Because of the pain killers, the travel time between Afghanistan, Germany and Walter Reed National Medical Center seemed like it took 10 minutes. Lieutenant Frank Lowry IV dipped in and out of the fog of a narcotic consciousness. The last true memory he possessed was diving on a Taliban grenade. The rest, well, the rest were just a series of fleeting images and sounds. He remembered the padded ceiling of the medical Blackhawk. He remembered being on the tarmac in Bagram Air Force Base. He remembered the lumbering C-17 transport plane and the Mississippi accent of the pilot. And he remembered the cold darkness — a chill that enveloped him when death entered the room. He thought of his son, Frank V. He thought of his beautiful Meg. He could see the flag being handed to her at Arlington National Cemetery. He could see the tears streaming down her soft face. His memorial would be on Memorial Day.
Stop it. Must. Remain. Positive.
Beeps and hums cut through the drugs. He was in ICU — or at least he thought he was. He had lost massive amounts of blood high in the Afghanistan mountains on that early May day. Blood stained the snow; his blood. A Medal of Honor was now in the pipeline for Frank. The only question was this: Would it be posthumous? Would his country sign the blank check he had written? Blackness entered the room again and Frank felt his life starting to slip yet again. His heart labored to keep him alive. He was now fighting a battle far tougher than any he had fought as a Navy SEAL. He started falling into the darkness. And then a pinprick of light opened up beneath his feet. Small at first, it opened to swallow his soul. The sensation of falling ended as rapidly as it had begin. He was standing on manicured green grass surrounded by a garden of stones.
“Beautiful isn’t it?”
The voice jarred Frank slightly. He looked around and saw no one. But he couldn’t help but notice how vivid the colors were. The sunrise over Washington was amazingly vivid. Mist hugged the ground.”
“I thought the same thing when I saw the South Pacific for the first time. Never have seen a sunrise like it since.”
Frank swung his head around again. Still no one.
Then, like an apparition, a man appeared beneath a giant oak tree.
“Welcome to Arlington, Frank.”
“How do you know my name?”
“Because it’s my name, that’s how. I am Frank Lowry the first. And if you look over there, you will see my grave.”
Frank looked over at the tombstone. It read, “Sgt. Frank Lowry USMC Born 1918- Died April 1945
His great grandfather, a Marine medic in the First Marine Division had died on Okinawa. He had singlehandedly stopped a last minute Japanese Bonsai charge on his position when he picked up a fallen Marine’s M-1 rifle. For that he was awarded the Silver Star, the second highest combat decoration. He left behind a wife and a son he had never met. That son fought in Vietnam. His son fought and died in the Gulf War. And now Frank carried on the family warrior tradition of saving lives.
“I understand you’re some kind of hero.”
Frank couldn’t help notice how much he looked like his grandfather. Old age had been stolen from the Marine. They were about the same age.
“I want to introduce you around. We have lots of heroes here — but only a handful of Medal of Honor recipients. You’ll be quite the hit.”
Frank looked at his great grandfather. “Medal of Honor? What are you talking about?”
“I guess you haven’t heard. You’re about to enter select company. Less than 3,500 Medal of Honors have been presented. Admirals will now salute you, boy. You saved many souls the day you were wounded. Wait until I introduce you to President Theodore Roosevelt. You know he’s the only President who has received the Medal of Honor?” His grandfather pulled an apple out of his coat pocket. and took his K-bar knife and began to peel the apple. ”Anyone can take a life. But a true warrior knows when to save one. You, my boy, are a warrior.”
Frank looked down on the city of Washington, DC. He remembered taking his son to the zoo and the monuments. How they had gone to the Smithsonian and seen a plane like his own father had flown in the Air Force. “That’s Grandpa’s plane,” Frank’s son shouted in a mixture of glee and pride. The Lowrys were all about service. And they were about sacrifice as well.
“So, you want the tour? Or do you want to go back?
Frank looked around at all the tombstones. How many of them had been given such an opportunity? How were given a second chance? He thought of little Frankie. And then he thought of Meg. And then he saw all the other heroes standing next to their graves.
“I’ll always be waiting here for you. And so will he.” And out of the mist, a man in a flight suit appeared.
It was Frank’s dad.
Frank ran and hugged his father. He looked at him and tried to say everything he had wanted to say to him for the past 23 years. But his father wouldn’t allow him to speak. He just squeezed him and said, “It’s OK son, I know. I have been watching out for you. It’s not your time. You have to go back and raise your son. You have to teach him what our sacrifice is all about. You have to pass on the warrior tradition.”
Frank felt his body convulse again. The idyllic scenery of Arlington ripped away from him. Lightness suddenly went back to black. He felt another shock that ripped open his eyes.
“We have a pulse!” one of the doctors yelled. Another doctor pulled the paddles from his chest and smiled.
Frank had reentered the world of the living. The beauty of Arlington transformed back into the sterile ICU of Walter Reed. He looked up at the doctors, stared at the man who had just brought him back to life. Frank thought, “Thank you.” He still had some living to do.
He looked at the doctor again. The man winked and said, “You’re welcome hero.”
It was his Great Grandfather.