DISCLAIMER: This story is based on the television series Tour of Duty which aired from 1987 through 1990, distributed by New World Entertainment. All characters belong to the creators and/or producers of the show and were brought to life by Stephen Caffrey (Lt. Goldman), Terence Knox (Sgt. Anderson) and Tony Becker (Cpl. Percell). No money is being made with this story and it may not be posted, published or archived without permission. Although care has been taken in the attention to military protocol, certain artistic licenses have been made for the sake of readability.
This story is rated : PG
Written by, Erin Coates
TOUR OF DUTY: Reunion Part II
Daniel Percell watched as the black pick up truck pulled to a stop outside his home. Six year old Elizabeth Percell climbed off the lap of the driver and scurried onto the front porch. The driver followed Elizabeth out of the vehicle. He was a tall and lean man. Danny couldn't make his face out from underneath the man's large black cowboy hat.
Jacquiline Percell's pace quickened as she and her son approached the visitor. Danny noticed the smile on his mother's face as she skipped ahead and embraced the man.
"James! I want you to meet my son Daniel." Jackie grabbed James by the arm and led him towards the soldier.
James removed his hat and reached out his hand to greet the young man. "Daniel, it is so good to meet you and to see that you are home safe. I'm James Colson."
Danny shook the man's hand and smiled. "Nice to meet you too." The words seemed hollow to Danny. He had always know his mother's unhappiness with her exhusband Jack Percell, but it was hard for Danny to grasp that the couple was now divorced.
Jackie bubbled at the site of the two men meeting each other. Jackie attempted to persuade the men to join her in the kitchen."Come on ya'll let's go inside and talk while I get dinner started."
James shook his head in disagreement. "Well now Darlin' I gotta get the stables clean, repair Whiplash's stali and feed the horses. After the work is done I'll be in to join ya'll." James placed his hat back on his head, kissed Jackie on the cheek and headed toward the stables.
Danny watched the man head out to take care of the chores. It was strange to have someone other than himself to do the chores and fix up the ranch. The young man decided visiting with his mom could wait, he was a man and there was work to be done. "Wait up, I'll join you"
Jackie Percell beamed as she watched her son join up with James. She knew the divorce was upsetting to Danny and that the adjustment to James could be difficult. "Well come on Lizzy, us gals better get dinner started, those men will be coming back hungry."
The two men grabbed the water hoses and each worked in silence spraying the stalls clean and filling the water troughs. Danny Percell kept his eye on Mr. Colson. Percell wanted to talk to the man, but couldn't find the words to start a conversation. During his first few months in Vietnam the soldier met all the new men with the same downhome friendliness he used in Montana. Quickly he learned not to get to close to anyone to avoid the stress of losing a friend later on. In Vietman he had Ruiz, Taylor and Seargeant Anderson to lean on and that was all he believed he needed. Now that he was back in the world he struggled to regain the manners of the boy he left as more than a year ago.
"So your mother tells me you were in the infantry division of the Army." The startling sound of James voice made Danny jump.
"Yeah, Hundred and ninty sixth infantry division, Bravo Company."
Danny leaned up against the horses stall and stared through the open barn door. Just saying the infantry division number brought back a flood of memories. He was an infantry man, now he was home, but why didn't it feel right?
Mr. Colson noticed the distant look in Danny's eyes. The older man wanted to learn more about the boys, but he knew better than to push the conversation. War veterans needed time to acclimate themselves back to the world. James joined Danny in thought as he remembered the day he returned from his tour in the Korean War.
James broke the silence once again. "I bet you saw a lot of action?"
Danny gave a cocked grin at the man. "More than I care to remember." Instantly Danny's mind took him back to the jungle. He remembered the heat, the sound of shots fired, the screams of injured men and the stench of blood soaked clothing. The Vietnam Veteran shook his head in an effort to shrug off the memories.
James Colson could see Danny struggling to clear his head. "Are you OK?"
"Huh?" Mr. Colson's voice was just the thing to help Daniel clear his head. "Yeah, I'm OK, just hard to get the past out of my mind, that's all"
"Yeah, I've been there" James felt the time was right to share with the young soldier. "Korea, 55-56, infantry. I was due to transfer out in a week when a mortar shell exploded in the artillery cannon I manned with Buddy Simpson. That's were I got this gimp. After a week in a MASH unit they transferred me out to the states, gave me a purple heart and my discharge papers. I didn't know what I was going to do when I got back to the states. Ever since I was a boy I had wanted a career in the military."
Danny made no comment, he didn't know what to say. In just a few minutes James had turned from a complete stranger to a man Danny may be able to share his experiences with.
James gave the boy a playful bump with the hay bail he was carrying. "Don't rush it Danny, it'll be a hard adjustment at first, but it will get better."
Danny silently disagreed, he remembered his conversations with Tom Scarlet. Pop had served in the last three wars and even he thought Vietnam was the most confusing. Sure Korea had its winters and rough terrain, but it was nothing like Vietnam. The Nam was humid, hot sticky, you were never sure of who was friend or foe, the boundaries and rules made success impossible and death inevitable.
Danny noticed James moving towards Whiplash's stall. "So wha'd that cranky mare do this time?"
James laughed, Danny knew the horses and their temperaments well. "She just kicked out this lower board again. One of these times that fussy lady is gonna end up with a nasty wound on her leg, maybe then sha'll learn, wont' she?"
"If I only had a dollar for everytime that damn horse kicked a hole in her stall I had to repair. Ya know Whiplash is my dad's favorite..." At that moment Danny wished he could retract his words. Was it appropriate to talk about your mother's ex-husband in front of her boyfriend?
James quickly ended Danny's misery. "Yeah last time he was here we spent a few hours talking on the porch and he had about a hundred stories to share about him and that mare!"
Danny jumped into the broken stall and grabbed the wood, hammer and nails from the rail and proceeded to make the necessary repairs.
"Your pretty handy with the tools huh?" James leaned against the stall admiring Daniel's skills.
"Yeah, there was always a lot to get done around here and Dad was never around to do it. I think I've been fixin' things since I was seven or so" Danny stood back with James and surveyed his work. "Think she'll break it again?"
"We'll if she doesn't break it there she'll find away to break it someswhere else!" James looked to Danny to find the boy laughing in agreement.
"Ah. Danny listen..." James prepared "Jackie mentioned that you would probably be looking for work when you got home. My brother in law owns a construction company in the area and he is in dire need of another carpenter. See'ins how ya fixed that stall so well I thought you might be interested in the work?"
Danny was shocked by the offer and smiled at his good fortune "Yes Sir! That'd be great! I really appreciate it." The young man reached out and shook Mr. Colson's hadas a show of gratitude. Danny had heard so much about Vietnam Veterans returning to the world, not being able to find work, or be hired because so many employers considered them a risk to have with their company.
"Can ya start Monday?"
"Yes Sir I can!" Danny grabbed a bail of hay and headed out with his new found friend to feed the horses then get ready for dinner.
Following dinner James and the Percell family retreated to the front porch to sit and catch up on missed moments. Most of the evenings conversation centered around Lizzy and Jackie. Danny shared a few lighthearted memories about his friends in Vietnam. Like the time he and Markus Taylor were in a jeep race with the other men from the motor pool. Everyone laughed when they learned the opponents failed to slow down for a sharp turn and went sailing into a small river. The Veteran shared about the constant arguing over the nasty taste of the food and the jealousy in the team every time Jackie Percell sent cookies to her son.
James Colson mirrored Danny with a few memorable moments from his tour in Korea. The food there was also miserable and he wasn't lucky to have a blue ribbon baker for a mom. James would have loved to have a dozen of Jackie's cookies to keep him full and to off set the nasty taste of Army food.
As the evening grew to an end and nightfall began Danny could feel the air temperature drop. Off in the distance he heard the familiar scream of wild coyote. Danny looked over at his mother who was sitting next to James on the porch swing. James had his arm around Jackie and Elizabeth was sleeping with her head in Jackie's lap. Daniel Percell studied the family and felt as if he didn't belong. As soon as he had enough money saved he would find a place of his own and set out to start a life for himself. He wished he hadn't pulled all of his money out to go on a drug binge in Can Hoy. He had worked so hard to save it all. What an expensive lesson to learn.
Danny rose from his chair. "Well mom, I'm tired. You want me to take Elizabeth to bed on my way up?"
"That would be great Daniel." Jackie Percell smiled at her son. She was very proud of him and the gentleman she had raised.
The young man said his goodnights, kissed his mother on the cheek and carried his younger sister up the stairs to her bed. He tucked her in tightly and kissed her forehead. He watched her a moment as she peacefully slept. Thoughts began to enter his mind of the children he had seen in Vietnam. The young Montanyard girl Horn had grown attached to, the young boy he had shot in the village, a girl who had died following a mortar attack on their village. All of those children had looked as peaceful as Elizabeth had looked at that moment. There was one big difference though, all the Vietnam children had looked so peaceful in death. The thought almost prompted Danny to wake his sister, instead he opted to be sure that she was breathing. When he watched her tiny chest rise and fall a few time he decided all was well and he retreated to his own room.
Danny looked at his bed. He never thought it would feel strange to sleep in his own bed, in his own room, all alone, but it did. He looked around at the rodeo trophies on the wall and the picture of the young woman stuck in the frame of the mirror above his dresser. Danny grabbed the picture and sat down on the edge of his bed.
Elena Hoffman Danny thought about the day he had met his rodeo queen. He was smitten with her and she with him. For the first time in his life Danny believed he was in love and that she may have been the woman he would marry. The Vietnam War changed all that for him. The soldier stroked the side of the picture with his thumb and recalled the Dear John letter she has sent him. He remembered reading the letter almost a hundred times some how hoping he would open the dainty pink stationary and everything would change. It never did. Danny sighed deeply and flipped the picture into the trash can. The young man was very tired, he kicked off his cowboy boots and laid down on his bed. Man is it quiet!
Danny heard the screaming off in the distance. Was is a coyote or a woman, he couldn't tell. He looked around the living room, everything looked calm and peaceful. He heard the scream again, this time he was it was a woman. It sounded like his mother. Danny ran for the front door trying to calculate where the scream was coming from, and why. Danny could feel his heart pound as his chest tightened and he found it difficult to breathe. Danny pulled the lever back on his M-16 and exited the front door. Markus Taylor was beside him followed by Marvin Johnson and Sergeant Anderson. Together the four men methodilically worked their way to the back yard where the scream had come from. None of the soldiers spoke, all communication was by touch and hand signals only. Danny felt the sweat run down the side of his face. It was very hot outside for a Montana spring. Sergeant Anderson signaled Taylor and Percell to go about 20 feet behind a row of lilac bushes. The scream came again. Danny had to fight back every urge he had not to rush in to the situation. He felt tense and began breathing harder and heavier with every step. Suddenly he spotted movement dashing across the yard carrying what seemed to be an AK-47.
Pop pop pop, the figure flew backwards from the speed of the bullets. "Nice shot Danny." Oddly Markus Taylor congratulated him. The two men moved toward the dead body as Johnson and Anderson met up with them, all for men had their weapons drawn. Taylor reached down to flip the enemy over.
Danny screamed out in horror. "NO............ELIZABETH!"
Danny sat up in bed and put his feet on the floor, just as he was looking around to confirm it was all a nightmare his bedroom light shined into his eyes. When Danny's vision cleared his mother was by his side with her hand on his shoulder. "Danny are you Ok?"
The shaken man was still breathing heavy and sweating while the cool breeze came lofting through the window.
Jackie drew herself closer to her son. "Darling what happened...what was it?"
Danny wiped the sweat from his face with his strong hands. He felt his mother drawing closer, so he reached out his hand to cease her approach. "I'm alright mom, I'll be fine."
Jackie stood up and looked down at her son sitting on the bed. The mother wanted to know the horror stories that lived in Daniel's mind. She wanted him to be able to talk to her the way she was able to talk to him. "Danny, tell me about it, maybe if you talk about it...."
"MOM, just forget about it OK?" Danny shot his mother a look of disgust that she would want to know the demons that he held so tightly. He then noticed the little girl standing in the doorway. He returned his glance to his mother who was coming close to tears over the pain she believed her little boy was feeling. Danny knew he had reacted wrong and that his mother wanted to help him. "Hey Spud, sorry I woke you"
Lizzy's feet patted across the wooden floor as she ran to his side. The soldier was happy to his little sister by his side. "Danny, why were you yelling like that?"
"Well I dunno? I guess I was having a bad dream, but its over now, it's all OK." Danny put his arm around Elizabeth and put out his hand to comfort his mother. She quickly grabbed his hand and sat on the bed by his side.
"Danny, honey...you can talk to me about anything, please talk to me about things." Jackie looked down at her son's strong hands that were still trembling.
Danny contemplated his mother's request. There were so many things he would never be able to tell her. He had sinned to much, he had deserted his friends and killed a child. These demons would stay with him forever, only to return to the surface in the dead of night when he had no control over what he shared. "I'm OK mom ...it won't happen again...it was just a dream, that's all"
Danny opened his eyes and looked around his room. The sun shone brightly through the sheer curtains on the window. He was unsure if he had a nightmare during his sleep. He didn't recall waking or screaming like he had done so many weeks before.
Downstairs he could hear his pans and dishes in the kitchen preparing breakfast. It was a sound he would miss when he moved into his apartment next week. He knew he would miss his mother and sister, but getting a place of his own was the next step in adjusting to the world. He needed to move on.