Just a Humble Hero: a Short Story based on a Poem
Just a Tramp (a poem)
This short story was inspired by my poem 'Just a Tramp', one of my earliest hubs. I felt that it told an important and timeless story and was a good vehicle to expand further. Thank you for reading and I hope you enjoy this tale.
- Just A Tramp
This poem has the theme 'don't judge a book by it's cover' that hopefully has a message for us all in how to treat our fellow man.
Warrant Officer Class Two (WO2)
This is a senior management role focusing on the training, welfare and discipline of a company, squadron or battery of up to 200 soldiers. WO2s act as senior adviser to the commander of a sub-unit. Company Sergeant-Major (CSM) in all sub-units except for the following:.
Just a Humble Hero
by John Hansen © 2014
Jim shuffled restlessly on the slatted bench, an oversized army trenchcoat his only protection against the chill in the air. Sitting up, he pulled a metal canteen from his coat, unscrewed the cap, and took a swig. When the last mouthful of liquid slid down his throat he shook the canteen as though hoping it had been magically refilled, but only a few drops flicked out.
Most of the park's residents drank cheap wine, but not Jim. Whisky warmed your body and helped keep the cold at bay, and besides, he had his pride. Nobody could call Jim a wino, a hobo maybe, but never a wino.
Yes, he still had his pride, and his health, for that he was thankful. Everything else was gone. Jim was only 56 though he looked ten years older. He scratched the greying stubble on his chin and tried to contemplate his life.
On leaving school he joined an engineering firm as an assistant draftsman, but his career was cut short in 1966 when he was conscripted for National Service and, along with a number of his friends, was sent to Vietnam and the war against the spread of Communism.
After serving three years in Hell he returned home as Warrant Officer James Morgan, and was awarded the 'Victoria Cross' for bravery above and beyond the call of duty. He felt this honour was undeserved but wore the medal as a constant and grim reminder of his friends and comrades who died in action.
Jim's marriage to Diana had lasted eight years and produced a wonderful son, Jeremy, and beautiful daughter Felicity. Constant flashbacks and occasional violent outbursts were both a legacy from the war and a danger to his family, so one day, after leaving a brief note to his wife, Jim simply packed a bag and left.
Family and friends judged him harshly for this and called him an "asshole" and other derogatory terms for leaving his young family. There wasn't one day that passed, however, that he didn't feel guilty at what he'd done, even though he felt it was for the best at the time. He had undergone counselling for more than three months on his return from combat but the psych just enforced the feeling of futility and guilt at having engaged in the war. Any pride he may have felt at having fought for his country, evaporated. After each counselling session, Jim left feeling more depressed then before he went in.
He had no hope of resuming his previous promising career, and despite an occasional part-time job, was unable to land a permanent position due to his PTSD. Feeling depressed and worthless he found solace in a bottle.
Each year on his children's and wife's birthdays, Jim would go out of his way to send cards and even forgo his much cherished bottle of bourbon for that week so he could afford to buy Diana a bottle of what he remembered to be her favourite perfume, 'Tweed'. It saddened, but didn't surprise him that there was never a reply. Besides, where would they send it, 'No Fixed Abode?' Jeremy and Felicity would be grown now, probably with families of their own. He brushed away a tear as he realised he could be a grandfather, and wouldn't even know.
One of the best books you will ever read about the Vietnam War
Jim stood up, ran his fingers through his untidy hair, and ambled over to a nearby trash bin. Reaching in, he located a half-eaten hot dog and yesterday's newspaper, but his scavenging was rudely interrupted by a tall young police officer who exclaimed, "OK Pop, move along! The cafe's closed."
Stuffing what remained of the hot dog in his mouth, Jim folded the newspaper and placed it in his jacket pocket. He strolled along the pathway unconsciously obeying a sign, 'PLEASE KEEP OFF THE GRASS'. Now and then he would stoop to pick up a piece of paper or anything that caught his eye. Jim often came across small change and, once even found a twenty dollar bill with which he bought the trenchcoat at the Army Disposals. Besides, picking up rubbish helped to keep the park tidy. While he lived here it was the least he could do.
An attractive young woman hurried past clutching the hand of a small boy whose short legs were forced almost into a run to keep up.
"Hurry up, Michael!" she scolded, "You're already late for school."
The boy's backpack slipped from his shoulder, slowing them down as he stooped to hitch it back up. "But, Mommy, who's that man?" he asked inquisitively, pointing at Jim.
"Oh, he's just a tramp," she replied uncaringly, "Don't point, it's rude!"
Jim smiled as they passed, and bowed slightly. He was used to such remarks.
"Just a tramp," he repeated quietly to himself as the woman and boy stopped at a kiosk near the park's entrance.
The Victoria Cross
The Victoria Cross is the highest award for acts of bravery in wartime. It was instituted in 1856 by Queen Victoria and made retrospective to 1854 to cover the period of the Crimean War. It is possible for any serving member of the armed forces to obtain this award.
The Victoria Cross is designed in the form of the Maltese Cross: in the centre of the medal is a lion guardant standing upon the Royal Crown. The words "For valour" are inscribed below. The Victoria Cross is suspended from a crimson ribbon. On the reverse of the cross the date of the act of bravery is inscribed, along with the name, rank, and unit of the recipient.
The woman momentarily let go of her son's hand to reach for her purse. Immediately he was captivated by a flock of pigeons nearby. Suddenly she turned and cried, "Michael, come back!"
The boy was racing after a bird which was now flying towards the busy street, and he seemed oblivious to both the traffic and his mother's frantic screams.
Brakes screeched as Michael burst onto the busy road, but the car could not stop in time. As if from nowhere a powerful arm appeared, gripping the boy around the waist and pulling him to safety.
Jim had acted impulsively. In Vietnam quick reflexes were a necessity for staying alive, and he had used them now to save a life.
The frightened boy was hugged by his distraught mother, "Oh Mikey, are you alright?" she sobbed. Eventually realising that her son wasn't hurt, but lucky to be alive, she turned to Jim.
"Thank you Sir, you saved my son's life," she said genuinely thankful. "How can I repay you?"
Jim looked at them for a moment, a touch of nostalgia about his own family invading his thoughts. "A buck for a cup of coffee. That'd suit me fine," he said rubbing his whiskers nervously.
People began to crowd around the boy, and someone even bought him an ice cream cone. The driver of the car had recovered from his initial shock as well and was busy offering his sincere apologies. Then the young police officer, who had been taking statements, gave Michael a gentle lecture on road safety.
Crowds made Jim nervous, so he took the dollar, bought a cup of coffee at the canteen, then quietly walked back towards the security of the park.
A news crew had finally arrived, and a reporter approached Michael's mother. "Excuse me Madam, can you tell me what happened?"
"That man!" she replied, pointing after Jim. "He saved my boy's life. He's a hero."
The reporter wasted no time in pursuing the shabby hobo, and bombarding him with questions. He saw the cross pinned to Jim's chest and subsequently a headline appeared in the next day's 'Bulletin' -- "WAR HERO SAVES BOY'S LIFE."
Being a celebrity was not Jim's ambition and he shunned further publicity. He refused to speak to another reporter regarding the incident. Even a couple generous offers from magazines to buy his story were politely refused.
Life in the park soon returned to normal.
Sitting quietly on 'his' bench, Jim unpinned the 'Victoria Cross' and polished it on his sleeve. "Maybe I do deserve you after all," he said with a grin, then re pinned it on the lapel of his coat.
Pre-orders Now Available
Unexpected but Welcome News
Recently I was checking my emails when I came across one titled "Anthology". I opened it and was excited to read this: "Thank you for your submission to We Go On – A Veteran’s Anthology for Charity. At this time I am thrilled to offer you acceptance for your fiction Story, Just a Humble Hero. Before I can send a contract, I will need your Real Name and Pen Name, as well as an address which is only for contract purposes, but later will use to send you a copy of the anthology. After that, I will send you a contract for non-exclusive rights to publish your submission........Thank You, Kiki"
This was my first ever acceptance letter for a piece of my writing so I was very excited. I have had one poem previously accepted for publication in an anthology out of the many I have entered into contest and such but this is the first short story I have submitted and was pleasantly surprised to have accepted.
Other hubs honoring returned veterans and their plight
- Wake In Fright!
A haunting commentary in poetic form on the effects of war on our returned servicemen and women.
© 2014 John Hansen