by Roger W. Cain © 2002

Sergeant Walter Johnson stood his post at the Veteran's Memorial Bridge in Guntersville, Alabama. The sleek arch of bleached concrete swept across the Tennessee River like an arrow-shot in the night as automobiles hummed against the asphalt in the cold December air.

"One soldier, standing without relief," he said out loud. It wasn't fair. His jungle greens didn't fit in here either. "Nobody ever stops on the bridge. I bet they're all going sixty." He imagined himself, straddling the centerline with his hand held up, signaling to stop; and knew for a fact that the last pick-up zooming by felt a shiver.

He heard a squeal of tires and the squawk of metal against concrete. Turning in horror he saw the pick-up lurch to a halt, and a child riding in the truck bed flipped into the air and over the guardrail. "Jesus, now what have I done?"

The driver and another passenger from the truck cab ignored him as Johnson came running alongside to look over the guardrail into the black night waters of the Tennessee.

"Did you see that guy in the road?"

"What guy?"

"God help us, Jimmy's gone."

"I can't see him, but I know he went over the side."

With no hesitation, Sergeant Johnson jumped over the guardrail, seeming to float in the icy air. He remembered the same kind of feeling when the landmine blew him straight up and time seemed to stop, so long ago in Vietnam. "I'd gone running to save someone then, too."

Anger flushed his face as Sergeant Johnson finally surfaced after his jump. Stroking furiously, he sidled over to the child's body, working harder than ought to be necessary, bobbing in the murky eddies of the broad river. "At least the kid is on his back but I have to keep him breathing." The unfairness of it all steeled the Sergeant once more and he held his hand beneath the head of the unconscious child. Anger makes me strong. Working with all his strength, Sergeant Johnson gave just enough lift to the child's head for breath.


Sunlight brightened the chill air over the waters of the Tennessee, as the rescue dinghy wobbled toward a child's body, floating in the river.

"That's Jimmy, that's my boy."

"Take it easy Mr. Rawls. It's a miracle the body's even floating after this long."

"The water's warmer than the air but that's not saying much. Wrap him up in that blanket."

"His face is dry! I think he's still breathing!"

"Good God in a devil's Hell, how can that have happened?"


Anger freshened his spirit with substance, as Sergeant Johnson stood his post in the noonday sun. "No bands playing and no parades." He'd returned from valiant service to shame and rejection, over thirty years ago. Following the hearse and his own coffin across Veteran's Memorial Bridge, he'd chosen his own private Hell. "Veteran's Memorial Bridge, my ass. I'll stand right here until those tie-dyed hippies salute, or Hell freezes over."

x x x

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