For most of the summer of 2004
, I worked in a small potpourri
factory a few miles from my house. Most of my days were spent loading and unloading various materials at different locations around the factory complex. Anytime there was a truck of belani
s to be unloaded or some empty barrels of scent oil to haul off, Andy
was on the scene within seconds.
Andy, who could best be described as a "general purpose" employee, had spent the entirety of his professional life working at the potpourri factory. At 27, he was a high school drop-out who functioned on about a 7th grade level and lived on a diet of video games, TV, and barbeque potato chips. Andy was a fun guy to be around and wasn't retarded in any sense of the word, but spending a few hours with him would make you wonder how many times he'd been dropped on his head as a baby. Although Andy lived with his parents on planet Earth, everybody who worked there knew he actually inhabited another version of reality. Everyone who was around Andy caught glimpses of this world through his outlandish stories.
One sweltering afternoon in mid-July, Andy and I were driving up to one of the factory's storage barns to load some raw potpourri material onto the truck. Somehow, we started talking about the possibility of the military draft being reinstated. Andy cleared his throat.
"I was in high school during the first Gulf War, and there was talk of bringing the draft back. The principal at my school was told to start giving military training to all the students. That way, if any students got drafted, they could skip basic training and go straight into combat."
I nodded. This was going to be good.
"They divided everyone into groups, and I was put in a group of real violent boys that were friends but always fought between themselves. They knew we would make good soldiers because we were always fighting each other. We were put into a unit by ourselves, and our unit's code name was Red Hawk."
I nodded again, trying to think of any X-Box games that used the name Red Hawk to refer to a military unit. Andy continued, and his story suddenly went from unit names and training to a tale of valor that would make any veteran proud.
"This one time, we were sent out to protect a group of missionaries that had come under enemy fire. They sent my unit in to protect them until a rescue team could get there. As soon as we got into the jungle, everybody in my unit either ran away or got killed. I finally got to the missionaries and covered them until the rescue team showed up, but there was a guy from my unit that was trying to make me look bad. He told our commanders that I had run away and that he had rescued the hostages!"
I noticed that the successful mission to protect a group of stranded missionaries had somehow deteriorated into a hostage situation, but I decided not to pursue the matter.
"The government tried to court martial me for it, but I wouldn't have any part of it. I told those people that I was the only soldier out there that night that followed the code."
My curiosity spiked. "What code was that, Andy?"
Andy thought for a second, then got a look in his eyes that could best be described as a counterfeit thousand yard stare.
"The code..." Andy paused again. He obviously hadn't thought up this part yet. "The code was an oath we all swore by before we went out that night."
I persisted. "What was the oath about?"
Andy slipped further back into what I suspected was a haze of Chuck Norris movies and that Navy SEALs video game that had just come out.
"The oath...to leave no man behind," Andy grimly muttered.
This was the most serious I'd ever seen him about anything. I wondered how Andy had managed to be one of two survivors of his unit but still upheld "the code".
"But like I said, the government court martial didn't work because I wouldn't go along with it, and I was kicked out of the Red Hawk squad. However, there was another unit from our school made up of full-blooded Cherokee Indians. They gave them the code name Blue Eagle because they were Indians. They were all good friends of mine, and they told me I could come over to their group and keep my same rank and position."
"That's good," I sputtered, holding back a laugh. "So you did all this in high school?"
"Sure did," Andy said proudly. "It was all top secret, though."
I kicked at the barn's dirt floor. When I was in high school, we didn't even get to use live ammo.