The Importance of Timing

Meet Hallie Sawyer, a writer from Kansas City who is continuing my guest writer series, with this piece on the utter importance of split seconds:

When Jessica asked me to write a post about something I’m thankful that didn’t happen, I have to admit, I was a little stumped. I have much to be thankful for and I racked my brain for the right thing. But Veteran’s Day came along and I found it.

That day I watched a lot videos of veterans reuniting with their families and cried watching every one. Because I know that many of their lives had been spared by only minutes, seconds, even milliseconds.

Some 40 years ago, that was my father coming home to his wife. He wasn’t the same man, body or mind, as the one she had said goodbye to, but he was alive. My father had been assigned to a reconnoissance team and had endured a lot, they all had, but finally he had his release papers and he was headed home. But not without scars.

securedownloadA bullet grazed his head during one encounter. He was forced to hide in haystacks all night in a torrential rainstorm while the Viet Cong poked with pitchforks looking for them. And he witnessed one of his men die from jumping on a land mine to save them. He has the shrapnel in his skull to keep that memory close. Malaria wreaked havoc on his body. He was more than ready to be gone from that God-forsaken place. He had done his job and he was going home.

The chopper transporting him out of Hell had to make a detour. My father quickly registered that the place they needed to “swing by” was a hot zone, which meant they would be fired upon. The pilot told them they needed to pick up a wounded soldier and that it was going to be a drop in and lift off, not even touching the ground. Just one last mission.

They arrived, dropped in and got the soldier safely on board. So far, so good. But before they could breathe again, my father heard, “Sawyer! Hit the deck!” He did what he was told as he watched an enemy soldier stand on a distant hill with a rocket launcher on his shoulder. The rocket was aimed directly at their Huey.

Here is where the thankful part comes in. Both doors on either side of the chopper were still open. The rocket screamed through both open doors and exploded on the hillside beyond them.

I am thankful the chopper doors had not been shut. A second may have been the difference between me sitting here today and not existing.

Hallie Sawyer is a freelance and historical fiction writer. You can find her on her blog, Hallie SawyerFacebook and Twitter.

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19 thoughts on “The Importance of Timing

  1. Oh, Hallie. I had chills the entire time I read this. Like the others, I offer my kudos for a storytelling job well-done (with fabulous tension). But I also wanted to say that I’m really surprised your father shared so many of these stories with you. My Vietnam Vet father is a closed book (though clearly in so much pain from the things he witnessed and had to “do”). Only over the past ten years has he been able to talk about any of it. And even then, we get only little snippets — and what I’ve heard is unfathomable to most people. So like you, I’m thankful that he made it back – scarred and damaged and suffering the effects of Agent Orange and untreated PTSD — but back. Because, like you, I wouldn’t be here if that weren’t the case. And just think how uncanny it is that BOTH of our entries into the world were only days apart.

    • Hi Melissa – I’ll let Hallie reply but wanted to chime in for a sec because Hallie and I emailed about this issue. My stepdad was in Vietnam and also will not talk about it (believe me, as the writer of this blog, I have TRIED). The little I do know, like you, is from snippets of stories he has let go on rare occasions. The snippets are fascinating and amazing and horrible but he will not give me permission to tell them.

    • I know you feel me here on this post but know that part of this story comes from my mother as she has filled in a couple of gaps here and there. These story snippets do not come freely and are usually on the coattails of a few “on the rocks”.

  2. Oh, Jess… This is my story with my father EXACTLY. I have tried, as well, but at the same time feared what might happen if he DID open up. Some things have happened over the past few years that ratcheted up the PTSD, so for that reason alone, I’ve backed off. You hit the nail on the head: “fascinating, amazing and horrible” the things I HAVE learned.

  3. Wow, Hallie. From the moment I started reading this, to the very last line, I had goosebumps up and down my arms and legs. What a powerful, chilling story (and storytelling, I should add). I was listening to an NPR interview on Veteran’s Day with a vet who is also a writer, and he mentioned he’s sometimes conflicted about telling these stories. Because it’s so hard for those who experienced them to tell them, and yet it’s so important for us to hear, so we don’t forget. I’m glad your mother was able to fill in the gaps. I hope your father found some comfort in confiding in her. He has my eternal thanks for his service and for bring you into this world.

    • You made me tear up. Thank you for the very sweet words.

      I want to know more stories yet I don’t. I can only imagine the conflict inside of our veterans as they struggle to get acclimated into society again.

  4. Pingback: I’m Grateful That My Novels Failed « True STORIES.

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