"Well, I'll Be John Brown"

Real stories about folks who have blessed my life with the joy and fulfillment of laughter. Long may they live.

Location: Atlanta, Georgia, United States

A Southern Boy - Born In Alabama, Reared In Georgia, and Matriculated, Married & Initiated Into Manhood In Tennessee.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

"Autumn Belle - Chapter 10"

"Beau Jackson is an outstanding young man!" With these words, George Decker began his description.

As he hung up the phone and sat back down, Mr. Decker slid his coffee cup to the side, folded his hands, and looked Autumn straight in the eye - almost as if he had taken the witness stand in a courtroom. "This is a young man like no other that I have personally known," he said. "He is the kind of young fellow that every father would want his daughter to find." Autumn could not help but smile.

George Decker told of Beau's heritage. His family had deep roots in the Old South, with an ancestral bloodline all the way back to the famous Confederate General, Stonewall Jackson. His father, who had been a classmate of George Decker's at Atlanta's O'Keefe High School, had been a Rear Admiral in the United States Navy. Beau, himself, was a graduate of Annapolis, and had served four years active duty in the Navy. "A sailor?," Autumn interrupted, with a condescending tone. "Miss Hamilton, we're talking about someone who has served his country with distinction and bravery...Beauregard Jackson is a decorated Navy SEAL...Look that up in your encyclopedia when you get back to the newspaper and you will see that this young man is FAR more than someone who merely swabbed the deck of a ship," Mr. Decker replied, in a fatherly tone.

Autumn held up a finger. "Just to clarify," she said, "if this guy is such a hot-shot Navy war hero, then what in Pete's name is he doing behind a grill?...I mean, if he was all that great as a Navy man, what IS he doing here?" "Just hang on," George Decker counseled, "I am getting to that."

Mr. Decker explained that Beau was one of two children - both were boys. His older brother, Ron, himself a United States Marine, was killed in action in the Tet Offensive in Vietnam. Beau had wanted to be a Navy SEAL since he was twelve years old. After finishing at the very top of his class at the Naval Academy, Beau went directly into SEAL training school, once again finishing as an honor graduate. "Please understand that this is THE most demanding and rigorous training in all of the United States military," Mr. Decker emphasized. Upon completion of SEAL training, Beau had been commissioned as a Captain and assigned to a SEAL detachment. He spent the next three years in highly classified operations off the coast of Southeast Asia and elsewhere. "The war in Vietnam did not end with the last Marine on that helicopter that flew off the top of the U.S. Embassy," Mr. Decker said, taking another sip of coffee.

"I won't bore you with a lot of details," he said, "but you do need to know that this young man was awarded two Navy Crosses for bravery and acts of valor in combat, and for performance of his duties as a Navy SEAL above and beyond the call of duty." Some servicemen, he explained, spend a career in the Navy or Marine Corps without achieving this sort of rcognition. "Beau Jackson is a true hero in every sense of that term," Mr. Decker affirmed.

Autumn had stopped making notes. She was now fully caught up in the story she was hearing. It was almost as if she was in a theater watching a Hollywood premier - hanging on every word and image.

Mr. Decker then shared that Beau's father retired from the Navy while Beau was still deployed overseas, and that he and Beau's mother moved back to the same Atlanta neighborhood where they had grown up. Beau's father became a breakfast regular at The Silver Skillet. Mr. Decker and Admiral Jackson spent many mornings solving the world's problems over coffee. Renewing their old high school friendship, they enjoyed just sitting, talking, and laughing in the back booth of the Silver Skillet.

Until, that is, Admiral Jackson died suddenly of a massive heart attack one cold November morning. Though Beau's mother was financially well off and didn't need to worry about getting a job, she eventually went to work as one of the waitresses at the Silver Skillet. Without a husband or sons at home for her to fuss over anymore, she enjoyed the atmosphere, as well as the interaction with the great patrons of the restaurant. It became her home away from home, and her customers became her extended family. She absolutely lived for coming to work every day. 

"Does she still work for you?," Autumn asked. George Decker dropped his head and was silent for several seconds. "About six months ago, she was diagnosed with cancer," he said, looking up from the table - his hazel eyes glazing over with tears. He continued, "She's been in treatment ever since...But now the cancer has spread...What we all feared and dreaded for her is coming to pass really fast now...Looks like it won't be much longer before she will have to go into hospice." Mr. Decker excused himself and stepped away to the restroom. While he was gone, Autumn sat and stared out the window. It occurred to her for the first time in her life how deeply people's lives touch others, and how powerful real-life stories can be. She could not wait to hear the rest of what Mr. Decker had to say.

He came back to the table much more composed. George shared with Autumn how Beau was able to persuade the Navy to grant him an extended shore leave so he could come home and care for his mother in her last days. Being a Rear Admiral's son, as well as a decorated war veteran, helped him with all the right strings that had to be pulled to get it done. Mr. Decker emphasized, however, "The ONLY reason Beau would ever use his privileged status would be for something monumental like this. He knew that his Mom needed him now - even more than his country."

It was dawning on Autumn that this was a young man supremely devoted to his country and his duty, and that the only thing that meant more to him was his family. "Miss Hamilton," he said, "please realize that Beau Jackson is not driven by his ego, nor is he inclined in any way to believe that he is deserving of any sort of special treatment or favor from anyone - for any reason."

"Wow!," was all that Autumn could say. She had never encountered people like this in her life - people who sacrificed and did things for others - merely for the sake of doing it. It was quite a departure from the self-centered "me" crowd that she had always ran with. But, in a strange sort of way, Beau's sacrificial life seemed greatly attractive and interesting to her.

"Please, tell me more, " she said.