Theodore's World: No Tears In Heaven

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April 19, 2006

No Tears In Heaven

The four Soldiers sat around an olive drab painted footlocker playing cards. Actually, the group was comprised of three Soldiers and one Marine, all wearing desert camouflage uniforms, their blouses removed exposing brown t-shirts, not because they were hot, rather it was just more comfortable to have them off.

“Let’s go for six Top,” the Marine Captain said to his partner.

“Six it is then Sir,” First Sergeant McNeely agreed. Julian McNeely was from Newark, New Jersey and had served in this man’s army for just over 17 years. He took a lot of shit for his first name while coming up through the ranks, especially while at basic training, but only his brother got away with ribbing him about it in recent years.

Julian McNeely’s partner in this game of spades was Captain Mike Williams from Sarasota, Florida. Private First Class Williams attended the United States Marine Corps Officer Candidate School at Quantico, Virginia and graduated as Second Lieutenant Williams on September 9, 2001. He enjoyed playing cards with Top McNeely and the men, it kept his mind off of missing his wife and daughter.

Sergeant Booker B. Washington grew up in Montgomery, Alabama before enlisting in the Army the day after he graduated from Robert E. Lee High School in May of 2002, where his picture still hangs as the All-American quarterback who took the Generals to the state championship two years in a row. Booker B. Washington turned down several scholarship offers from colleges and universities like Notre Dame, Syracuse, Clemson, and the most tempting, the University of Alabama’s Crimson Tide. In his 18 year old heart, young Booker knew he was to be a Soldier first, before anything else.

“I can go three myself sergeant,” Private First Class Brian Velleux of Newport, Maine told his partner, Sergeant Washington.

“OK, we’ll go five and set them ‘V’,” the sergeant said confidently.

Brian Velleux disappointed his parents by joining the Army a little over a year ago. He was supposed to play professional hockey and make a ton of money and buy his parents a house in Florida and have fake teeth and bad knees and a BMW. He never really liked playing hockey; the early morning practices, the long ass drives to play 90-minutes of “chase the puck,” and the never living up to his father’s expectations on the ice. Brian Velleux loved being a Soldier had aspirations to one day be a noncommissioned officer like Sergeant Washington.

“Damn.” Captain Williams said, throwing his cards down onto the makeshift table after being set by the younger team. His partner grinned slightly, knowing the young officer had bid bigger than he had in his hand.

“We ought to start making our way to the station,” the first sergeant announced looking at his watch.

Captain Williams reflexively asked, “We got someone coming in Top?”

“Yeah, we got another Soldier comin’ home,” McNeely answered as he placed the deck of cards dead center of the footlocker and put on his blouse.

“Let’s go greet him ‘V’,” Sergeant Washington announced standing up, likewise putting on his blouse.

As the train pulled into the station, Corporal Carmen Sanchez marveled at the number of people awaiting their arrival, waving banners and holding signs all welcoming them. When she stepped off the train, Corporal Sanchez was greeted by Captain Williams and First Sergeant McNeely first, with a firm handshake and a pat on the back.

“Welcome home Sanchez,” McNeely said with all sincerity as he gripped her hand with his right, his left hand on her shoulder, and his eyes looking into her soul.

Carmen Sanchez joined the Army three years ago to the day in El Paso, Texas though she was originally from Honduras. Her parents immigrated to America when she was 13 years old, determined to give their daughter a future filled with freedom, liberty, and opportunities.

The melodic sounds of a band playing patriotic music caught her ear as she passed by countless numbers of people welcoming and thanking her, when Corporal Sanchez realized that she was the only Soldier on the train. Though there were other civilians disembarking, the “welcoming party” was solely for her. Tears welled in her dark brown eyes.

The original group of four received Corporal Sanchez as if they had known her forever. The card games continued, rotating Carmen into the mix while the “odd man” out took care of keeping score and maintaining refreshments. She quickly noticed that it didn’t seem to matter who partnered with Captain Williams, his team never won a game.

On her third day at home, Devlin Thomas, a tall blonde haired reporter in his mid to late twenties from New York, New York, who had taken the train with Corporal Sanchez, stopped by to see her.

“Hey Devlin,” Carmen Sanchez said looking up from her cards held in a fan with her left hand in front of her.

“Hi Carmen, how are you managing?” the reporter somberly asked.

“Fabulously! And you?” she responded slapping down the Queen of Spades, trumping that hand.

Devlin Thomas, junior reporter for the New York Times, just kind of shrugged in response, staring off into the distance, longing to be someplace else.

“Would you like a soft drink or some bottled water sir?” Private First Class Velleux asked, interrupting Mr. Thomas’ trance.

“Ah, no thank you,” Thomas answered. “Where are you from Private Velleux?” he asked the young Soldier.

“I’m from Maine sir,” replied Brian Velleux.

Devlin Thomas then slipped into his reporter persona asking harder hitting questions of the young private, “Why are you here? Is it worth it? Aren’t you angry?” Private First Class Velleux refused to answer.

A little later, Sergeant Washington was the “odd man” out and found himself talking with Devlin Thomas who took a bit of a different approach.

“You married sergeant?” he asked with a sincere tone to his voice.

“Yep, to my high school sweetheart; she’s a runway model. Well, she is when she walks up and down our hallway. She gave me three beautiful babies, two girls and a boy and truth is I miss that woman, and them kids,” he added quickly.

“Well, aren’t you angry with the Army, the government, for taking you away from them?” Thomas asked.

“Angry?” Sergeant Washington asked, confused by the question. “Why in the hell would I be angry? I’m here so that they can live safely there. I want my kids to grow up tasting, smelling, and breathing freedom, not misery, not oppression, not shackled. I’m happy that I’ve helped to make that happen for them in my own small way.”

Devlin Thomas seemed to take offense to the answer, angrily arguing, “But you’ll never see them again! They’ll never see you again! You’re dead!! We’re all dead and why in the hell are you all so damned happy about that?!?!”

A hush fell over the card game as all four players focused their attention on the angry reporter when First Sergeant McNeely slowly stood up.

“Mr. Thomas, you are correct, we’re dead, but there are no tears in Heaven. We’ve each given all that we had to give for our country, what is it you would like to know sir?” the salty old NCO asked.

“Well, I mean, isn’t anyone else besides me pissed off that their lives have come to an end?” he asked incredulously.

Captain Williams spoke up, “Top, sit down please, you too Mr. Thomas and you too Sergeant Washington. We’ve got plenty of time to play cards,” a slight smile crossed the first sergeant’s face. “Let’s talk awhile,” the officer offered.

“Devlin,” Carmen Sanchez began, “I’m not angry at all and I left behind a little boy. Ernesto is three and a half years old; he lives with my momma now. I used to miss him terribly, especially at night, lying on my cot in the tent at FOB Mercury just outside Mosul, but since I’ve been here my sadness is gone. I’m so happy that he’s safe and free that my heart no longer aches for him, instead it swells with pride.”

Devlin Thomas, unmarried and with no children, could not fathom Corporal Sanchez’s reasoning and said as much. “Well, what about you Captain?” he continued, “Don’t you miss your wife and little girl? Aren’t you mad that you had to die in a fiery helicopter crash depriving Chrissy of her daddy?”

“I do miss my wife Mr. Thomas, I miss her every time I’m away from her, that’s called love. Likewise, I miss my daughter Chrissy, she’ll be six next week by the way, but I must say, emphatically, that she has not been deprived of her daddy. I am her daddy and when she thinks of me, speaks of me, dreams of me, I’m overwhelmed with joy that she’ll know I’m in Heaven continuing to watch over her and her mother. This isn’t about my death Mr. Thomas, it’s about my life, and just as with my comrades here, my life ended for a purpose, for a greater good.”

“How do you know that she knows you’re still her daddy, her protector? How do you know that she knows your in Heaven?” the reporter pressed. “And by the way, you call this Heaven?”

A few smiles appeared on the faces of those who had been there for awhile before Captain Williams responded, “I know, Mr. Thomas, because each night I hear my Chrissy’s prayers, one of the perks for being here, and no, I don’t call this Heaven, this is the port of embarkation, Heaven is over there, through those gates,” he said pointing to his left.

“Then why are you here, and not there?” the reporter snipped pointing at the very gates Captain Williams had.

“We volunteered to be here sir,” First Sergeant McNeely flatly explained. “You see, no Soldier, Marine, Sailor, Airmen, or Coast Guardsmen ought to arrive to Heaven without a proper greeting. It’s the least we can do considering their sacrifices. And I’d like to add, that through those gates are at least a thousand others who have volunteered to take our place here.”

After a few moments of silence, Devlin Thomas tried again asking, “What about you Private Velleux? Surely you see the travesty in dying at such a young age, your life wasted?”

Brian Velleux felt his face flush with anger but held it in check after a reassuring look from Sergeant Williams. Taking a deep breath before answering, the young Soldier said, “With all due respect sir, my life was not wasted. My life was spent defending your right to publish articles in your newspaper criticizing my life. My life made a difference in providing the very freedoms you take for granted to a group of people who still don’t understand what freedom means. My life ended while saving a school full of young Afghan girls from an IED that was meant to kill them all. My life was not wasted sir.”

Several moments passed before a word was spoken. “I’m sorry Private, excuse me, Brian, I didn’t mean to offend you and I was out of line, the truth is, I respect what your life represents,” Devlin Thomas sheepishly replied. Turning to the entire group he asked, “If I might, I’d like to ask just one last question but before I do, I’d like to say how honored I am to be here among this group and I apologize if I came off antagonistic.”

“If you were offered your lives back, a second chance if you were, to leave Heaven and go back, would you take it?”

All five answered yes and the New York Times reporter felt that he had found the thread that would validate his original position when First Sergeant McNeely said, “And I’d go back to Iraq to finish the job I started.”

“I would too,” Corporal Sanchez offered.

“Same here,” Sergeant Washington added, “my Soldiers need me.”

“As would I,” added Captain Williams.

“And I’d go back to Afghanistan, in a heartbeat,” pronounced Private First Class Velleux.

Seeing that Devlin Thomas was stunned by their replies, First Sergeant McNeely offered, “Mr. Thomas, we don’t belong in Heaven, we belong on the battlefield, on the front lines defending America and our way of life, but we’re here, our missions complete, we only pray that there will be others to follow our paths so that those who follow your path can continue to publish newspapers, and our kids can continue to ride buses free from fear. It sucks to be dead Mr. Thomas, but it is truly blissful to know that America remains free. Rest assured sir, there are no tears in Heaven, no tears.”

Speechless, Devlin Thomas stood in awe of these people for what seemed like a very long time when First Sergeant McNeely broke the silence.

“We ought to start making our way to the station,” the first sergeant announced looking at his watch. “Care to join us Mr. Thomas?”

* SGT.Hook

Posted by Wild Thing at April 19, 2006 12:47 AM


That was very touching.

Posted by: Ben USN (Re) at April 19, 2006 04:29 AM

A good read.

Posted by: TomR at April 19, 2006 06:45 AM

Hi Ben, nice to meet you.
Thank you so much for serving our country.

Posted by: Wild Thing at April 19, 2006 09:15 AM

Hi Tom, thank you.

Posted by: Wild Thing at April 19, 2006 09:16 AM

Great Story great people.

Posted by: Jack Hamilton at April 19, 2006 09:59 AM

Thank you for sharing this story.

Touching, bittersweet, but most of all...


Posted by: SouthernDoll at April 19, 2006 01:01 PM

Wild Thing
I hear the same old story all the time,where do
these young folks come from,hell there here
there and every where!!The always have been and
always will be...Im going to post from the
Medal of Honor site about the brother of my
mothers best friend,I was way to young to
understand then but I sure as hell do now...


Rank and organization: Second Lieutenant, U.S. Army, Company K, 148th Infantry, 37th Infantry Division. Place and date: Manila, Luzon, Philippine Islands, 5 February 1945. Entered service at: Ukiah, Calif. Birth: Bayside, Calif. G.O. No.: 92, 25 October 1945. Citation: He displayed conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty. Forced by the enemy's detonation of prepared demolitions to shift the course of his advance through the city, he led the 1st platoon toward a small bridge, where heavy fire from 3 enemy pillboxes halted the unit. With 2 men he crossed the bridge behind screening grenade smoke to attack the pillboxes. The first he knocked out himself while covered by his men's protecting fire; the other 2 were silenced by 1 of his companions and a bazooka team which he had called up. He suffered a painful wound in the right arm during the action. After his entire platoon had joined him, he pushed ahead through mortar fire and encircling flames. Blocked from the only escape route by an enemy machinegun placed at a street corner, he entered a nearby building with his men to explore possible means of reducing the emplacement. In 1 room he found civilians huddled together, in another, a small window placed high in the wall and reached by a ladder. Because of the relative positions of the window, ladder, and enemy emplacement, he decided that he, being left-handed, could better hurl a grenade than 1 of his men who had made an unsuccessful attempt. Grasping an armed grenade, he started up the ladder. His wounded right arm weakened, and, as he tried to steady himself, the grenade fell to the floor. In the 5 seconds before the grenade would explode, he dropped down, recovered the grenade and looked for a place to dispose of it safely. Finding no way to get rid of the grenade without exposing his own men or the civilians to injury or death, he turned to the wall, held it close to his body and bent over it as it exploded. 2d Lt. Viale died in a few minutes, but his heroic act saved the lives of others

Posted by: Tincan Sailor at April 19, 2006 03:43 PM

Jack they sure are great people.

Posted by: Wild Thing at April 19, 2006 03:45 PM

SouthernDoll that is what I was thinking too, it is bittersweat and very inspirational. Thanks for commenting.

Posted by: Wild Thing at April 19, 2006 03:46 PM

Tincan Sailor that is awesome to read this and to learn of this American Hero. Not a day goes by that I do not think of those that fought for my freedom and how much I owe all our Veterans, those serving now and those that gave their all.

Thank you so much for sharing about Robert M. Viale.

Posted by: Wild Thing at April 19, 2006 03:50 PM

What a great MOH story.

Posted by: TomR at April 19, 2006 08:08 PM