A Man Called Sarge


By: Mike Barnard

It was a cold and rainy Tuesday morning. Samantha was just finishing her last bite of cereal before leaving for school. Samantha woke up late again and missed the school bus. She didn't mind the long walk to school except for two things. One was going by that spooky old house on Manchester Street. The other was the possibility of running into Lance on the way home. Lance was a bully who always made kids give him their money. If the kids refused or didn't have any money, Lance and his cohorts would beat them up.
"I'm gone mom!" Samantha yelled.
"Be careful dear." replied her mother; "I love you."
"I love you too mom!" said Samantha as the door closed behind her.
Even though Samantha had her rain poncho on, the rain still made the walk quite miserable. Samantha was humming "Big Big World" to pass the time as she walked. She loved that song! Emilia was Samantha's favorite singer of them all.
Without realizing it, Samantha was almost in front of the spooky old house on Manchester Street. Samantha glanced up and noticed that the old man who lived in the house was peering out of a window looking directly at her.
"Oh my gosh!" thought Samantha to herself; "I have to get out of here!"
Samantha began to run, but in all of the excitement, her right foot slipped off of the sidewalk and caused her to fall. She landed in a small puddle of water. When she tried to get up she noticed that she couldn't put any weight on her right foot.
"Oh no!" whimpered Samantha; "I must have twisted my ankle."
The next thing Samantha saw was the old man standing right in front of her.
"Please Mr.!" begged Samantha; "Please don't kill me!"
The old man laughed and in a friendly voice said, "Now what ever made you think that I would want to do something like that?"
Samantha replied, "Well... Well... I don't know, but the other kids say that you're mean. Some even say that you can cast spells on people."
"Why I've never heard such nonsense," chuckled the old man; "Here let's get you inside so we can fix that foot."
"Oh no! That's ok!" responded Samantha quickly; "I think it's fine now!"
Samantha tried to get up several times, but each time she just fell back where she was sitting.
"Fine you say?" said the old man; "We need to get you out of this rain before you catch a cold as well!"
The old man picked Samantha up and carried her into the house. Samantha was too scared to say anything. All she could do is wonder if she'd ever make it out of all this alive.
As they entered the house, Samantha noticed that there was all kinds of old military stuff everywhere. There was everything from flags to old rifles. Something that looked like a big cannon was sitting in the middle of the room. One wall was full of pictures. Newspaper clippings filled another wall. A small table that sat in a dimly lit corner of the room appeared to have dozens of medals on it. There were three glass door cases that had old rifles in them. It almost looked like the old World War II museum that Samantha and her grandfather used to visit when he was still alive.
"Call me Sarge," said the old man with a smile.
"Excuse me?" replied Samantha.
"Yeah, that's my name, or rather, that's what everyone's called me for the last fifty or so years now," he replied.
"Ok then... Sarge... What is all of this stuff?" asked Samantha.
"This is my life," Sarge said; "It's all that I have. It's all that I know. See that little table over there in the corner. That's my medals. I earned everyone of them in World War II fighting those darn goose steppers!"
"Goose steppers?" asked Samantha; "What in the world is that?"
"You've never heard of goose steppers?" Sarge asked puzzled; "Where have you been hiding all of these years?"
"Well I don't know, but I've never heard of anyone called a goose stepper before," said Samantha.
"Take a look at this picture," said Sarge, as he handed an old scrapbook to Samantha. "See how these guys march. They don't bend their knees. They look like a bunch of geese on their way to a pond. That's why we call them goose steppers," he told Samantha.
"These are Nazis!" Samantha quickly replied; "Our teacher told us all about them in history class. They burned books and treated the Jewish people very horribly!"
"Right you are young lady!" exclaimed Sarge; "It was a nightmare back in those days. I was right there in the middle of it all. My friends were dying all around me. Everywhere I went there was the smell of death. It's a wonder I ever made it out of there alive. One time I woke up in a bunch of rubble with a whole battalion of those goose steppers marching right over me. They stepped on me several times, but I never made a sound. I just lye there like I was dead until they passed over. After they were gone I got up and looked around the hazy battlefield that they left behind. All of my friends were dead. I was the only one left alive. I was so scared. I didn't know what to do. For the first time during the war I was all alone in a strange country that I knew nothing about."
"What happened?" asked Samantha.
"Well fortunately our guys were not far behind," said Sarge; "I joined up with them. We followed those goose steppers and met up with them about four or five hours later. It was a long battle, but in the end we won."
"How many battles like that were you in?" asked Samantha.
"Who knows?" said Sarge; "Maybe a hundred or even a thousand. I lost count... We need to get you fixed up so you can get to school! Hang on a second. I'll be right back. You can look at my scrapbook while I'm gone if you want."
Sarge went up the rickety old steps and disappeared into the dark hallway above. While he was gone Samantha slowly looked through his scrapbook. "Medal of Honor" was the title of one clipping. The clipping read, "The Medal of Honor was presented to William B. Braxton on September 3, 1943 for his outstanding performance in battle." On the next page was a clipping about the same guy. He was decorated with the Medal of Valor also. As Samantha turned through the scrapbook she noticed that this guy was decorated many times. He had received everything from The Distinguished Service Cross to a Purple Heart.
"This guy must have been Sarge's hero," she thought to herself.
In a few minutes Sarge was coming back down the stairs carrying a bowl of something and some bandages. He took Samantha's shoe and sock off and rubbed the stuff in the bowl on her ankle. It smelled terrible, but Samantha never said a word because it seemed to take most of the pain away. He then started to wrap her ankle with the bandages.
"Who was William Braxton?" Samantha asked.
"Why that's me of course!" replied Sarge; "No one has called me that since the war though, except for my mother. She's gone now."
"You're William Braxton? The same William Braxton that was decorated with so many awards?" Asked Samantha with her eyes opened wide.
"Why yes!" said Sarge; "It's not that shocking is it?"
"No! No! I didn't mean it like that! It's just that..." said Samantha, stopping before she finished her sentence.
"It's just that what? You can't picture an old man like me being a hero?" laughed Sarge; "Well I guess it's hard to picture me as a hero now, but back then I was something else. I got to a point where I didn't fear anything. I'd jump right in the middle of any battle and not fear a thing. What did I have to loose anyway? It was a nightmare over there. If I got killed then the nightmare would be over."
"It's sad that you didn't value your life any more than that Sarge," said Samantha.
"Oh I did value my life little girl, it's just that I reached a point to where I just didn't care any more. I had seen way too much dying. I still have dreams sometimes that I'm over there in the middle of it all. I wake up with a cold sweat and try to remind myself that it's all over, but I can't ever get over it completely. It's something that will always be in the back of my mind," said Sarge.
"I see," said Samantha.
"There we go!" said Sarge; "You're almost as good as new! It may still hurt a little, but you should be able to make it to school ok. Take this old cane of mine with you to help you walk. I've had it ever since I got shot in the leg and had to use it during the war. It's yours now. It's something for you to remember me by. Oh and here, I want you to have this also."
Sarge got up and walked toward the table in the corner. He picked up the Purple Heart and came back over to Samantha and handed it to her.
"I want you to have this also," said Sarge; "It's my Purple Heart. You get it when you're wounded in battle. I may not be around much longer so I want you to have it."
"I can't take this Sarge. It's your medal! You should keep it!" said Samantha.
"It's not doing me any good anymore. In fact, none of these medals are. I want you to stop by here today after school and I'm going to give you the rest of these too. I don't have anyone left to pass my belongings on to, so maybe you would be nice enough to carry my memories on with you if something were to ever happen to me," said Sarge.
"Well I don't mind but..." said Samantha, before Sarge cut her off.
"Then it's settled! You'll stop by after school and I'll have everything ready!" exclaimed Sarge; "Now you better run along or they'll be calling your mother and worrying her to death."
"Ok Sarge!" said Samantha; "Thanks for everything! I'll see you after school!"
Samantha took the cane and walked out the door. As she walked down the sidewalk she looked back and saw Sarge looking out the window. She felt bad that she had misjudged Sarge before. Sarge was actually a very nice old man. Her ankle still hurt just a bit, but with the aid of Sarge's cane she was able to walk on it without any problems.
That day after school Samantha went to Sarge's house as she had promised. Sarge had a huge sack waiting for her. The sack was full of medals, uniforms, newspapers, and all kinds of stuff. Sarge had even put his scrapbook in there. They talked again for a long time. Sarge told Samantha that he'd be honored if she would stop by anytime she got a chance. He told her that there were a lot of other things that he would like to give her, but it would be too much to carry at one time. After listening to many of Sarge's old war stories, Samantha finally said goodbye and headed home.
Samantha's mother was worried when she got home.
"Where have you been Samantha Jane?" asked her mom sternly; "I've been worried sick! What's in that bag you have? Oh my! What happened to your foot?"
Samantha held her head down and said, "It's just some stuff my friend gave me. My foot's ok. I just twisted my ankle."
"Why didn't you call me?" asked her mother; "You should have known I'd have been worried! Now go up to your room and put that stuff away and get ready for supper!"
Samantha rushed up stairs and put her books away. She went inside of her closet and stood on some boxes so she could open the door to the attic. She lugged the bag Sarge gave her up into the attic. Once in the attic, she spread everything out nicely where she could look at it all. She organized everything as best as she could. The attic was Samantha's secret hangout. No one but her ever went in the attic. Just about the time she had everything organized neatly, her mom yelled, "Supper's ready!" Samantha climbed down from the attic and went downstairs to eat.
Everyday after school for the next two weeks Samantha stopped by Sarge's house to listen to his stories. Each time she went he gave her another bag full of his keepsakes. Samantha had cleared things up with her mother by telling her that she was visiting an elderly person after school. Samantha's mom thought that this was a very commendable thing for her daughter to be doing, so she didn't mind.
One evening on her way to Sarge's house, the person she feared most stopped her right in front of Sarge's sidewalk!
"How about a little cash Samantha!" chuckled Lance.
Samantha didn't know what to do. She was frightened at first, but then she began to remember some of the things Sarge did during the war. Sarge had become Samantha's hero.
She thought to herself, "What would Sarge do if he were up against Lance?"
Samantha looked up towards Sarge's house, but didn't see him anywhere. Samantha was on her own. She had to face Lance and his buddies by herself.
"Get out of my way Lance!" exclaimed Samantha; "If you don't you'll be sorry!"
Lance just laughed at Samantha and came towards her.
"You're the one who's going to be sorry little girl," said Lance, as he drew back his fist.
Samantha closed her eyes and started swinging wildly. She never hit anything, but she could hear Lance yelling for help! She kept her eyes closed and kept swinging. Finally after a few minutes, Samantha slowly opened her eyes. Right there in front of her stood Sarge with his foot on top of Lance. Lance was lying on the ground crying like a little baby.
"Please let me go Mr.!" screamed Lance; "I promise I won't bother her anymore!"
Lance's buddies had already ran off in fear. Lance was by himself for once. He didn't seem very tough now.
"What should we do with this little troublemaker Samantha?" asked Sarge with a grin.
Samantha looked down at Lance and couldn't help but laugh. He was twisting around everywhere but he couldn't get away from Sarge. He was just whimpering and pleading for Sarge to let him go.
"Just let the cry baby go Sarge," said Samantha; "I think he may have finally learned his lesson."
Sarge let Lance up and told him that if he ever heard of him picking on anyone again that next time he wouldn't be so nice. As Lance ran off, he promised over and over that he would never bother anyone ever again.
"What were you trying to do Samantha?" asked Sarge; "That wasn't anyway to defend yourself."
"But I... I..." Samantha said as she held her head down in embarrassment. "I really don't know how to defend myself. I'm a girl remember? Girls aren't supposed to fight."
"Who said anything about fighting?" asked Sarge, "I was talking about defending yourself. I know lots of girls who can defend themselves quite nicely. Please don't be embarrassed about it though. I understand. You just need to learn a few things about self-defense."
During the weeks that followed, Sarge taught Samantha all about self-defense. He also taught her about first aid, survival, and many other things that he knew. Sarge was pouring everything he had ever learned into Samantha. Samantha was eager to learn too. She was learning so many new things about stuff that no one else seemed to have a clue about. Sarge was like a library of knowledge that had somehow been hidden away for many years. Unlike many of her history lessons, Sarge's lessons told exactly what happened. He knew the exact times, locations, and everything else because he had actually been there. He was like a magical portal to the past for Samantha. With Sarge, she could travel back into the past and realize just what it must have been like to live then.
Samantha was beginning to feel bad because Sarge had done so much for her, yet she had never really done anything for him. Samantha thought for a moment and then decided to write a poem dedicated to Sarge. The poem went like this:

My Hero Sarge

You're the greatest hero of them all.
As long as I'm with you I'll never fall.

Your lessons have allowed me to see
That I can be anyone I want to be.

What would I do without you my friend?
Life would be miserable until the end.

Thank you Sarge for all that you've done.
Visiting with you has been so much fun!

Love, Samantha

The next evening when Samantha handed the poem to Sarge something strange happened that Samantha had never seen before. Sarge was crying...
"What's wrong Sarge?" asked Samantha; "Don't you like it?"
Sarge tried to compose himself, but wasn't able to do a very good job.
"No silly," Sarge said; "It's just that no one has ever written me a poem before. I'm just a little choked up is all. I think we'll forget about the lesson today. I just want to go in and read your poem over and over to myself."
Sarge turned and started walking toward the house. He took a few steps and then looked back at Samantha. She looked kind of puzzled about how Sarge was acting. All of a sudden Sarge burst into tears. He ran and picked Samantha up, giving her the biggest hug ever.
"You're the sweetest person that I've ever known Samantha," Sarge said crying. "All I've ever known about was war and dying. You've taught me so much yourself! Now I know what it's like to care about someone. I know that there's some good left in this old world no matter what everyone else says! You mean more to me than you'll ever know."
Sarge sat Samantha down and slowly walked into the house. As he shut the door, he waved bye to Samantha. Samantha understood everything now. She was the only true friend Sarge had ever really had. She was the only one who had ever really listened to Sarge's stories. For Sarge, she was a magical portal also. With her help, Sarge could travel into a world where there was no war or hate. Her world was one of innocence and love.
The next day Samantha went by Sarge's house as she always did after school. She knocked several times but there was no answer. She sat on the steps for what seemed like hours. No one ever came to the door. As night began to approach, Samantha sadly walked home.
"What was wrong with Sarge?" she thought to herself; "I hope he's not sick or something."
When Samantha got home her mother was sitting at the kitchen table reading the newspaper. As Samantha sat down at the table her mother handed her a note.
"I found this note attached to our front door Samantha," said her mother; "I haven't read it yet because it was meant for you."
Samantha took the note and started to open it as her mother read an article from the paper.
"Listen to this honey," said Samantha's mother; "It seems a very special person died today. It says that down on Manchester Street there was a highly decorated war veteran who passed away sometime this morning. They don't give any..."
Before Samantha's mother could finish Samantha burst into tears and ran up to her room and locked the door. It was hours before Samantha could stop crying. Her mother tried to get Samantha to open the door several times, but Samantha just kept telling her to leave her alone. When Samantha had finally calmed down a bit she climbed up into the attic to sit with all of the things Sarge had given her. As she looked through the things she just couldn't help but sit there and cry. She reached in her pocket for a tissue to dry her eyes with and ended up pulled out the note that her mother had given her. On second look at the note, she recognized Sarge's writing. Quickly she opened it and began to read.

Dear Samantha,

I'm not much on good-byes, but I feel it's almost time for me to go. I wish I could stay here with you just a few more days, but I'm not sure that's going to be possible. I wrote you a poem, but you'll probably think it's silly. I'm not much for writing poems you know. Anyway, if I do have to leave today please promise that you'll never forget me. Please always remember all of the things we've taught each other.

Your best friend forever, Sarge

Samantha was in tears again. She had cried so much now that her eyes were beginning to stick together. Enclosed inside the note was a small poem. Samantha fought her tears and tried her best to read Sarge's poem.

Samantha My Friend

You're the only friend I've ever had.
When I wasn't happy, you made me glad.

It's hard for me to tell you this, but it's my time to go.
Don't forget what I've taught you, it's all that I know.

Now don't be sad, or don't you cry!
I'll always be with you in your own mind's eye!

Your best friend forever, Sarge

The poem and letter were more than Samantha could handle. She cried herself to sleep. When she woke up, she tried to wipe her eyes clean. She cleared her throat and picked up Sarge's old scrapbook. She opened it and was looking at his picture when he first enlisted in the Army. She picked up an old hat of Sarge's and put it on. She pulled the scrapbook close to her as if she were hugging it.
Looking at all of Sarge's belongings through a stream of tears, Samantha whispered, "Don't you worry Sarge! You'll never die! You'll live on forever inside of me."

The End