Whit sat comfortably in his favorite easy chair in the living room quietly reading The Terminus Factor, a new and quite popular book which he had recently purchased. It was around 3:30 in the afternoon and Jason and Jana were due to be home from school soon. Meanwhile, Jenny was in the kitchen making Chicken Parmesan for dinner that evening. At least staying busy helps keep my mind off of Jerry Jenny thought as she breaded the chicken breasts. The oldest Whittaker child had been away serving in Vietnam for exactly five months and since the day he left the entire Whittaker family had been constantly worrying about his safety and missing him terribly. Every day they were reminded that an important part of their family was gone. They missed his laugh, his smile, his beautiful melodious voice, the way he was always willing to help his mother and father with whatever they needed. They missed how he was the best big brother to Jana and Jason. Always encouraging them, giving them advice, helping them with their schoolwork, serving as a wonderful role model. Comforting them whenever they were sad, coaching them in sports, and teaching them new and exciting things, whether it was teaching Jason how to fish or showing Jana how to rollerblade. But life had to go on and so they all carried on as best they could, taking comfort in the fact that Jerry felt God's calling to go to Vietnam to serve his country. They also prayed every day for Jerry's protection and for strength to endure this difficult time, while excitedly looking forward to the day when he would, at last, come home.
There was then a knock at the door. Jenny looked up from the chicken but before she could start making her way to the door Whit called out "Don't worry dear, I'll get it!"
"Thanks, sweetheart," Jenny replied from the kitchen. What can I use to mark my place Whit thought. He then spotted Jerry's postcard on the side table beside his chair, which had arrived a little bit earlier that day. Perfect. It'll also remind me to show it to Jana and Jason when they get home. He reached for the postcard, placed it on the page he was on, closed the book, and set it on the side table. He then stood up, walked to the front door, and opened it. There in front of him stood two men in class A uniform, a blank expression on each of their faces.
"Are you John Avery Whittaker?" Sergeant First Class Williamson asked.
"Yes," Whit replied in a solemn tone of voice, certain of the reason for their visit.
"I'm Sergeant First Class Williamson and this is Chaplain Hardwick. May we enter your home?"
"Of course" Whit answered, a grave expression on his face. He held open the door and the two men entered. Whit closed the door and walked to where Chaplain Hardwick and Sergeant Williamson were now standing in the living room.
"Is your wife Jenny here?" Sergeant Williamson asked.
"Yes, she is," Whit responded.
"It would be best if she was here with you," Sergeant Williamson said.
"Certainly" Whit replied as calmly as he could. Whit walked out of the living room and into the kitchen where Jenny had just finished breading the chicken and was washing her hands at the sink. "So who was at the door?" she asked, her gaze directed out the window above the sink, through which you could view the backyard.
"Jenny," Whit said in a serious tone causing her to turn around and look directly at him. As soon as she saw the somber look in his eyes she knew something was wrong.
"John, what's wrong?" she asked, concern in her voice.
"Two men from the state department are here. They want to see us in the living room."
Jenny looked down for a moment, realizing the meaning of their visit. She took a deep breath, and then looked up again. "All right," she said hesitantly. Whit walked towards Jenny and took her hand in his. They then made their way to the living room where Sergeant Williamson and Chaplain Hardwick were waiting. Once they entered the room Sergeant Williamson spoke "I'd think it would be best if you both were seated." The two of them sat down on the couch and anxiously waited for the men to speak again, holding each other's hands even more tightly and praying to God that what they thought these men had come to tell them wasn't so. Sergeant Williamson then spoke, "Mr. Whittaker, Mrs. Whittaker, the Secretary of the Army has asked me to express his deep regret that your son, Jerry, was killed in action outside Saigon, South Vietnam."
The blood immediately drained from Whit's face and a wave of deep sadness washed over him. Tears began to fill his eyes but he fought them back so he could keep his composure in front of the men and most importantly to comfort Jenny. Jenny felt her heart overcome by unimaginable grief and she broke down sobbing. "No..no...Jerry...Jerry. My baby….my baby" she cried. Whit took her in his arms and held her as tightly as he could.
Sergeant Williamson continued speaking though with great difficulty seeing the anguish of Whit and Jenny over the loss of their oldest son. "It happened on a local village woman's farm. There was a skirmish, and Jerry saved the owner's life by pushing her to the ground to save her from the gunfire. In doing so, he was hit and gravely wounded. He died later at a nearby base. The Secretary extends his deepest sympathy to you and your family in this tragic loss. A casualty assistance officer will contact you within twenty-four hours," he paused, pulled out a document and pen from a pocket on his military uniform, held it out to Whit, and then continued, "Mr. Whittaker I need you to sign here to confirm that you can be reached at this address and phone number."
Whit took the pen as well as the document which he placed on the coffee table in front of him and then signed his signature on the piece of paper. He then held the document and the pen out to Sergeant Williamson and said "Here you are." Sergeant Williamson took them and put the paper and pen back into his pocket.
Chaplain Hardwick then spoke, "Please know that our thoughts and prayers are with you both and your family during this difficult time. Your son was a hero Mr. and Mrs. Whittaker, but more importantly than that he believed. He knew that death wasn't the end but rather the beginning of an eternity with the Lord. I hope that you both will find comfort in that."
"Thank you," Whit said solemnly.
Sergeant Williamson said, "We will leave you two alone now to let you mourn in private." He and Chaplain Hardwick walked away towards the door. Chaplain Hardwick then opened it and stepped outside. Just as Sergeant Williamson was about to exit the house he turned toward Jenny and Whit and spoke one final time "Again on behalf of the Secretary please accept the United States Army's deepest condolences in your loss." He then left the home and closed the door leaving Jenny and Whit alone.
Whit, unable to hold his grief back anymore over the loss of Jerry, broke down in tears. He and Jenny sat there holding onto each other and sobbing uncontrollably. Throughout their many years of marriage, they had experienced many ups and downs. Highs and lows. Joys and sorrows. And they had expected to experience many more together in the future. But never did they imagine that they would feel the agonizing and heartbreaking pain of losing a child. Something which was every parent's worst nightmare. But yet here they were, their worst nightmare now a reality. It seemed so unfair that someone so handsome, young, and full of life with so much promise, someone who they had loved with their whole hearts would be taken from them so tragically. Their minds were filled with thoughts of all the things that Jerry would never be able to accomplish and his dreams he'd never get the chance to make a reality. Never would he be able to attend USC, his parents' alma mater. He would never be able to visit the Great Wall of China which he had longed to see ever since he was seven after reading about it in a history textbook. He would never be able to get married and have a wonderful loving family of his own, just like his parents, which was his wish for his sixteenth birthday. Gone from their lives was his sweet voice, beautiful smile, infectious laugh, and kind generous heart. For Jenny and Whit, it felt like someone had taken their hearts and broken them into a million pieces and they couldn't see how they would ever be whole again.
Meanwhile, Jason had made it back home from school and was now walking on the sidewalk in front of his home. He marched up the sidewalk and once he was in front of the walkway of his house he called out "Column left, march!" as he pretended to be a soldier taking marching orders. He turned sharply to the left, marched up the walkway to the door, and opened it. Jason walked into the living room and said "Mom, Dad I'm h—" He stopped short as he took in the sight in front of him, Whit and Jenny desperately holding on to each other and sobbing uncontrollably. Jason instantly felt scared, sad, and angry. Seeing his parents in such an emotional state he was almost certain what had happened but he refused to believe it. It can't be! NO! Nothing can happen to Jerry! Hearing their now only surviving son's voice, Whit and Jenny broke apart and wiped their eyes trying to compose themselves as best they could. They then made their way over to Jason. Jenny squatted down to his eye level and placed her hands tenderly on his arms, while Whit stood just behind Jenny and placed his hands on her shoulders trying to comfort her as they told Jason the tragic news about his brother. Jenny sniffed and spoke, her voice trembling, "Jason…" she took a deep breath, "we..your father and I…" tears started running down Jason's cheeks as Jenny continued, "we're sorry we have to tell you this, but your bro—"
"No!" Jason shouted, cutting Jenny off. "I won't believe it! Jerry can't be dead! I prayed every day for him to come back home again! God listens to prayers, he wouldn't let Jerry die!"
"Jason," Whit began. "sometimes God doesn't always answ—"
"No! Jerry's alive! He can't be dead! He can't be! You're lying! YOU'RE LYING!" Jason screamed as he broke away from his mother and ran as fast as he could up the stairs to his room.
"Jason! Jason!" Whit and Jenny both called after him. "Jas—" their voices drowned out as he shut the door to his room, threw himself on his bed, and wept.
"Why...why..I...I begged you not to go Jerry. I told you to go with Plato. Why didn't you go with him?" Jason cried. "Why did you have to die?"
"We should have known he would take it this hard," Jenny said as she paced back and forth in the living room. "He and Jerry are...were so close." Jenny paused for a moment and continued. "Oh, John..." Jenny cried, "how are we ever going to get through this because right now I can't see how. He was our baby. We were supposed to protect him and keep him safe." Whit put his arms around her again and rubbed her back soothingly.
"I know, I know. I feel the same way right now but we have to be strong for Jana and Jason." Jenny nodded and laid her head on Whit's shoulder. They then heard the front door open and knew that Jana was home. The sound of her footsteps growing louder and louder. They turned and saw Jana standing on the other side of the living room. She went pale as she saw the grief-stricken expression on her parents' faces. "It's Jerry...Isn't it," she said, her voice trembling.
"I'm afraid so, sweetheart" Whit replied as calmly as he could.
Tears welled up in Jana's eyes and after a moment of silence, she said "I was always against him going to Vietnam. I knew something like this would happen. I just knew it! Oh, why did Jerry…have to be so stubborn!" Jana looked at the ground, tears cascading down her face, images of all the good times she and Jerry had shared flashing through her mind. Finally, Jana's emotions over her brother's death overwhelmed her. "Why...why? I just don't...understand!" Jana sobbed as she ran to her parents and threw her arms around them both. Whit and Jenny wrapped their arms around her and held her close. For a while the three of them just stood there, holding onto each other. No one, willing to let go as they had just been reminded how quickly and unexpectedly someone you love can be taken from you.
In that moment it was hard to imagine how they would move on or ever be happy again. But with their faith, and relying on each other they would heal in time. Still, with every milestone that the family experienced, such as Jana's wedding, Jason's graduation, and the births of Monty and Jenny, their minds would go back to Jerry. Remembering that fateful Winter day in November when he was taken from them too soon and wishing so much that he could be there sharing these special moments with them. Yet, the memories they had made with Jerry, the love that they shared as a family, and the joy that he had brought to their lives were things the Whittaker family would always treasure in their hearts.