. Fiddler’s Green was first
published in the Cavalry Journal in 1923 and its author is unknown. It is believed to have originated in the 1800s. It should be noted that all Troopers assigned or attached to the 1st Cavalry Division are “Cavalry” regardless of their branch of service. The Poem, in its entirety, is reprinted at the end of the story.
It was a hospital like so many others. It smelled of disinfectant and sickness. It was always dim; even on the sunniest of days. For most people, it was simply a place to go to get treatment for whatever was ailing them; an appendix taken out, a knee replaced, back surgery. Patients came and went.
Most patients came and went. For some this would be the last bed they would occupy on Earth. Some old people came to the hospital simply to die, and one elderly man had come here just for that reason. He had lived on his own for as long as he could. He didn’t want to go out from a nursing home. He had finally given up and came here.
The cancer had spread quickly and he had made his arrangements. He had foregone chemo and radiation treatment. He had put a ‘Do Not Resuscitate’ order in his records. He was tired and he was ready to go. His children had looked in on regularly and his few local friends had been in to see him. He had told his children how proud he was of them and how much he loved them while he was still lucid. He had been frank with them about how he wanted to go out. They had agreed that they wouldn’t leave him on life support any longer than necessary.
Now, the time had come. The doctors all agreed that there was nothing else they could do for him and that the end was near. The tube had come out of his throat. The IVs had been pulled from his hands and arms; the bruises showed plainly. His daughter wept softly. His son was trying to be stoic, but the tears stood in his eyes. Grandchildren looked somber.
Two older gentlemen stood in the back of the room outside the family circle. When they came into the room they had muttered introductions to the son. He had nodded and went back to his vigil. The old men stood at the back of the room with their hands behind their backs looking straight ahead. They each had a small red and white shield on their lapels; a black horse rearing in the center.
The only thing still hooked up to the old man on the bed was a heart monitor. The heart beat that had been going steady for over seventy years was finally beginning to slow. The uplifted lines that indicated each heartbeat now came slower and slower. The nurse had said it might take a half hour or so.
Behind the old eyelids the old man’s mind was still going. His life was playing like a fast moving film. He saw childhood and the children’s home where he’d spent a portion of that childhood. He felt the loneliness of that experience. He saw his brothers and half-sisters. He heard the screaming of preachers and felt the beatings at home. High school. Girls he had dated. The Army and the lifelong friends he had made. The cold of being in Germany. The heat and dust of Texas. He felt and saw the good and bad he had done. At times the corners of his lips would try to pull up in a smile. Sometimes they would try to pull down into a frown. He saw his children from birth to the present. He could still feel the pressure in his chest of pride and lo……there was a brilliant white light…..
…The soldier stood on a dusty trail. He had no recollection of how he’d gotten here. One instant he’d been lying in a hospital bed, the next he was here…wherever the Hell “here” was. It was foggy, but in the distance he could just make out the black outline of a grove of trees. Sounds came from that way but he couldn’t quite make them out. He looked down at himself. He saw ripstop BDU trousers tucked into black combat boots. He could feel the Velcro straps he used to wrap around his ankles to keep his trouser legs in place. He knew he was also wearing a slightly oversized BDU blouse same as he had when he was young. Moving his hands around his torso he could feel a full set of LBE. A tanker’s rig shoulder holster was in place. He could feel the weight of what he knew would be a Colt M1911A1 .45 caliber pistol nestled into place. A weight that he hadn’t felt in years was pushing down on his head. He placed his hands to his head in disbelief, but sure enough it was a Kevlar helmet with a camouflage cover.
He was confused. He hadn’t dressed like this in over forty five years. This couldn’t possibly be Heaven. Was it Hell?
“Here ya go, troop. Drink this. It’ll help with the confusion.”
The soldier whipped around his hand moving to the butt of the pistol. He hadn’t heard anyone approach.
“Easy, son. Like I said, drink this. It’ll help you get a grip on your situation.”
A figure stood outlined in the mist. A hand held something out to him. The soldier reached and grasped a metal canteen cup. He hadn’t held one in what seemed forever. He looked into the cup. A half inch of brown liquid covered the bottom. He held the cup to his nose. A familiar aroma rose into his nostrils. He placed the cup to his lips and drained it. The liquid was cold but warmth started in his mouth, got hot as it went down his throat and finally exploded in a fiery cloud as it hit his stomach. His lips pulled back from his teeth as he grimaced and then let out a bourbon cloud.
“Thanks. If I didn’t know better I’d swear that was…”
“Kesslar’s? The old ‘Uncle J’ that you used to drink?”
“Did we know that’s your favorite bourbon?”
“You’ve got a few things to learn. Just enjoy it. You need to be briefed in.”
“Briefed into what? What the Hell is this place and just who the fuck are you?”
“That’s not important right now. You’ll remember a lot of things that you’ve never really forgotten. Suffice it to say you’re home now and right where you’re supposed to be.”
The soldier looked around. The scenery hadn’t changed but the mist seemed to be thinning out. The figure of the man he was talking to was slowly becoming clearer. He was obviously another soldier. He was wearing the same BDU uniform but without all the gear. He stood ramrod straight but appeared to be perfectly at ease. There was something familiar about him.
“I know I’m dead. Given the life I’ve led I would have expected flames and some asshole with a pitchfork to be poking me in the ass right about now.”
“Lighten up on yourself, troop, you didn’t do as bad as you think.”
“Really? And you’d know that how?”
“Good intelligence, son. Some things you just have to take on faith. Would an old First Sergeant bullshit you?”
“I knew some that definitely would. I knew a few who wouldn’t…”
The figure stepped closer. The mist thinned a little more. A BDU cap sat squarely on his head. The three stripes on three rockers with a black diamond in the center were on the front. It was pinned exactly in the center of the cap. Below the cap was light brown hair cut Army regulation short. The hint of a smile played on the man’s lips. The brim of the cap was pulled low down the man’s face almost covering his eyes….THE EYES!
The eyes were the same light blue as a husky’s. They seemed to glow beneath the cap brim. The eyes seemed to say “If you’re a shithead, I WILL fuck you up!” They were the kind of eyes that could strike terror into the heart of a young private who had somehow done something wrong. They could strike terror into the heart of a young Second Lieutenant for that matter. They were the kind of eyes that the Army would have issued to any young NCO just getting his stripes if they could have.
“HOLY SHIT! Luther?”
The soldier’s jaw dropped open.
“Close your mouth, son. You’re going to draw flies into my AO.”
“Well, Goddamn! And to think for years I thought you were sharper than this. You still haven’t figured out your location yet?”
The soldier had spread his feet approximately shoulder width apart. His hands went behind his back, came together and were slowly easing up to the middle.
“Relax son. At ease. Hell, Rest. I’ll explain your situation to you and I’ll use as many one-syllable words as I possibly can. Do you remember what you were and what you did when you were young?”
“Of course, First Sergeant I was a tanker.”
“Well, good. I’m glad to see you haven’t gone entirely stupid since you ETS’d. You were a tanker in a cavalry regiment. More than that, you got out of the Army, but you left a big chunk of yourself in the Army and you took a big chunk of the Army with you when you left. Do you remember a certain poem that used to be posted in the barracks?”
Realization was slowly creeping in.
“Outstanding! Yes, Fiddler’s Green! I knew you weren’t as dense as you were acting. Hell, you used to be a sharp troop.”
“But, First Sergeant, I never retired. I ETSd. I didn’t die in combat.”
“Nothing in the rules about any of that. You served. And, you loved it. That’s what matters. Tanks and tankers made you into a man. You are in fact at the place that all tankers and cavalrymen go when their time’s up.”
“But, I thought that was just a legend.”
“Didn’t we all? We’re all here, though. How many times have you heard about an old tanker passing away and said or written ‘R.I.P. Troop. See ya at the Green’?
“Plenty, I guess.”
“See. Somewhere inside you you’ve always thought it was true. And now we’re all here.”
“’We’re’ all here…?”
“Yeah. All the old cavalrymen and tankers going back to when cavemen figured out horses were good for something besides steaks.”
As they talked, the mist had been thinning out. The sky was blue overhead. The grass was Springtime green with a light coating of dust. A faint smell of diesel, gasoline and horse shit hung on the air. The soldier could see the grove of trees clearly now. Dark figures moved in the shade under the limbs of the trees.
“So, what’s the plan?” The soldier asked.
“Well, you might want to get your ass back in the saddle, so to speak. If you walk that way you’ll find a mount. Take it out and play with it. Come dark, park it and there’ll be a cookout with all the steaks and beer you can hold. Tomorrow, go find friends that passed before you. Catch up on old times. You’ve spent the last forty or so years reading history. You’ll get to meet some of the folks you’ve studied. You can ask them why they did some of the things they did. They’ll give you straight answers. No reason to bullshit you here.”
“So, I’ll find a ride, huh?”
“Just on the other side of the hill, you’ll know it when you see it.”
The soldier had been looking where the First Sergeant was indicating. When he turned back around, the old ‘first shirt’ was gone. The soldier looked confused for an instant then shrugged and started walking up a slight slope. When he got to the top of the rise he looked below him and gasped. Below him was what looked to be a brand new M1 tank. The M2 .50 caliber machine gun was mounted. The loader’s M240 was in its place.
Walking up to the tank, he traced his hand over the hard steel of the front slope. It was warm to the touch. In the back of his mind he was hearing an old Don Felder song play. A tune called ‘Heavy Metal’. He placed his right boot into the stirrup hanging from the left front skirt and swung aboard. He walked to the turret and lightly hopped up. Sitting on the breach cover of the machine gun was a CVC helmet with his name and rank stenciled on it.
He straddled and then dropped into the commander’s hatch with his hands on the rim to catch himself from dropping to the floor. There was movement inside the turret. He didn’t bother to look. He knew who the crew would be: Jonesey would be in the gunner’s seat. Zeke would be driving. Someone would be loading; didn’t matter who.
He placed the CVC on his head. He could hear faint static coming through the earpieces.
“Driver! Crank this bitch up!”
The turbine engine went through its start-up cycle. It still sounded like a helicopter spooling up. In the distance he heard the clatter of tank tracks before he ever heard the sound of the engines. Three M1s went past in the distance in a V formation. One tank was missing. In the lead tank a large black man with monstrous biceps was looking at him and grinning. A huge arm went back and forth in a “come on” motion. Then a ham like fist pumped up and down.
The soldier grinned back. He spoke into the boom mike on his CVC, “Driver, move out. Kick her in the ass!”
In the hospital room people were leaving. Hugs and condolences were given to the man’s children. Most of them knew they would see each other again at the viewing and at the funeral. The two old men held their places in the corner of the room. They shook the few hands offered them. People that didn’t know them probably thought they were undertakers. A couple of the men had looked knowingly at the pins on their lapels and nodded at them. Finally, only the son and daughter were left. They stood before the men arm in arm, their eyes red.
“We have to get going,” the son said. “We have arrangements to make.”
“We do appreciate ya’ll being here,” the daughter said.
“If you don’t mind, we’d like to stay for just a few minutes.”
“Not at all. Please do come to the house. People from the church are probably already bringing food.”
The older men smiled. One said, “We’re old soldiers. We never turn down free food.”
The young people left the room and pulled the door softly closed behind them. The two old men walked to opposite sides of the bed and looked down at the remains of their old comrade. One of them pulled a flask from the inside pocket of his jacket. He uncapped it and the faint odor of bourbon wafted across the room. He took a sip and passed it to his companion across the bed. He also took a sip and passed the flask back. The man returned it to his pocket.
Rest in peace, brother,” the second man said. “See you at the Green.”
The two old warriors than each raised a hand to his eyebrow in salute and walked out of the room.
“A Cavalryman’s Poem”
Halfway down the trail to Hell,
In a shady meadow green
Are the Souls of all dead Troopers camped,
Near a good old-time canteen.
And this eternal resting place
Is known as Fiddler’s Green.
Marching past, straight through to Hell
The Infantry are seen. Accompanied by the Engineers,
Artillery and Marines,
For none but the shades of Cavalrymen
Dismount at Fiddler’s Green.
Though some go curving down the trail
To seek a warmer scene.
No trooper ever gets to Hell
Ere he’s emptied his canteen.
And so rides back to drink again
With friends at Fiddler’s Green.
And so when man and horse go down
Beneath a saber keen,
Or in a roaring charge of fierce melee
You stop a bullet clean,
And the hostiles come to get your scalp,
Just empty your canteen,
And put your pistol to your head
And go to Fiddler’s Green.
[Editor’s Note: Steve Traywick was born in Union City, Tennessee on April 11, 1958 but grew up in Houston, Texas. Steve went into the Army in June 1979 as a 19E10 (M60A3) Tank Crewman. He arrived in Fulda FRG, Germany in November 1979. Strategically important during the Cold War because it was an area where tanks could invade, The Fulda Gap is situated between what used to be the East German border and Frankfurt. Steve was assigned to B Trp 1/11 ACR and served there until January 1984 when he was transferred to A Co 2/8 Cav, 1st Cavalry Division at Fort Hood. Steve continued his service with the 1st Cavalry Division until he left the service in 1989.]