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Kelso Mountain-A Photo Linking Three Generations
A Response to BillyBuc's Writing Challenge
Fellow Huber Bill Holland (aka BillyBuc) recently announced a new writing challenge in a Hub entitled A Writing Challenge: Are You Up For It?
- Write a short story revolving around the picture of a mountain that he posted at the top of his Hub.
- The story also had to incorporate three other pictures that he included - these were pictures of an old barn, an old train and a small grave yard.
- The entire story had to be published in one Hub and the deadline was September 10, 2016
Even though my attempts at fiction have been rare, I decided to accept the challenge and try my hand at short story fiction. try my hand at short story fiction.
March 18, 1942, Ft. Dodge, Iowa - A Wife Gives Birth and Learns her Husband is One of First Casualties of World War II in the Pacific
Amy Fackler lay in her hospital bed, happy but exhausted from the long childbirth she had just experienced while giving birth to her newborn daughter who now slept peacefully at her breast.
She wished her husband, Jack, actually John but everyone called him Jack, was here to share the joy of the birth of their first child. But he was at some Army installation in California preparing for some type of special mission.
She and Jack had been married last June. It had been a small affair just her parents and a few friends, with Jack’s parents having died in a car accident a few months before the wedding.
With the economy still bad and jobs in Ft. Dodge scarce, Jack had decided to enlist in the Army. He believed that the United States would be dragged into the war in Europe sooner or later and that he would be drafted into the Army just like both of their fathers had been drafted in the last war.
“By joining the Army now I will not only be receiving a regular paycheck each month for us but also, by joining now before the war I will be in a better position to have some choice in what I am assigned to do” he said.
“Once we go to war and the government resurrects the draft, choices and options will be limited. I want to control our destiny” he continued.
Amy, of course, agreed with Jack’s plan for them but she was worried.
After the attack on Pearl Harbor his had letters stopped. All she had heard from him since last December was a Christmas card with a short note saying that his new training had become so intense that he barely had time to eat or sleep, let alone write letters. She prayed that he was still safe wherever he was in California.
Her thoughts were interrupted by the sudden appearance of two Army officers at the foot of her bed.
“Are you Amy Fackler?” one asked.
“Yes” she replied.
“I am Lieutenant Randall Smith and I regret to inform you that your husband, Corporal John Edward Fackler, United States Army has been killed in combat on a mission in the South Pacific.”
Amy Fackler passed out.
"Your Husband has been Killed in Combat on a mission in the South Pacific"
April 14, 1942 Ft. Dodge Iowa
Amy was sitting at the table in the kitchen of the small apartment she and Jack had rented after their marriage. Her baby, Elizabeth Mary Fackler, Lizzie for short, lay napping nearby. A couple of weeks ago Amy had finally accepted her parent’s offer to come and live with them in Rochester, New York and she was expecting the cab to take her to the train station would be arriving shortly.
Now she was just finishing going through papers that she needed to keep. She placed Lizzie’s birth certificate into an envelope on the front of which she had just written Lizzie’s Birth Certificate.
She reached for another envelope to put the last couple of papers in and discovered that she had no more envelopes. “Oh well” she sighed to herself as she picked up her and Jack’s marriage certificate and the condolence letter from President Roosevelt expressing both sorrow for Jack’s death and thanks for his sacrifice. She put these in the envelope with Lizzie’s birth certificate. The last item on the table was the $10,000 check she had just received for Jack’s GI Life Insurance which she picked up and put in her purse.
It was then that she noticed that the check had been on top of two photos.
The first one was of the old barn along the road outside of town where she and Jack used to stop and rest on their bike rides when they were dating. Jack had proposed to her there and then took the picture to remember the occasion.
The second was a picture of a snow capped mountain peak partially obscured by fog. Jack had snapped that picture from the train he was traveling on to his present assignment in California. In an attempt to remember it he had written on the back Mt. Kelso. In his letter to her Jack had said that Kelso was a train depot in the desert where they had stopped a few hours after he took the picture. He added that he had a copy of the picture made for himself since he planned to go back and find that mountain with her after the war.
Old Barn in Field Where Jack Proposed to Amy
September 1942, Jungles of Northern New Guinea
Corporal John Fackler, took refuge from the intense tropical sun by sitting under a palm tree overlooking a small ravine with a stream running through it. He was thirsty and planned to go to the stream for a drink but needed to rest first.
John’s companions had all been killed in a firefight with a small enemy detachment a few weeks after their arrival in mid February. The only reason he was still alive was because he tripped and fell while running to help one of his buddies who had been hit. His head had hit a rock in the underbrush where he had fallen. He had not only been knocked unconscious but the grass and other growth he had fallen into was tall enough that it hid his body thereby saving his life.
As always happened during these occasional quiet moments when he wasn’t totally focused on survival, his thoughts turned to Amy. He regretted not writing to her the last couple of months in California but his days had been consumed preparing for his classified mission and if his writing contained any hint of what he was doing it would have been blacked out by the Army censors. He imagined her opening a letter that read: Dear Amy, followed by a series of black rectangles covering the body of the letter and ending: Love, Jack.
The loud bang of a gunshot nearby, brought him quickly back to the present as he instinctively slithered, quickly and quietly, a few feet to the right taking a position behind a rock giving him both cover and view of the direction where he had heard the shot.
Then he saw a movement down the ravine and to his right. A Japanese soldier was quietly crawling along the stream below. The soldier below scanned the ridge above the ravine looking for something.
Train Depot in Kelso, California
John had his carbine ready but didn’t want to shoot for fear of attracting attention to himself too soon.
Some more shots rang out with the sound coming from across the ravine and to the right.
Across the ravine a big Australian cautiously emerged from the jungle and the Jap soldier crouching by the stream jumped up taking aim at him. In the same instant, John shouted from his hiding place “WATCH OUT!” as he pulled the trigger of his carbine killing the Japanese soldier before he could complete his turn toward Jack’s voice.
“Mick is that you” shouted the Australian from where he had taken cover.
Before Jack could answer, two more Australian soldiers slowly emerged out of the jungle across the ravine keeping low with rifles ready while two others came into sight around the bend where the Japanese soldier had come from.
“Mick’s across the ravine. He just saved my life” shouted the big Australian.
“No he didn’t” came a reply from one of the soldiers in the ravine. “Mick is dead. We have his body”
Suddenly all the Australians shifted position slightly for better cover and pointed their rifles in John’s direction.
“Don’t shoot” yelled John. “I’m and America” he added while raising his empty hands high“.
“You’re safe. I’m Lieutenant Robert Nelson of the Second Australian Imperial Force. Please come out slowly”.
The Australians were shocked to see the gaunt six foot man with clothes in shreds a face blanketed with a massive beard and long shaggy hair who emerged from where he had taken cover.
“I’m John Edward Fackler, Corporal United States Army, Serial Number 17969921” said John in a shaky voice.
Thinking he should attempt to verify what he had just heard, the young, recently commissioned Lieutenant with only a month’s combat experience in this jungle, shouted back “let me see some identification”.
“I lost my dog tags and wallet with my papers in the jungle” replied John.
“Come on, sir, this man is not Japanese and he just saved my life. What more identification do you want?” shouted Sergeant Connor O’Riley.
Pausing to look up at the ridge above the ravine where two soldiers were digging a grave for Mick, and then turning his gaze on the scraggly American the Lieutenant said “Corporal, huh”. Then after a thoughtful pause, he looked straight at Sergeant O’Reilly saying “with Mick dead, you will need a new corporal and this Yank claims to be a corporal so I guess you won’t have to wait for a replacement from headquarters”.
Walking up to John, he reached toward him with a pad and pen “write your name here so I can get you new ID tags and a pay card.” John did as instructed and when he handed the pen and paper back, the Lieutenant glanced at the paper and said “Welcome to the Second Australian Imperial Army, Corporal Fackler”.
“Sir” replied John, “I’m already in the U.S. Army and have to get back to an American Army unit”.
Lieutenant replied with a tone of mild contempt, “Tell that to General MacArthur if he ever gets off his arse moving in Melbourne and brings the American Army up here. Until then you have just been drafted into the Second Australian Imperial Army”.
John’s military training took hold as he snapped to attention, saluted and replied in his best military tone “Yes Sir!”
U.S. Army Jungle Camp in New Guinea
September 1964 - Brown Family Home in Rochester, New York
Twenty-two year old Lizzie Brown and her fiance, Tom D’Lacy, were sitting across from her solemn faced parents in the living room of the Brown family home. Amy Brown was holding an envelope with the words Lizzie's Birth Certificate scrawled across the front. That morning Lizzie had asked her mother for her birth certificate so she and Tom could get their marriage license.
“I meant to tell you this years ago but the time never seemed right” began her mother. “Philip” she began as she glanced slightly in his direction, “is not your real father. Your biological father was killed in World War II before you were born. We were later told that he died while on a secret mission in a place called New Guinea and his body was never recovered” she said with her voice breaking.
Amy poured the contents on the coffee table and handed two papers to Lizzie saying “here is your birth certificate and the adoption certificate showing Philip as your adopted father.”
Continuing, Amy related how she had met and married Philip when Lizzie a little over a year old.
Lizzie Looked at the Two Pictures
Noticing the two photos that had fallen out with the papers, Lizzie and Tom picked them up asking what they were. Amy explained that the barn was where Jack had proposed to her.
As to the other one she explained that it was a mountain that Jack had seen and taken a picture of on his way to California following basic training. Wanting to revisit and share it with Amy in the future he labeled it Kelso Mountain since the first place the train had come to after passing the mountain was a small train station, named Kelso, located in the middle of the desert a few hours west of the mountain.
Slightly more composed, Lizzie looked up from the pictures and said to no one in particular “well, I guess we can get our marriage license tomorrow.” She then stood up, went over to Philip and fell into his arms sobbing, “I don’t care what these things say, you are my Dad and as far as I am concerned, I have the best Dad in the world.”
Four days later, on Saturday September 12th 1964 Philip proudly escorted his daughter down the aisle to the altar where USAF Second Lieutenant Thomas D’Lacy, in dress uniform, was waiting to marry her. Just before removing his arm from hers, Philip said a silent prayer asking for the safe return of this young man who, after the honeymoon, would be flying across the Pacific to fight in the nation’s current war in Asia.
September 1945 - Australian Army Hospital in Brisbane, Australia
Entering the ward, Susan found Sergeant Fackler sitting in a wheelchair staring straight ahead with a blank look on his face.
“Hello, Sergeant” she said. “I’m your new nurse, Susan O’Connor”.
Fackler was as unmoving as his wheelchair.
“Let’s go outside for a walk. It is a beautiful spring day” she cheerily said.
Still no response or emotion.
She wheeled him outside. After an hour and a half there was still no type of physical or emotional response. Then as they neared the entrance to the building, he lifted his head up a little and turned it slightly to his right allowing the rays of the sun illuminate his face. The faintest of smiles appeared on his face and he made an effort to inhale a little more deeply the fragrant spring air. Susan smiled sweetly to herself as she had a feeling that he still had a small spark of life in him.
As they entered the building, his eyes began to droop and his head tilted forward - the outing had tired him.
She wheeled him back to the ward where an orderly lifted his now sleeping body and deposited it in his bed. Susan, gave him a motherly pat on his forehead as she whispered “see you tomorrow, soldier”.
As she started to leave she noticed a faded color photo pinned to the pillow. As she was leaning over and touching the picture to get a better look at it she was interrupted by an angry shout “Hey Don’t Touch That!”.
Standing and turning to face the shout, she found herself facing a now scared young Army orderly. “Sorry ma’am. But that picture is special and not to be touched. A big Staff Sergeant over in Ward 5 claims that this fellow kept that picture wrapped in oilcloth and bandaged to his chest the entire war.”
Thinking that this might be a way to reach through the wall in Fackler’s mind she said, “Don’t worry, I just want to look at it more closely. I won’t take or harm it.”
After carefully studying and memorizing the photo, Susan asked to leave early and then went home, got out the paints which she hadn’t touched in over a year and, selecting a blank 8 x 10 canvas proceeded to paint the image of the mountain she had seen in the picture.
October 7, 1998 Brisbane Australia
As the flight attendants were clearing away breakfast and handing out customs forms on the giant Qantas 747 aircraft the co-pilot’s voice came over the intercom “Ladies and Gentlemen, this is your co-pilot speaking. We will be over the coast of Australia shortly and will be landing in Brisbane International Airport in about 45 minutes. The current weather this morning is sunny with temperature of 22 degrees, that’s about 72 for any Yanks on board. Welcome to Australia”
The whole family was excited, all ten of them - Amy and Philip, Lizzie and Tom plus their two daughters Sally and Joanie with their husbands Greg and Tony, and lastly Tom Jr and his Australian fiancee Becky Fackler. Tom Jr and Becky were to be married in Becky’s hometown of Ipswich located outside of Brisbane.
Tom and Becky had met in Los Angeles where she worked on the Los Angeles office of an Australian financial firm and he worked for a small software firm. Their wedding was to be in Ipswich on Saturday.
Becky’s whole family, all having driven in separate cars, was waiting to greet them and drive them to Ipswich, a city about 40 kilometers west of Brisbane, where the family lived and planned to put the visitors up in their homes during their visit for the wedding.
As people and luggage were distributed among the small fleet of family cars Peter directed Philip and Amy to his car saying, “my mother insisted that you stay with her - my stepdad was a Yank of sorts and she is longing to hear an American accent again.”
“Your step-father was from the States?” asked Philip.
“I guess. It’s a long and complicated story and I only know bits and pieces. But he was a great Dad despite wherever he came from. My own father was killed in the war before I was born - New Guinea campaign in ‘43” replied Peter.
Tom Notices Susan's Painting of Kelso Mountain Hanging Over Fireplace in Her Living Room
Susan Fackler was sitting on the front porch waiting for her guests and when Peter pulled up with Amy and Phillip she ran out to embrace them.
After showing them to their room she retired to the kitchen to make tea.
Amy and Philip freshened up, changed clothes and then joined Peter in the living room. Philip noticed the painting of Mt. Kelso hanging over the mantle and took a moment studying it. Seeing his interest Peter commented that his mother had painted it.
“Ah, my Mount Kelso” said Susan cheerily as she entered the room with a tray of containing tea and cookies. “There’s a story behind that picture but I won’t bore you with it now” she added.
The picture seemed familiar to Philip but he couldn’t place it. When Susan called it Mt. Kelso, Philip immediately thought of Amy’s previous husband but that had just been a photograph, not a painting on a large piece of canvas.
Curious, Philip asked “have you been to Mt. Kelso?”
“Goodness no” replied Susan. “I have no idea where it is, but when I first met Jack in the Army hospital in Brisbane where I was a nurse and he was a patient I noticed a photo pinned to his pillow. It was a photo of that mountain and the words Kelso Mountain were written on the back.”
“He had the photo with him?” asked Philip. “Did he say where he got it?”
“No. He was sleeping and it was pinned to his pillow.” replied Susan, who then went on to describe her first encounter with Jack and how she used her painting of Kelso Mountain to bring out of his catatonic and depressed state.
“From what I remember from a picture I once saw of a mountain with the same name your painting is an excellent copy” said Philip.
“I still have the picture. Let me get it and see how similar it is to yours” replied Susan as she started over to retrieve a small, beautifully carved, wooden box from the mantle.
Returning to her seat on the sofa next to Amy, she opened the box which was full of pictures.
The picture on top was a picture of an old fashioned train. Holding it up Susan said, “oh, this is from the first time I brought Jack and Peter to Ipswich to see this farm which I had recently inherited from Peter’s father’s family.”
“ When Peter saw the train he ran toward it and Jack started to retrieve him, Peter was only 3 or 4 years old, but when he saw the boy’s enthusiasm Jack joined him and the two of them were soon climbing all over the train like a couple of little kids. I tried to take a picture of them and the train but they were moving around it so fast that all I got was the train.”
Susan Shows Picture of Old Train where Jack and young Phillip Played
Susan Shares with Amy a Picture of Her and Jack on their Wedding Day
“Oh my” Susan said as she pulled out another one. “This was taken of the three of us on our wedding day” she said as she handed a picture of her, John and the then 4 year old Peter to Amy.
“Oh, my God!” screamed Amy, shaking and starting to sob.
Susan instantly blurted out “Oh no! You’re Amy Fackler! I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry” and started crying with Amy as Peter and Philip looked on, speechless.
After a couple of minutes the two women started to calm down and compose themselves.
“John told me about you and how he had been married to you. I could see that he loved you very much” said Susan trying to comfort her.
Susan then went on to describe how Jack had survived the attack in which his companions had been killed and how he had ended up meeting and fighting the war with the Australian forces in New Guinea.
“But why didn’t he contact me and let me know he was alive?” asked Amy.
“He tried” replied Susan. “But when he went to the U.S. Consulate here in Brisbane he had no papers proving he was an American soldier or even a citizen. He was still in the Australian Army at that time and, lacking civilian clothes, had showed up in his uniform. Uniforms were all he had to wear.”
Susan continued, “the people at the Consulate didn’t believe him when he claimed to be an American. He still remembered his U.S. Army ID number and gave that to them. He was told to come back in a week and when he returned was told that Corporal John Edward Fackler was officially dead and the records about Corporal John Edward Black and the mission he was on was still classified. He asked to submit fingerprints but was told that John Edward Fackler's fingerprints had been lost.”
Susan then added, “he resigned himself to the fact that he couldn’t return to the United States as he had no way to prove his U.S. citizenship to get a U.S. passport and he was reluctant to apply for an Australian passport because all he had was his army record and feared that a passport application might involve a records check that would show he wasn’t Australian. He concluded that the safest thing to do was to continue to let people assume he was Australian because of his war record. He did succeed in making a good life in Australia.”
“I’m glad he found a happy life with you” said Amy.
October 10, 1998 - Marriage Brings Jack's Family from Both Sides of Pacific Together
Three days later on October 10th, Thomas D’Lacy Jr and Becky Fackler were married in a little stone church on the outskirts of Ipswich.
Following the service, the families of the bride and groom remained behind as the guests left to go to the farm that was Susan’s home where the reception was to be held.
After the guests had left, the bride and groom, along with Amy, Susan, Lizzie and Peter made their way to the churchyard behind the church where Jack Fackler was buried.
Approaching a gravestone that read John Edward “Jack” Fackler, Becky and Tom paused and bending over placed a bouquet of flowers on the grave of the man who had been a hidden presence in each of their families for a half a century.
Next, Amy and Susan approached and each laid a flower on the grave of the man each had loved.
Finally, Lizzie and Peter came up to the grave where each said a silent prayer for the man who had fathered one and been the loving father who had raised the other.
Family Visits Jack's Grave After Wedding
© 2016 Chuck Nugent