When the neighbors moved in next door, the very first thing I asked was that they keep their Great Dane on the north side of the house. Their Great Dane is huge. I worried about their dog tearing up the new privacy fence Tim put in. And yes, it has done that.
One day I was walking out to my car and their Great Dane came around the fence and jumped up on me. The dog is as big as a full-grown man. Bigger than some men. I’ve cleaned up their Great Dane’s poop from my flower bed. Recently as Tim loaded suitcases into the car, the Great Dane came into our garage and slobbered all over our luggage.
Yesterday the Great Dane viciously attacked our mini-Aussie, breaking several ribs, rupturing a lung, collapsing it. The vet had to put Flash down due to the severity of his injuries.
Flash, the dog, was originally Konnie’s. She named him after our good friend and veteran Gordon Wofford, who died in 2009 from a cancer that I still believe was the result of Agent Orange. Gordon was known by all who loved him as Flash.
After Konnie had a baby, Flash, always an energetic dog, became too much for her. So I adopted him. He has been my dog ever since. My lap dog, he was a peanut. When we first moved to Central Oregon Flash kept running off. He was chipped, however, so we always got him back. Eventually he grew accustomed to his new home and quit running off.
Flash, the veteran, was badly injured in Vietnam. At 21, he had his lower jaw blown off by a sniper. The medic who yanked him to safety was killed by the same sniper. His wife was pregnant with a little girl at the time. Gordon always felt guilty about that. Flash felt like he should have been the one who died since he didn’t have a wife or a kid at the time. The original Flash spent 19-months at Walter Reed having his face rebuilt, learning how to eat again, how to drink, how to talk.
There is a scene in the series of Appalachian novels I wrote that I took from Flash’s life. The scene in which Zeb has to put in his teeth. That was something Flash, the veteran, had to do everyday. There is a poem about a soldier killed in action that Flash, the veteran, wrote for me to use in MOTHER OF RAIN.
He was a wordsmith. A poet. A storyteller. He possessed a wicked sense of humor and a fierce devotion to those he loved. I was fortunate to be on the receiving end of that devotion. Lucky me.
My mother once said to me that she did not like going back to Hawkins County because the memories of the loss of my dad and her parents was too great for her. “It hurts to go there,” she said.
I didn’t feel that way. Going back to Hawkins County evoked sweet memories of family for me. I didn’t even consider setting my novels in any other place than East Tennessee, birthplace of most of my kin, including my siblings and my parents.
Flash, the veteran, and I would take trips to East TN whenever I was back in the region. Flash would visit my father’s grave with me. We would take adventures in the hollers. We shared our love of Tennessee and its mythology and sayings.
We also shared an understanding of the trauma that Vietnam had thrust upon us, on our families. We recognized how damaged we both were as a result, and we recognized the God who heals. We trusted in that healing.
It was hard watching Flash, the veteran, die. Cancerous brain tumors robbed him of his storytelling abilities. An avid reader, he lost that ability too. During those last few months, I prayed that God would be merciful to him. It was so hard watching him because I knew his mind was there but his ability to communicate was diminished. I am sure any of you who have been in such situations, get it.
Yesterday, I scooped Flash, the Aussie, up off the road where the Great Dane had attacked him and I placed him in the car. I stayed by his side until he took his last breath. His was a traumatic and painful death. Not unlike the sort of deaths soldiers endured on the battlefield and since returning home.
I had a difficult time sleeping last night. I kept seeing the look of fear in Flash’s eyes. It was not unlike the panic I would see in Flash the veteran’s eyes. People like to say that death is a peaceful experience, I don’t see it that way. I have never seen it that way.
There is nothing peaceful about the tearing away, the separation. The great abyss that follows. Unless, of course, you find something peaceful in shouting “Help” across a lonely canyon just to hear your own voice. There are those who do, I imagine.
I rather loathe death myself. I much prefer the laughter shared together, the stories swapped, the shared exploration of humanity.
“Did you report the Great Dane?” others have asked. “Will they put him down?”
Yes, I did file a report. A couple of them actually, still I have no desire to see another’s demise. How would seeing another suffer diminish my suffering in anyway?
I don’t know if Flash, the veteran, ever forgave the sniper who took off the lower half of his face and then killed the medic or not. We never really talked about it. I do know that he told me that he spent many a year wishing he was dead, and when he was dying, he wished for more life.
And I do know that he thought the Vietnam war was ill-conceived. I know he felt exploited by the Republican administration that sent him, a young and handsome Tennessee boy off to do their dirty deeds.
As this current administration amps up the war-mongering with Iran, and as Memorial Day draws near, I think of Flash, the veteran, and the suffering he and his family endured because of a former corrupt Republican president and his administration wanted to be seen as the big dogs on the block.
It’s always the smallest among us who suffer the most when wars are waged. Always.
Karen Spears Zacharias is author of AFTER THE FLAG HAS BEEN FOLDED (William Morrow).