Jim and Tanner* grew up as childhood friends, so it was only natural that the two of them enlisted when it was time.
They went through basic training together and before they knew it, found themselves in the same company on active duty in the Viet Nam
It fell to Jim to pick the point man for patrol that morning and he picked his good friend Tanner.
You’re familiar with a point man right?
That’s the guy who is out in front, checking for danger….
Half way into the their mission, Tanner takes a direct hit from a sniper and is killed.
Because of the nature of war, Jim tries to deal with the feelings the best he can..
But they never really go away, a callous forms over the pain but it’s still there.
20 years later, Jim still struggles with survivor’s guilt…
If only he had not picked Tanner…then he might never been killed
Years go by and Jim needs to take a trip to the East coast.
His route takes him past the town where Tanner is buried.
A part of him wants to stop and pay his respects,
but another part of him doesn’t.
Jim’s friend Steve encourages him to do it...
“What’s the harm?…you never know, it might do you some good…”
Jim still doesn’t make up his mind until he’s passing through town.
He decides to stop.
He sticks an American flag into the ground next to Tanner’s marker, stuffs his name and address into a small plastic bag, tapes it with electrical tape to the flag pole before he leaves.
When he get’s home, there is a message on his answering machine.
It’s Tanner’s mother.
She thanks Jim for making the effort to stop by the grave
She leaves her phone number.
Jim tells all this to his buddy Steve.
Steve asks him if he’s going to call her?
What would she say if she knew I was the one who picked Tanner for the point man position?
What if she knew I was partially responsible for her son’s death?
In the end, through the encouragement of his friend Steve, Jim does return her call and good come out of it.
Tanner’s family opens their hearts to Jim, and makes him part of their family.
He fills some of the void that Tanner left behind.
But still there is this dogging dread in the back of Jim’s mind.
What if they find out the truth??????
Steve tells Jim to not think about it, cross that bridge if and when he comes to it….
One of Tanner’s family s calls Jim to thank him.
Thank him for the healing that he has brought into the life of his mother….
seems that before Jim’s visit, Tanner’s mom would go to the graveside every day.
Didn’t matter if it was raining, or snowing….
every day she grieved….
For 20 years.
She hadn’t been doing that since Jim had come into their lives.
Forth of July, Jim is invited to spend the day with Tanner’s family.
When he get’s there, it’s a full house…all of Tanner’s extended family…aunts and uncles, cousins..the whole clan.
Tanner’s dad mentions they have an awesome pond out behind the house and asks Jim if he would want to try and catch some bass.
As they’re sitting in the boat…just the two of them, the thing he’s been dreading about for 20 yrs happens….
The other shoe drops.
Tanner’s dad asks Jim point blank...”How did Tanner die?”
He wanted the truth
What he was really interested in was knowing if his son had suffered?
Jim tells the dad the whole account…tells how he was shot by a sniper, How it was a head shot, Tanner was gone before he hit the ground.
“Thank you.” Tanner’s dad tells Jim.
“Thank you for telling me the truth.”
When they get back to the house Tanner’s dad shows Jim a stack of letters from the army.
They talk about Tanner being transferred from one hospital to the next…
Until they finally get a notice that he had died.
“I always wondered what really happened.. his dad said…Now I know, because you were there.”
Because Jim was willing to take a risk and stop, he set in motion a whole bunch of healing.
And none of this might never have happened if not for the gentle encouragement of his friend Steve.
I (DM) was on the phone this morning talking with Steve.
Steve had called to check up on me.
Told me this story about Jim.
I told Steve this whole thing reminded me of that movie “It’s A Wonderful Life.”
How that simplest little act of kindness you or I may do can ripple out and touch a whole bunch of people.
“Teach me to number my days that I may get a heart of Wisdom.”
* Tanner was not his real name.