You could smell the unmistakable odor of a bathless body mixed with Jim Beam when you came within a few feet of him. His appearance was that of a street bum, straggly beard and uncombed hair, with ragged clothes to match.
He was called “Story Teller Red,” a title that grew on him from the unbelievable story he would tell. Passers-by who offered him change would be caught off-guard when he would say, “Mister, for a drink and a couple of dollars more, I’ll tell you a story.” He would stick out his unwashed hand to shake, and say, “You can call me Red.”
My friends and I were here for just a few days before they shipped us out, so we figured, why not, what could it hurt to listen to this crazy vagrant and help the homeless in the process? We winked at each other, bought him a drink and stuck a few dollars in his can, then pulled up some sidewalk as we made ready to listen to the old man.
He wore an old tattered military coat and had worn boots to match. We assumed he had been given these at a homeless shelter, but as later we found out, they would sure help make his story more believable.
The old man started by saying, “Young people were avoiding the war, dodging the draft, but I took it as an honor to serve my country, so I went down and signed up.”
He drank a little of the whiskey from his cup and continued, “I kissed my Mom and Dad goodbye and headed off, willing to serve wherever I was needed. You see, I love this country, even though she’s got her faults!
“It wasn’t long before I moved up a bit in rank and was given a handful of soldiers with orders to infiltrate a location behind enemy lines. It would be dangerous, so I allowed any of my men who wished, without prejudice, to stay behind. There were twelve of us total. Four decided to stay behind as the other eight of us made our way in the direction from which we did not know if we would return. We made it to our target, took out the lookout and a couple more. We were able to successfully sabotage their communication lines and luckily came upon some highly sensitive papers. I stuffed them in my jacket.
He paused and opened his coat and pointed, “Right in here. It was about then, that we were spotted, that’s when all hell broke loose!
“Mister, just one more drink?”
He had sure picked a good place to stop, so we poured him another cup.
He went on to say, “Boys, the bullets were flying. Me and Jones were leading the way when we found our little group surrounded. We began fighting tooth and nail. Wilson was the first to get shot, got him square in the chest, died instantly. I grabbed for his body and dragged it with me. Then, a mortar exploded and injured two other guys, making them unable to walk. In the dark it was hard to see and the noise was unbelievable. We were shooting at anyone that looked like an enemy and somehow managed to drag everyone back to our base of operation. I hadn’t realized it but something warm was running down my face… it was then I blacked out.
“How about another one, friend?”
He drank a little and finished up…” I woke up in a military hospital, they all told me that I was lucky to be alive. Yep, seems I had a caught bullet to the head…”
He stopped and showed us what looked like a scar, then said, “They tell me I still have the lead lodged there to this day.”
It was then the old man paused, hung his head. His shoulders shook a little. He pulled a dirty cloth from his jacket and wiped his eyes as he said, “I lost two of my men that night, two good men!”
“I was thankful we could fly their bodies’ home to their widows. Amazingly, all of us had either been shot or wounded badly, but we survived, thank God!”
He continued, “O yeah, they gave us some medals and treated us real nice, but I have always felt responsible for letting my buddies die.”
Teary-eyed he said, “I just can’t talk any more.”
What a great story. I took a hundred and placed it in “Red’s” hand.
Walking away, I chuckled and said to my friends, “That ole man can tell some big ones, no wonder they call him “The Story Teller.” We laughed and walked away -- a few days and we would be headed for our own special assignments.
About a year later, while in preparation for Patriotic celebrations, I was in the barrack and happened to catch a story on the evening news. It was one of those special events in which they wished to recognize heroic acts of those who had been in service. One story caught my attention as they told about two soldiers and how through their heroic efforts had turned a part of the war around through one valiant trip behind enemy lines. It seems they were called the “Valiant Eight” and they had been led by Captain Fredrick Samuel Jackson. The report stated that two men had been killed and six others had been wounded, but miraculously, no soldier had been left behind. Captain Jackson, who led the mission, had taken a bullet to the head, it was a miracle he survived. Not only did he live, but the rest of their squad owed their lives to the Captain’s actions taken that night on what was nicknamed “Miracle Hill.”
What’s more interesting about this man, the reporter continued, as our research has shown, he has been signing his veterans pay over to the widows of the two fallen soldiers every month for the last 12 years. He also sends an additional money order of varying amounts to the Veteran’s Charity Relief Organization, with a simple signature “A grateful soldier.”
We would love to have him here today to show a special honor, but his whereabouts are unknown. If you were to see him, please let him know that there are many people who wish to thank him personally for his sacrifice for his country. By the way, he sometimes goes by the name “Red.”
I couldn’t help but sob like a baby as I bowed my head and prayed,
Dear God, forgive me for taking so lightly the sacrifices others have made. Thank you for the brave men and women who have given all, for they willingly answered when their country called. Please God, forgive me for misjudging my fellow man and thank you for the privilege to serve my country, Amen.
As I wiped my tears, I couldn’t help but once more bow my head, Lord, thank you also for what I gained through Story Teller Red.
Freedom isn’t free… it cost BLOOD!
Written by Loyd C Taylor