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Excerpt: Gene Moser

No Difference

by Gene Moser

Copyright 1999

About the Author: Gene Moser grew up as an army brat, living in Oklahoma, Japan, Massachusetts and Virginia, among other places. Gene attended Fishburne Military School and William and Mary where he received an A.B. in English and a commission as a second lieutenant in 1965. He served 27 years in the army, active, national guard and reserve, retiring in 1992 as a lieutenant colonel and taught English in the Hampton, Virginia public schools from 1968 until retirement in 1999. Gene has had poetry, articles and short stories published. He has a wife, two adult children, three grandchildren and two boxers. He enjoys model railroading, old steam locomotives, water gardening, cooking and wine.

 Skinny Dipping and Other Stories begins in Japan and ends in a Virginia military school. These short stories trace civilian girl Elaine Goodman and army brat Phil Boydon who meet in the spring of 1956. Elaine has lived in Virginia all her life; Phil is a world traveler at twelve. She is popular and he is, again, the new kid on the block. Oil and water do not mix. Or do they? When they do, they find her old friends, his new friends and their parents beginning to wonder about their closeness.* Info from Amazon.com

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 The khaki clad military police guard at the door of the small gate house snapped to attention, waved the shiny 1955 Ford station wagon forward and crisply saluted as it went past, leaving U.S. Route 1 and entering Ft.Belvoir. “See, Sam, I told you he wouldn’t stop us.” Phil Boydon laughed and squeezed the hand of the girl who sat beside him, next to the window. The trees arching over the road provided shade.

“Why’d he salute?” El asked softly in Phil’s ear. Sam in the front seat, next to Phil’s mom, the driver, and Mark, beside Phil, both nodded their heads, obviously wanting to know, too.

“The bumper sticker. He saw an officer’s sticker so he saluted,” Phil explained. He felt proud of that and at the same time a little embarrassed. He’d seen so many times when civilian kids just didn’t understand. The last person he wanted to not understand him was seated next to him with her hand furtively in his, El Goodman. He still couldn’t believe that he had the luck for her to like him, much less love him as she’d said for the past three weeks.

“And you say there’s no difference between us and you, Phil?” Mark asked. “Nobody salutes my dad and he’s a partner in a law firm.”

Phil glanced away from El and turned towards his best friend for the a year and a half Phil had lived in Alexandria. “It’s just a custom, Mark. Doesn’t mean nothing.” He knew that wasn’t totally true, but he didn’t want to seem different. He’d gotten off on the wrong foot with El soon after they’d met. Then he’d chosen to defy a Japanese-hating teacher and lose El. Now losing El was unthinkable.

The car stopped at a traffic light. “That’s a church,” Sam said, pointing to the brick building to their right.

“Main post chapel. We do have services here,” Mrs. Boydon said.

The station wagon turned into a parking lot in front of a single story brick building. “I’ll be in the PX just a few moments. Phil, why don’t you walk them towards the Club,” his mother said.

“Okay, Mom.” They piled out of the car with the teens clustering around Phil, and his mother striding towards the building.

“So just what’s in a PX?” Sam asked.

“It’s sort of like a department store. Clothes, records, dishes, hammers. That sort of thing.”

“But we can’t go in,” Mark continued. Phil sought El’s hand, and smiled when she took his willingly.

“You could have if Mom had called. No big deal. It’s pretty small compared with Sears.”

“But you can go in and we can’t,” Sam said. “That’s a difference.”

“Phil’s not different because he can go in. He’d be the same if he’d lived here all his life.” El glanced back and forth between the two other boys.

Sam laughed. “So how come you’re going steady with Phil and not me?”

“It’s not because he’s lived all over. Phil’s a nice boy, that’s all,” El squeezed his hand. Phil wondered if he blushed under his tan.

“I’m lucky, I guess,” Phil said. “Hey, let’s go,” and he gave El a gentle tug as he led them away from the building his mother had just entered and towards a wide grass covered field just visible.

As they walked, Phil saw a formation of green fatigue-clad soldiers coming towards them, trotting on the road, the guidon in front and a sergeant to the side, doing a singing cadence. Phil recognized the words.

“I know a girl who lives on a hill…” the sergeant sang. Then he must have seen El and the song stopped suddenly and the cadence became “left, left, left, right, left.” As they passed from easy hearing Phil heard the troops take up the refrain, and knew they were learning that the girl on the hill wouldn’t, but her sister would.

El pulled her bright chestnut pony tail. “That sounded like he just changed what he was doing,” she said. “I liked the singing better.”

“Well, he probably thought you were a colonel’s daughter or something. Didn’t want to get in trouble over the cadence.” Phil kept looking ahead. This was not what he wanted to talk about.

“Why would he get in trouble?” El asked.

“It was dirty,” Sam said. Phil was glad Sam had butted in. He really didn’t want to discuss this at all.

El looked at Phil. “And I bet you know the words, Phil.”

“Well. Yeah. But Boy Scouts know them, too. Right, Mark?” Mark looked straight ahead.

“Maybe. Maybe only troops with brats in them, though.”

Phil still felt uncomfortable, but they were at the big grassy area now.”This is the parade field,” he said. “Post headquarters is over there.” He pointed towards a large brick building opposite them. “And the post flag pole’s over there. Behind it a bit is the Officer’s Club and where the colonels and such live. President Eisenhower’s son lives right on the corner.” He noticed the flag detail clustered around the tall pole with its waving flag.

“You ever see him, Phil?” El asked.

“No. We’ve only eaten at the club a couple of times since we got here,” Phil replied.

“And you still say you brats are just like everybody else?” Sam said.

“Sure. We just have dads in the military. That’s all.” He heard a double beep and turned to see his mom in the car, across the street from them. She waved him to her. “Mom’s here. Let’s go,” he said. Phil began to cross the street, moving to the cross walk out of habit. He could see theothers glance towards the car and the longer route he selected and then follow him.

When they were all once more in the car, he asked, “Where to, Mom?”

“I’ve got to pick up your father. Think your friends might like to see a helicopter?”

“Hey, that would be keen, Mrs. Boydon,” Sam said. El squeezed Phil’s hand.

The car was turning around when a bugle began to blow. “I knew we wouldn’t make it,” Mrs. Boydon said and steered the car to the curb and stopped. Phil opened the door and got out, reaching his hand to El.

“What’s going on?” El asked, not moving despite Phil’s tug. Mrs. Boydon and the other two boys were out of the car.

“It’s Retreat, El. You need to get out,” Phil said and yanked her hand. El’s lips turned down, but she slid out and stood up. Phil turned towards the flag, clearly visible from where they were.

“So what now?” El said, disengaging her hand from Phil’s. The bugle ended.

“They’re about to lower the flag,” Phil said. Just then the cannon next to the flag pole roared, El jumped, and Phil came to attention, as did his mother, Sam and Mark. El swiveled, looking at the four of them.

“What’s going on?” she asked, but Phil didn’t answer. Then the bugle call faded and Phil turned to her.

“You stand still for Retreat, El. It’s respect to the country and all the men who fought for her. Don’t you know about that?”

His mother gave a short laugh. “Of course she doesn’t, Phil. She’s not a brat or a scout. That’s okay, Elaine, Next time we’ll warn you.” Phil saw her look around. “Let’s go get Phil’s Dad, okay? Everybody back in the car.” With that, Phil felt her push him towards the open back door.

Phil stepped aside and El got in, avoiding his held out hand. Her face darkened and her lips tightened as she looked at him. He looked away. She was unhappy with him, even mad, he supposed. But her father had been in the war, she’d told him, and her grandfather, too. Surely she knew about Retreat.

The car went through the gate, turned left on U.S. One, and picked up speed as it went under the railroad bridge.

He leaned over to her and whispered, “You didn’t know about Retreat, El?”

“How could I? My father isn’t still in the army,” she snapped. He could see red flowing through her cheeks, her freckles hot and dark through her tan.

He went to put his hand on hers, but stopped. “I’m sorry then, El. I was real young when Dad taught me what to do. They teach what to do in Scouts, too. Guess it’s good I haven’t taken you to the movies at Belvoir.”

She turned her head, looking at him. “Now why’s that? They shoot some gun inside the theater?” Her eyes relaxed; her lips took on a faint upturn.

He was sure she wasn’t as mad. “No, but before the movie starts they play the Star Spangled Banner. Always with a picture of the flag. Sometimes with soldiers or ships or something. We all stand for it.”

“Oh,…” El said.

“So you still think Phil is no different?” Sam asked.

“N ..n..no. But I guess there a couple things. But I don’t think he’s any different.” She reached out now and took his hand. He squeezed hers, glad that the difficulty was over. He glanced out and saw them turning into the parking lot at the air field.

“Wow,” Mark said. “Look at all those planes and choppers,” he warbled.

“Neat,” Sam said.

“They’re all green,” El said.

The car stopped and doors popped open. “Army things are olive drab,” Phil said, thinking that Sam was going to say something more about being different. “We need to stay with Mom until she finds Dad,” he said as Sam and Mark began to walk away, towards a long row of parked helicopters.

“What kind of choppers are they, Phil?” Mark said.

“Most of them are H-21’s. They call them Flying Bananas because they’re long and have that curved shape. They carry troops. The little ones with the bubbles are H-13’s.” There some others, but I don’t see them right now,” Phil said, then glanced up and saw his father approaching. “Hi, Dad,” he called and waved.

He looked and was surprised. His father wore his DFC, Bronze Star, Air Medal, Purple Heart and Order of Wilhelm orange lanyard on his still starched khaki shirt. Mrs. Boydon walked up and Phil’s parents hugged briefly.

“Think you could show Phil’s friends a helicopter, dear?” she asked.

“I don’t see why not. We can get Mark and Sam to volunteer and not have to worry about the draft, right?” his father chuckled and Phil fell in beside him, matching him stride for stride, as much as he could. “Maybe Elaine could join the WACS.”

Then he turned. El was standing beside his mother. Beneath El’s hair her face began to stiffen again. He turned from his father and ran back to her. “Come on, El. It’s neat inside one.” He took her hand and tugged and she followed, though her arm stretched out in front of her.

They followed his father, Sam and Mark along the concrete path that paralleled the runway and dispersal area. By the time the three in the lead were within ten feet of the door of the closest helicopter Phil heard rotor blades in the distance. He looked up and pointed, “Look, El, here’s one coming home late.”

“And fast, too,” his father said. “That’s your chess buddy, Phil. Lieutenant Johnson.”

“Neat, Dad. Wonder if we have time for a game.” Phil glanced at El and realized that wasn’t a real bright thing to say. She sure didn’t seem to think too much of the army right now and waiting for a chess game wouldn’t be cool for her.

“He’ll probably want to get home to his wife and baby girl,” his father said. “We had a visit by some generals and it sure messed things up.”

Phil looked at his father, realizing that his pilot father wasn’t that much taller than he was any longer. “That why you’re wearing your awards, Dad?”

His father laughed. “That’s it, Phil.”

“Those all his ribbons?” Sam said. “What’s that rope thing?”

Phil whirled on Sam, turning away from the oncoming helicopter. “Not hardly, Sam. Those are just his most important ones. And it’s a lanyard, not a rope.”

Then Phil caught his father’s face and saw eyes widen while his hands went up, as if to grab something. “No, Johnson, I told you…” Phil heard a loud pop, a rip above the whirl of the rotors and he turned to see the rear rotor blades fold upward, pointing towards the heavens while the tail of the long craft suddenly plunged towards the concrete runway, pulling the front after it.

Oh, no, Phil thought, his face suddenly cold, as the metal struck the surface, bounced once and came back down, bursting into flame at the same time the rest of the fuselage crumpled into the flaming ball of red, yellow and black. A rush of hot air hit his face, the stench of burning gas and melting aluminum thrust into his nostrils and he felt El scream something.

The three or four crewmen close to them yelled and pointed to the parking lot as they grabbed fire extinguishers and ran towards the flaming wreck. Phil punched Mark and Sam. “Back to the car,” he yelled, then reached for El’s hand. Suddenly a loud, continuous siren beat his ears as he tugged El away from the parked helicopters and the mass of flame. He saw the first fire truck dash towards the inferno. Uniformed men streamed from the operations building and hangers.

“Are they going to be all right?” El said as he hurried her after Mark and Sam.

He bit his lip. “They’re dead. Both or all three if there was a crew chief.” He could feel his voice warble in his throat but pursed his lips and prayed she didn’t hear any catch. He saw her face go from tan to pale even as he spoke.

“You sure?” Sam said. “You ever see an accident like that before?”

“Sort of. In Japan. Except it was a jet fighter. A navy jet.” He’d not really seen the crash itself. Just the aftermath. And it hadn’t burned. It had just plunged straight into the earth, the pilot ejecting only after he had steered the plummeting jet away from the housing area. He’d help pick up wreckage for two weeks afterwards.

His mother had the car door open. “Get in kids. This is no place to be,” she said.

His father came up. “Damn,” he said. “I warned him about hot dogging. The transmission snapped when he pulled that dumb ass maneuver. Dear…” Phil saw his mother put her hand on his father’s hand.

“I’ll take these kids home. I’ll get the wives to his house right away. His wife is going to need a lot of support. How many in it?” Her voice was soft, firm, but Phil could see her eyes were sparkling, not from the sun but from tears welling up.

“Co-pilot was Wassermann, a bachelor. Has a girl friend around here someplace. Crew chief was Sergeant Greene. Sergeant Major’s wife will be with her, I’m sure.” Phil felt his father grab his shoulder. “Explain to your friends, Phil. Help your mom. I’ll be late tonight.” Phil nodded his head. Late was probably putting it mildly.

* * * * * *

Some time after midnight Phil lay in his bed, the plastic model airplanes soaring over him on their display stands, Bun Rabbit on his pillow, not up on the shelf. It had been quiet going back. El was ashen sitting beside him, Sam and Mark speechless. He’d left his bike at her house when they’d driven to Belvoir, so he got out with her to ride it home. He knew he couldn’t stay but a minute as he had to help his mother.

They’d walked slowly to the garage and he’d retreived his red three speed. “He was a friend of yours?” Phil remembered nodding his head. “But you haven’t said anything or done anything.”

Maybe we are different, he’d thought.

“That could have been your dad.”

“Yes. But Dad wouldn’t have done something dumb like that unless he had to.”

El glanced at him. “Maybe you brats are a little different.”

“Dad told me, “Never let the bastards see you cry.'” Then he’d squeezed her hand, jumped on his bike and raced off to help his mom do what he knew she had to do, help two widows and a girl friend.

Now he was alone in the dark. There was nobody else. They couldn’t see him now. He knew it could have been his dad. The pilot wings and medals were for what he had done. They were not protection. Phil’s chin began to quiver.

The End

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 156 pages
  • Publisher: PublishAmerica (October 14, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1592860850
  • ISBN-13: 978-1592860852
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