War and History Fiction posted February 13, 2011


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A young soldier goes to war to please his father

Death Before Dishonor

by pickthorn



     Charles Ingersol was a combat veteran of World War II, seeing action in

France and Germany and culminating with the Battle of the Bulge in December of

1944. He proudly flew the American flag from a pole in his front yard since

1947, when he was discharged from the army. His support for the Vietnam war

never wavered even as American casualties exceeded 30,000 combat deaths and

100,000 wounded. He continued to stand by the administration in 1968, even

 though the war continued to escalate.


     Charles and his wife, Margie, were happily married and lived with their

two children, Becky, sixteen, and Steven, eighteen, in Topeka, Kansas. He had

many heated discussions with his family concerning the war in Vietnam. He was

the only family member who supported America's involvement in the war. Steven

was adamant in his belief that the United States should not be

involved in a civil war between North and South Vietnam.


"     Look, Pop, Ho Che Minh is not a threat to America. Why are Americans

dying over there? What do we expect to gain? It doesn't make any sense to me."


     "Stevie, I hate war as much as anybody on this earth. I was with my best

friend when he got his head blown off in the 'Bulge'. I have seen war like you

wouldn't believe. I wish I could go over to Nam and fight again, but they

won't take old guys like me."

       "But, Dad, don't you see? It's not our fight! We should not be over there.

Thousands of civilians... women, children and old people, are being killed

every day... and for what?"


     "Listen, son. When your country calls, you just obey your orders and do

the best you can. A soldier is not paid to think, but to carry out the mission

he is assigned to do and not question whether it's right or wrong."


     "I know, Pop, but I sure don't want to go fight for something I don't

believe in."


     "Son, every Ingersol for the last one hundred years has fought for America

when the call was given! Your Uncle Ted was killed on Iwo Jima. Your granddad

Elrod was with Pershing at Chateau Thierry in World War I. I know when the

time comes, you won't bring shame on the name of Ingersol, and you will make

your old man proud of you!"


     "Okay, Pop. You win. I'll think about college when I get out of the army.

If that's what you really want, then I'll enlist tomorrow morning."


     Two days later, Steve was waiting with twenty other army recruits, to

board a bus that would take them to their new home at Fort Leonard Wood,

Missouri. He would be there for eight weeks of basic training. His mom and

dad, his sister Becky and Janie, his high school sweetheart, were at the

induction center to see him off. Tears were flowing freely from his family and

his girl as he prepared to board the bus. Steven shook hands with his dad. Mr.

Ingersol said to his son, "Stevie, I'm so proud of you. I know you will bring

honor to the family name as did all the Ingersols that served before you."

     "I hope so Pop. I'll do my best."


     His mother hugged him. "Darling, please be careful and be sure to write."

"I will, Mom, don't worry."


     Janie held him tightly and didn't want to let him go. "Come back to me,

Stevie."

     "I will, honey. I'll be back before you know it."


     A few minutes later, Steve was watching his loved ones fade into the

distance as the bus got underway for Fort Leonard Wood.


     He adapted to army life very well. After basic training, he applied for

and was accepted into an airborne assault unit. His new home was Fort

Campbell, Kentucky with the 101st, Airborne Division, the 'Screaming Eagles'.


      Steve was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 187th Combat Regiment. Advanced

training intensified and every member of the unit knew that Vietnam would soon

be their destination. The 187th disembarked at Cam Ranh Bay, South Vietnam, in

February, 1969. After the regiment set up camp thirty miles northwest of

Saigon, combat missions were a daily occurrence.


     Back home in Topeka, the Ingersols prayed each day for the war to end and

for Steven's safe return... but it was not to be. A telegram arrived on May14,

1969.


The news was devastating;


'Dear Mr. and Mrs. Ingersol,

It is with deep regret that I must inform you that your son, Private Steven R. Ingersol, was killed in action on May 11, 1969. Private Ingersol was bravely performing his duty in the assault on hill 961. Private Ingersol died upholding the highest tradition of United States military service. I share in your profound grief.

Major General William Westmoreland.'


     A few days later, the Ingersols received a letter from Steven's platoon leader.

LT. Harold Simmons
:
     I know that you have been officially notified of the death of your son, Steve,                                            but I just wanted to offer my own heartfelt condolences to you. Private Ingersol
was an outstanding young man and a dedicated soldier. I was honored to have
Steve in my platoon.  He died while saving the life of another trooper. He had
previously destroyed several enemy machine gun emplacements that made
it possible for our advancement to the top of the ridge.

I am recommending Private Ingersol to be awarded the Silver Star.


     Charles Ingersol later learned that Hill 961 was the infamous 'Hamburger

Hill' so named because of the many deaths on both sides that were fed into

the 'meat grinder'. The hill was taken on May 20th, but soon abandoned, to the

chagrin of the many soldiers and Marines who fought to capture that enemy

stronghold.


     Steven was buried with full military honors in the Veterans Cemetery in

Topeka, Kansas on May 16. A few days later, Charles received Steven's personal

effects. He sadly opened the box containing the personal property of his son.


     Tears filled his eyes as he examined the articles in the box; his leather

billfold, containing nineteen dollars, a gold watch that he gave Steve on the

day he graduated from high school, his dog tags and a number of pictures Steve

had taken with him to Vietnam. There was a picture of Steve in his football

uniform, reminding Charles of the many times he sat in the stands watching his

son lead his team to victory... pictures of happier days. He found every

letter Steve had received from family, friends and his sweetheart, Janie. Each

letter had been saved, still enclosed in its envelope.

     Mr. Ingersol noticed another letter in the box, that appeared much older than the others. The postmark

on the envelope indicated that the letter had been mailed to Steve on May 16, 1967, two years prior to his

army enlistment. The return address was 'Military Records Center, St. Louis, Missouri
'.

     Charles Ingersol's hands began to tremble as he realized what the envelope surely contained. He

removed the letter and saw that it was a document with the designation DD214 in the upper left corner.

had been twenty-five years since Mr. Ingersol had seen the original document. Charles was looking at a

copy of his own service record from World War II.

     A wave of nausea and revulsion swept over him as his eyes scanned over his DD214. He knew the

dreadful, shocking, information this document revealed. There it was at the bottom of the page

information he had kept hidden all through the years:

Type of separation from the service: Dishonorable discharge

Reason for separation of service: General Court Martial. Violation of article 85 UCMJ. Desertion In

Face of the Enemy

Court Martial Disposition: Reduction in rank to Private. Forfeiture of all pay and allowances.

Sentenced to four years of hard labor. Private Ingersol will be confined in military stockade,

Ansbach, Germany until such time as he can be transported to a correctional facility in the United

States.

     Charles Ingersol's world was collapsing around him. It was killing him to know that his son died in a

foreign land, fighting for a cause that he didn't believe in, only because his father had encouraged him to

go.and do his duty.

     The pain was now unbearable as he realized that Steven had known for several years that his father

was an army deserter, a liar and a fraud.  But he never said a word.

                                                                      The End




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