DISCLAIMER: Don't own anything associated with the show… I just like playing with the characters in it from time to time. Dance Monkeys! Dance!

RATING: T – For Teen (for mature subject matter)

PAIRINGS: Brief reference to GSR

SPOILERS: Season 7 (anytime following Brass' recovery from 6X23, in a summer month)

SUMMARY: BrassLove Jim Brass Summer '07 Vacation Fic-A-Thon (Prompt Washington, D.C.). Jim is forced into taking some leave, and then has to deal with someone from his past.

A/N: My original intent was for this one to be kind of heavy in the beginning, but then lighten it up a little towards the end. Didn't happen. :( This is a real angst fest, so you have been warned.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: I love my betas, and while I would normally be heaping HUGE amounts of praise on them, I decided that there was another group of people who needed it more. To all the proud men and women of the Armed Forces, past, present and future, who have faithfully served our country and the world. Perhaps one day, we will finally give you the treatment that you so richly deserve, but please know, without a doubt, you are in our hearts, our thoughts and our prayers for all that you have done, and will do in our names.

REVIEWS: Reviews are the way I know if people are enjoying the work or not. So, if you leave one, THANKS! And if not, I hope you found at least a little something to brighten your day, and thanks for taking the time to read.


"The one I am unofficially forcing you to take as of this moment." Sheriff Burdick never pulled any punches when it came to an edict, but the last thing Jim wanted at that point was time by himself to think.

He was ready to spit nails, throw furniture, and/or blast something after the sheriff laid down the proclamation that he was being forced into using some of his vacation time. That all changed the very next day when the wife of one of his old buddies called to tell him that Jack Fischer was dead. He hadn't heard from old Jack in years, but through the grapevine, he'd known about his battle with cancer. It was one battle Jack simply could not win.

Because of the exemplary service the man had performed, on behalf of an ungrateful nation, Sergeant Major John "Jack" Fischer was to be lain to rest at the Arlington National Cemetery. Jack managed to earn himself a chest full of medals, and an ass filled with shrapnel during his career in the Marine Corps. One of those medals made him a shoe-in for burial at Arlington, and it was the one medal he was the least proud of; the Congressional Medal of Honor.

Jack was given the medal because of an act of attrition. Simply put, he was the last guy standing when they finally got a chopper to land on that ridge. The whole rest of his reconnaissance squad was wiped out by enemy fire. It was that incident that changed his military career, and the reason Jim had ever met the man in the first place.

Jim was a fresh-faced, smart-mouthed kid from Jersey when he first met Jack Fischer, and it served as a permanent reminder that he should never trust first impressions completely. He came nose to nose with Jack as he explained, with great detail and at incredible volume, exactly where he ranked in the grand scheme of the Marine Corps.

His only wish as he started packing for the trip, was that Jack was there to do him that service once again. Jim felt much like he did that day so long ago; adrift, without a clue as to his purpose or place in the world. What he wouldn't give to have Jack in his face bellowing, "I'm gonna give you what for, you little brass assed monkey."

He chuckled as the memory flooded his mind. Jack always had a way of making each new recruit feel special in some way, but he eventually learned that they actually taught that stuff in Drill Instructor School. Jack had called it " A Million and One Ways to Bust Their Chops; The Beginner's Course."

As he started fishing around in the storage closet, he decided that he would use the trip out to Arlington to his advantage. He'd always wanted to see the war memorials, and he had to admit he was intrigued by some of the newer museums and the renovations which had taken place in the Capitol City since his boyhood visit all those years ago.

Maybe this was just what the doctor ordered… Or at least, a certain brunette who'd been riding him to take better care of himself lately.

When he thought about Sara, he made a mental note to check out the Smithsonian Museum of Science and Industry, just for her. She'd talked about the place so much since her visit there that he could almost navigate the halls in his own mind.

He finally came across the black, heavy canvas garment bag, all the way in the back of the closet. Jim tried to remember the last time he'd had the occasion to wear the clothing contained within. As much as he would like to believe he was in good shape since his recovery from the gunshot wound (and his subsequent incarceration in the hands of a very stubborn vegetarian), he knew there would need to be some alterations and adjustments made.

Jim carried the bag into the bedroom and hung it from the closet door. He stared at it for a few moments, and then backed up to the bed before he sat down. He just wasn't quite ready to look at the hidden garments inside that bag.

As if on cue, his doorbell rang. He looked down at his wrist watch and knew exactly who that would be.

He opened the door without even looking and said, "Not even six hours? You've got to have a spy at PD, or something."

"How'd you figure me out?" Sara walked in through the door as he stepped aside to permit her entrance. "And it's not a spy… When they were rooting around inside your chest, I just had them implant you with a tracking and listening device."

His face contorted into a curious scowl and remarked, "That must be why I've been picking up Radio Free Canada broadcasts." Jim followed her into the kitchen and added, "On the plus side… I am learning French."

Sara simply shook her head and chuckled as she set the grocery bag on the counter. As she took the items out of the bag, she explained, "So, Gil's stuck on a case, and I can't sleep. Plus, since you got put on vacation by the sheriff, I knew you'd be here stewing over all this free time you've got, so I figured we could be pissed off and frustrated together." She turned around and handed him one of the beers from the six pack she brought in. "Sandwiches or pasta?"

Looking at all of the things she brought into the kitchen, Jim realized that Sara had done some serious shopping. That was when he realized that he probably should have called her with the heads up on his plans. "Whatever won't last until next week."

She scrunched up her brows in that adorable little gesture which showed her confusion. "Ooookay." She turned back to the groceries and asked, "And where will you be going?"

Taking in a deep breath, Jim cracked the cap off of the bottle and sighed. "I got a call from the wife of an old friend this morning… I've gotta head out to D.C. for a funeral."

"Oh, Jim…" She instantly whipped back around to look him dead in the eye. That gaze never failed to pierce through any defenses he built up. "Are you okay?"

He exhaled sharply and shrugged. "Yeah, I'm fine… I'm the one above ground."

She took a step to bridge the physical distance between them and gently grasped his upper arm. "Jim-"

"I know… But I'm okay, really. Thanks for askin', kid." Jim sat down at the kitchen table with his beer.

"Okay… Outside of feeding you, what help do you need to get ready?" Sara turned back to the counter and started to work on a couple of sandwiches.

Under most circumstances, he would have laughed as he watched her timidly layer slices of cold cuts onto the bread with a spare piece of plastic to keep from touching the offending meat products. Witnessing such a mundane task, and knowing her feelings, made him realize just how much he meant to the brash and fiercely independent young woman who had become such a huge part of his life. He was suddenly very grateful for the time he had been given, the time to see the things that were right there in front of him, and to appreciate them.

"Know any good tailors?"

After explaining to Sara why he needed a tailor, she chuckled at his difficulty in describing his predicament. They ate their sandwiches and she insisted he try on the clothes in question. And so, there he stood in front of the full length mirror, staring at a man he didn't recognize, stuffed inside the dress blues of a kid he no longer knew.

When Sara finally convinced him to let her into the room to inspect the uniform for problems, he was ready for her to start laughing hysterically. Instead, he heard only silence, which forced him to turn towards the door. He found her staring with her hand over her mouth in complete shock.

"It looks that bad?" He went from her stunned face to stare down at his pants and then nervously back up to meet her gaze.

"No… Jim… You look…" She shook her head, as though she was trying to clear away the cobwebs and find just the right word. "Distinguished."

"That's a nice way of saying old." He turned back to the mirror and checked the cut of the jacket shoulders when he crossed his arms, and was pleasantly surprised to find that it wasn't too tight. Not for the first time, he was glad that Sara had taken him on as a project and gotten him back into shape.

The sky blue dress pants, however, felt like they were more than a little snug. He wanted to do a little rearranging, but not with Sara there staring at him with that silly look on her face. "What is it?"

"Well, aren't you supposed to wear the white pants in the summer?"

There was no way to hide his surprise at her question. "What?" She took on a defensive posture and then smirked when she finally admitted, "I used to date a Marine in San Francisco. So sue me."

The two shared a comfortable laughter with the comment. Jim shook his head and finally answered, "I guess I better look that up…"

"Where's your computer? I can look it up for you."

After a few clicks, Sara found the exact regulation, and within ten minutes she had a local authorized supplier. With a quick call to David Phillips, he had an appointment with an Air Force tailor at Nellis to get the pants fitted first thing in the morning before he had to leave for the airport.

He was thoroughly surprised by Sara's knowledge of military uniforms and regulations, but more importantly, that she was able to get it all done with so little effort. Jim decided that she must have done a lot of growing while he wasn't looking. It made him feel a little guilty that he had missed it during the time that he was too caught up in his own garbage.

When he was shot, Sara was right there for him. When he was moved from the ICU, she was waiting in the room with a bag of his personal items, and a smile. When he was being released from the hospital, she was there with the wheelchair to take him out and a smile to let him know everything was going to be all right. She nursed him back to a health he couldn't remember having before, and she did it every day with a smile. She always had that smile for him.

It was that smile that he took with him as he boarded the plane to Washington, DC. He planned to use that smile to get him through the whole funeral; through the whole vacation.

The moment he stepped off the plane onto the gangway, the stiflingly humid air hit him like a heavy bag in the face. It had been years since he made it to anyplace other than the desert in the summer, and he was instantly reminded why as he felt his shirt instantly begin to stick to his back as he threw the garment bag over his shoulder and made his way into the terminal of Reagan National Airport.

There was a driver waiting for him when he got to baggage claim. That was something of a surprise, but as the man took him to his hotel he explained that the hotel manager had sent him. It would appear that someone told the manager that a decorated Marine and law enforcement officer was in town for a funeral and a few days of site-seeing when they made the reservation for him. He was going to have a little talk with a certain red-headed CSI when he got back to Vegas, and he made a note to never ask Catherine to help him find a hotel room again

After hanging up his uniform and changing into some fresh clothes following the close to six hours he spent on a plane, Jim stretched out on the bed and flipped on the television. He just wanted to check the box scores and try to get a little sleep before morning. Being awake all day was not his usual schedule, and he was exhausted. Between the length of the flight and the time change, it was already late, but as he flipped around to find ESPN he found himself wide awake.

Just as he finally found the sports channel, there was a soft knock on his door. Looking at his watch as he slowly rose to answer the door, he noticed that it was after eleven in the evening. He cautiously opened the door to find a young man in a waiter's uniform.

"Captain Brass?"

Through a raised eyebrow, he answered, "Yeah, that's me."

"I've got a special order for you, sir. Where would you like me to set it up?" The young man gestured for Jim to allow him room to bring in the tray.

"Ah, well, I'm confused… I didn't order any room service." Jim stepped aside and let the kid enter the room.

"Oh right… Sorry about that. I forgot to give you the note first." He reached inside his jacket and retrieved a faxed page to hand to him. "Where would you like me to set up, sir?"

Jim took the paper and started to read as he pointed at the table by the window. "Just on the table is fine."

The moment he started reading, a sly smile began to play at the corner of his mouth.


Jim,

I knew you'd tried to skip dinner when you got in. Take care of yourself, and don't mess up all of my hard work.

-Sara

As he chuckled at her choices, he flipped open his cell and hit the speed dial. He waited the three rings it normally took for her to pick up, but when it went to the fourth ring, he looked at his watch and saw that it was just after eight o'clock in Vegas. When the voicemail message started, he figured she must have been getting ready for work.

"Hey, doll… Thanks for the dinner. And if you don't mind, do me a favor, huh? Tell Cath that I'm gonna kill her when I get back. Talk to ya later. Stay safe, kid." He hung up the phone and started in to his dinner. By the time he was finished eating, he finally felt like he could get some sleep.

He made one last check on the uniform, and then called it a night.

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Morning came far too soon, and it found him struggling with the iron to put a fresh crease into the new white pants. He gave the whole thing the once over with a grooming brush, and once he was satisfied that it would pass muster with his old Drill Instructor, he slowly put it on.

Before he pulled the suspenders up over his shoulders, Jim turned to check the lines of his trousers in the mirror and caught sight of something in his garment bag. When Sara and Gil showed up to take him to the airport, she handed him a slim package. Inside was one of those new fangled undershirts he was always seeing the rookies down at PD wearing. She told him that since he was headed out of the desert to wear a wool suit, he better have something to keep him cool, and that the shirt was supposed to do just that. She also leaned in to whisper that it would also be tight enough to remind him to suck it in and stand up straight.

As he tore open the plastic wrap on the shirt, he chuckled at the memory. If any other woman had gone so far as to tell him he needed to suck it in, he would have been hurt or offended. But coming from Sara, he took it as the helpful hint that was intended. He also knew that it was payback for all the grief he'd been giving her about her latest choice in old lady sunglasses, and how it related to her current boyfriend's age.

Once he had the new undershirt on he instantly understood why Sara gave it to him; it really did remind him to suck in and straighten up. What he was surprised to discover was that it also hid a multitude of sins and almost made him forget just how old he was as he stared at himself in the mirror.

He pulled up the suspenders and squared them on his shoulders before double checking the lay of his trousers. Satisfied that he was within regulation, he slipped his arms into the sleeves of the jacket and slowly brought it up to rest on his shoulders. Starting from the bottom, he fastened each button with deliberate precision until he reached the collar. Jim drew in a deep, calming breath, and then blew it out slowly before he reached up with both hands to close the clasp on his collar. Taking one more breath with his eyes closed, he got ready to turn back to the mirror and check out the damage.

When he opened his eyes, all of the wind was knocked right out of him. Staring back at him was a man he no longer recognized, a man he wished he still knew. He saw the man he once was, the man Jack Fischer made him. There in his hotel room, preparing to lay his mentor to rest, he wanted to be that man again.

It was a quick cab ride to the Arlington National Cemetery, and the moment he arrived the staff at the cemetery took control. They escorted him to a ready room where he, along with the other pall-bearers, could do their last minute sprucing up.

They were instructed that they would meet the hearse at the chapel, escort the casket into the chapel and wait in position until the service was concluded. After the service, they would take the casket out of the chapel and place it on the caisson. It would be their responsibility to escort the caisson to the gravesite, behind the band, the marching platoon, the color guard and the chaplain. However, the most important of their duties was to carry the casket to the gravesite in accordance with precise military protocol, and then after the graveside service, they were to perform the military honors.

The Officer In Charge took Jim aside and told him that one of his honor guardsmen would step in for him during the military honors. It was to be his duty to present the flag to the widow at the conclusion of the honors. He was afraid that would happen the moment he saw that the chaplain was same man who once served at Paris Island with Jack. Father Frank was no stranger to him, and he knew the man would want him to present the flag to the family.

When he had agreed to come out for the funeral, Abby, the Sergeant's wife, asked him to say a few words during the chapel service. It was all shaping up to be one of the most intensely emotional days of his life. By the time the OIC came in to inform them that the hearse was en route, he had actually begun to think that getting shot wasn't so bad after all.

The service was a completely nerve wracking experience for Jim, but he managed to get out a few poignant words about his old friend, and kept from making a fool of himself. The part that surprised him was that the processional was actually the hardest part for him. Escorting his friend and mentor to his final resting place was a deeply moving and heartbreaking place in time, and he had to force himself to hold back the tears and sobs that threatened to melt his granite façade, as he heard the words of his friend echoing in his ears.

It ain't braggin' if you can do it.

Pain Is Only Temporary, Pride Is Forever.

Pain Is Weakness Leaving The Body.

Marines Never Die -- They Just Go To Hell And Re-Group

Unless You're Dead, You're Not A Former Marine

Heaven won't take us, Jimmy boy, and Hell's afraid we'll take over.

Heroes Get Remembered, Legends Live Forever

The stark truth hidden in that last one stuck with him for the duration of the walk to the gravesite.

At the graveside service, everything was quick and by the book. Military Honors was a sight for anyone to behold, but for a Marine, it meant so much more.

Immediately following the three volleys of rifle fire, he watched the honor guard as they began to fold the flag, while Taps was played out by the bugler. Jim prepared for his final duty to a great man. He recited the words over in his head, and stepped into position for receiving the flag.

Once the flag was placed ceremoniously in his waiting hands, he made the appropriate bow to the young Marine who placed it there, and then he turned to the casket and gave his final bow to Old Jack. With the big man's words repeating in his mind again, he made an about face and started his parade march to his grieving wife.

Down on one knee, Jim bowed his head to Abby Fischer and repeated the phrase he had long since committed to memory, "On behalf of the President of the United States, a grateful nation, and a proud Corps, this flag is presented as a token of our appreciation for the honorable and faithful service rendered by your loved one to his country and Corps." He slowly and painfully stood from his crouch, and saluted the widow and the flag. The pride and the sadness he found in her eyes in those moments would haunt him for the rest of his life.

He managed to make an appearance at the reception that followed the burial service, but after a while he felt like the walls were closing in on him. As everyone shared their favorite stories about the man who wasn't there to hear them, Jim excused himself to leave.

As the cab worked its way through Arlington that evening, he found himself in dire need of some fresh air. Even the confines of the cab were too much for him, and he had the driver stop. When he paid the man and stepped from the vehicle, Jim suddenly realized where he was standing; the corner of Memorial Drive and Jefferson Davis Highway, right in front of the cemetery.

He walked up to the fence and stared out at the expanse of gravestones over every hill on the grounds of the cemetery. Each stone marked another life given in the name of our country's endeavors, and a host of people left behind to mourn their loss. As he started to tick off the number of stones on one hill, he began to wonder just who would take the flag from another Marine in the name of his next of kin.

Ellie was in the wind once again. He never even got a chance to talk to her before she left Vegas. Gil told him that she came right after he placed the call, and that she stuck around as long as she could, given the circumstances. Later, after he dragged it out of him, his old friend admitted that he wasn't entirely sure she was strong enough to handle the implications of his possible death, and even less prepared to help him recover. What he feared was that his brush with death may have set her recovery back in the process. No one had heard from her since she left Vegas, not even her mother.

It had taken everything in Jim's power to find the strength to call his ex-wife in order to find out what was happening with their daughter; with her daughter. His one great wish is that he was really her father, in every way. Instead, he was a half-assed, absent father to the product of his failed marriage and another man's immorality.

As he slowly began to walk down the sidewalk on Memorial Drive towards the bridge, he tried to imagine what his own funeral would have been like, if he had died at the hands of Willie Cutler.

Jim was fairly certain that the department would have made a huge ordeal of the thing, outweighing whatever wishes he may have had, and done their damnedest to slip under the carpet his bad shoot from the months before. However, he knew, without a doubt, that Gil and Sara would have done anything they could to prevent the whole thing from turning into a circus, and they would have mourned his passing. He might have gotten a few tears from Catherine, and maybe even Sofia, but their lives would have returned to normal before the sun rose on the next day. The guys would probably have toasted his memory a few times, but before long they would be toasting the team that won them a few extra bucks that weekend.

So, as he slowly made his way around Memorial Circle in the dim light of dusk, his mind was filled with the thoughts of a life wasted, and not on the time of day, or his uncommon mode of transportation. Walking over the Arlington Memorial Bridge was not something that most people did on a regular day, but at night, after a military funeral, wearing his Marine dress uniform he was quite a site. The only thing that entered his thoughts as he stepped onto the concrete bridge was that he had heard the Vietnam Veterans Memorial was very striking at night.

When he reached the halfway point, he vaguely registered that a car had stopped beside him. "You lose your ride, Marine?"

Brass stopped his meandering march and dumbly answered, without a hint of emotion in his voice, "Just takin' a walk, sir."

The man in the car shook his head and chuffed. "Well, you drop that sir thing, and I'll give you a lift, Gunny."

The use of the nickname for a Gunnery Sergeant broke him from his self-imposed stupor, and he finally took the initiative to look at the man in the car. He found an older man, probably in his forties, with a trim build, and silver hair in a high and tight cut. He chuckled to himself when he once again remembered the words of old drill instructor; You can take the Marine out of the Corps, but you can never take the Corps out of the Marine.

"Thanks." Jim removed his cover and tucked it under his arm as the passenger door was pushed open from the other side. When he sat down in the seat, he looked forward and remarked, "And my feet will thank you later. Been a while since I went more than a mile in my dress shoes for the cause."

The silver haired man put the car back into gear and pulled forward as he said, "Never cared for the Blues, myself, but sometimes we gotta do it…to honor the ones who go before us." Jim nodded at the truth of his words and a silence descended within the car.

When he merged left onto the Lincoln Memorial Circle, the man spoke again. "Where're ya headed, Gunny?"

Jim suddenly remembered what he was doing with the man's question. "Oh… Ah, I was thinking about checking out The Wall before I went back to my hotel. Figured it wasn't far, and just tried to walk it."

The man maneuvered the car all the way to the left of the circle, hugging the side of the road closest to the Lincoln Memorial as he spoke, "Not far, no… Just better to cab it at night."

As they swung out onto Henry Bacon Drive Jim looked around and said, "I'll take that under advisement." And the silence once again settled over them.

A short while later, the government-issue Dodge Magnum came to a rolling stop beside a walkway and the brushy haired man with the sideways grin nodded his head toward the park beside them. "Follow that walkway, and try not to trip over it."

Brass chuckled as his description and brought his hand out to thank the man. "'Preciate the lift… And the advice." They shook hands, and Brass was out of the car. As he replaced the cover on his head, the dark blue car sped away without another word.

He slowly made his way along the walk, under the trees until he came to sign directing him to turn to the left in order to find the memorial. Jim filled his lungs with the thick D.C. night air, as he prepared for the sight he was about to see.

Jim had heard many stories from veterans and civilians alike, telling about the impact one felt upon first seeing the subtle wall, filled with the names of those who had fallen in the jungles of Vietnam. And in his present state, he knew it wasn't going to be easy, and no matter how tough he might have thought he was, he knew this would be hard.

Instead of making that left turn, Jim kept walking down the concrete path. From the guides he flipped through at the hotel, he knew that the walk emptied out near the Reflecting Pool in front of the Lincoln Memorial. He decided that it might be easier on him if he took a few baby steps before launching himself into hell.

When he found himself sitting on a bench, staring out into the dark, mirrored surface of the Reflecting Pool, and the dancing reflection of the Washington Memorial on the water, Jim wondered if he wasn't just going to find the nearest bar and try to blot it all out with a bottle of bourbon and a nameless face to smile at him.

Just as he was about to get up from the bench and wander off through the streets of the Capitol City, a cup of coffee appeared above his shoulder. Jim turned to find the stony face of the silver haired man as he sipped from another cup of coffee.

"There's a nice breeze off the Potomac tonight." Jim simply nodded and took the cup from his hand. The man moved to sit on the opposite end of the bench from Jim, but he matched him in the direction of his stare.

Two men, seated on the bench, cups of coffee in their hands, staring out into the D.C. night. All in all, Jim had to admit that it must have been a surreal site, especially with him in his uniform.

"How long have you been out?" Jim couldn't think of anything else to say, but he wanted the stranger to know that he spotted him for a fellow Leatherneck.

The man shrugged and said, "Not long… Since Gulf Senior."

He nodded at the answer and came back at him with, "Just a pup, then."

Chuckling to himself, the other man simply took another sip from his coffee. Brass figured the man wasn't exactly used to being called a youngster any longer.

Watching the man in his peripheral vision, he spotted him for a fellow cop. Based on his wardrobe, his government-issue car, and the wear on his belt from a removed holster clip, he could tell he wasn't just any regular cop, and figured that with his quiet and calm demeanor he couldn't possibly be FBI. That left him with one of the military investigative units, and given his obvious respect for the Corps, Brass was pretty sure he knew which one.

"And you?" The man punctuated his question by sipping from his coffee cup again.

"Long time, I'm afraid… Processed out in 1973." Just saying the date out loud made Jim feel even older than he normally did, but it also felt good to talk about it with another Marine.

"Served with a few from your era… Tough Marines." The man spoke few words, but he still kept his eyes trained on the lights reflecting in the water.

"Yeah…" Jim raised his cup in the air and gave a toast, "To those that went before… Hoorah."

"Semper Fi."

The silence returned once again, and Jim began to think about that wall behind them, and the names contained on it. He thought about the men he served with who never made it home. He thought about the families they left behind. He thought about the ones who came back, but not as themselves, as only a shadow of their former selves. Finally, Jim realized that then, such as now, there really wasn't anyone to mourn for him, if he hadn't come home.

"Tough choices."

Jim's brow scrunched up in confusion because of the man's words, but then he went on. "We've all made 'em. To serve, or not. To fight, or not. To live, or not." The silver haired stranger stood up from the bench and made ready to leave, but not before he left him with a few more of his sparing words. "Keep fightin', Gunny… There's a few more pups out here looking for a dog like you to lead the way."

As the man faded away into the night, Jim sat forward on the bench and shook his head. The man's words were still ringing in his ears as he slipped his hand into the pocket of his jacket and found a folded sheet of paper. Upon closer inspection, he recognized it as the program from the funeral service. He saw the picture of a proud Marine, in perfect attention, gazing back at him in the dim light of the park. With the stranger's words in his head, he found the one quote that his old buddy was most fond of spouting off to his men, and he laughed.

Ours is not to reason why, ours is but to do and die.

His entire existential crisis was summed up in the words of a stranger on the street and front of a funeral program. Jim had no idea why things were happening the way they were, but it wasn't really his place to question it either. He just needed to keep on serving, fighting and surviving, because there had to be a reason for it all, and he needed to go on doing it until the end.

Walking along the covered path to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, he scribbled something at the bottom of the program and prepared to pay his respects to those that had gone before. When he reached the edge of the trees, the soft lighting against the memorial was enough to raise a lump in his throat.

It might just be a wall in the dirt, but its undeniable power came from the simplicity of the presentation and the profound impact of the meaning behind it. As he approached the sleek black wall, he slipped on his white gloves and made sure his cover was on straight.

With a precision of movement he thought was long forgotten, he sharply marched up to the wall and ceremoniously placed the program upright against the wall. He stood up straight, steeled his spine into parade attention, squared his shoulders perfectly and clicked his metaled heels together as he performed a perfect Marine Corps salute.

As he was about to disappear beneath the cover of the trees, he heard a familiar voice say, "Hoorah."

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In the pre-dawn hour, the members of the National Park Service begin their daily task of picking up the non-perishable items left in memory of those recorded on the wall. Each of the items is handled with love and care, as these Park Service workers understand the importance of each scrap, each trinket, each memento. Each day the items are brought to the Museum and Archeological Regional Storage Facility of the National Park Service and periodically they are rotated into the display at the American History Museum on the Mall.

One of the volunteers spots the funerary program and carefully picks it up. Normally, she would simply lay it in the box and move on to the next item, but on this morning, the crisp image of a stalwart Marine beckoned her to take a closer look.

The normal stuff she had seen at hundreds of funerals during her late husband's long service at the Marine Barracks were there;

Heroes Get Remembered, Legends Live Forever.

In Memory of the Honorable SGTMAJ John "Jack" Fischer, USMC Ret.

1938 – 2007

Ours is not to reason why, ours is but to do and die.

However, scribbled at the bottom was something else, and she knew that they were hard fought words. It was the men left behind to live with the memories of war and friends long passed that suffered the most in this world. She slipped the program into the plastic sleeve marked as priority for the curator at the storage facility.

As she carefully laid it over the top of box's contents, the words could be easily read:

GYSGT James Brass, USMC '69-'73

Still serving, still fighting, and still a Marine

Semper Fi, Jack


For the all the Marines, still serving and still fighting. Because "Unless You're Dead, You're Not A Former Marine." And in memory of SSGT Timothy Tracey 1959-2006