Raymond TattenA lazy ceiling fan coaxed May morning air past a wall portrait of President LBJ and through the crowded room as two Marines looked up from clerk-sized desks.
“Blair? Major Williams is expecting you. Go right in.”
The major was tall, a middle-aged, athletic-looking man with hair burned close to his scalp, commanding a large wooden desk – clean of paper, as if no more than an affectation.
He leaned, reaching into the desk drawer for my letter.
“Help me understand; what’s going on here?”
“I’ve decided to drop out; I’m not going back.”
“You’re six weeks from flight school. I thought you wanted to be a pilot?”
“I did. But everything’s different.”
The major pushed forward on his elbows.
“You’re a top recruit, Blair. Quantico said sixth in six hundred – perfect fitness score.”
The room stayed quiet with much unsaid.
“You know we need you, Blair. The country needs you. Why don’t you give this a little more thought?”
“I have…I’ve thought about it a lot.”
The major held my eyes for long moments until the tension finally broke when he dropped his gaze and leaned back a bit as if comforting himself while preparing another attempt.
“You know, son… in thirty years, I’ve never lost a candidate to an opt-out. You’d be the first to quit.”
I said I was sorry, but I wasn’t. He had asked to see me, and I’d come. But I didn’t give a damn about his perfect recruitment record.
“All right,” he said, “I think we’re done. See Sergeant Wright for the paperwork.”
I did not know, could not know, I would not speak of the meeting for fifty years – leaving a dream behind is private.
But when regret comes for me, I’m armed, recalling the image of a little Vietnamese girl running naked, her clothes burned away by napalm, and I’m protected knowing horror had never rained from a plane I had flown.
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