Saturday, October 1, 2016

Flash Fiction

Here's more of my flash fiction.

Treasured Tag
Big, billowing clouds stretch across the cerulean sky as sea gulls dip and weave among the choppy waves, searching for food. I pull my jacket tighter around my body as the cool wind whips my long hair wildly across my face. It is late September. The summer crowds are gone now, the camp grounds empty. Vacationing families have departed to their cities and towns in the suburbs, back to rush hour commutes and after school sports programs. As if on loan, the beaches were "returned" to us locals for safe keeping.

As I stroll along the edge of the wet sand, a glint of silver catches the corner of my eye and draws my attention to a wall of sharp rocks protecting the beach from erosion. My curiosity whetted, I divert from my regular route to investigate. Wedged in with sea shell fragments and bits of dried seaweed is a rectangular stainless steel tag threaded with a beaded chain.

I bend down and wipe away the debris that hides the thin tag and chain. Examining it closer, I realize that it is a military dog tag. It is badly scratched and slightly bent, as if it traveled the ocean currents for some time.

Embossed on the plain metal tag is a name, Murphy, Paul. Under that, there appears to be a nine digit number, most likely a social security number, though a few of the digits are worn down completely. At the end of the numbers are the letters "AF," indicating that he served in the US Air Force. Some of the next line is missing; "ositive" is the only text that is legible. The bottom line contains a few letters, "tholic", possibly the soldier’s religion, which I guess is Catholic.

Dog tags are primarily used for the identification of dead or wounded soldiers. Upon entering the armed services, soldiers are usually issued two identical tags, one to be left with the dead soldier’s body if conditions prevent immediate recovery, the other is for notification purposes. I know this because my father served in Viet Nam from 1964 to 1970. His dog tags lie on my mother’s bedroom bureau next to the folded American flag and a photo of him taken in uniform just before he shipped out. I was just five years old then, but I have a distinct memory of being tossed into the air and playfully tickled, his cheery laugh echoing in my ears.

My father’s body came back to us in a plain flag-draped coffin. It was a difficult time, but at least my mother and I have closure. Can Paul Murphy’s family say the same? What happened to Paul Murphy? Is he alive and separated from his dog tags, missing in action, or dead? If he is dead, did he die at sea in the line of duty or under more mysterious circumstances? Since he is in the US Air Force, is he a pilot, and if so, did his plane crash? I also wonder how far the dog tag traveled, where its mate is, and when and how it came to be part of the vast ocean.

I think that I will check with the local branch of the VFW to see if I can trace this mysterious soldier and find out what happened to him. Perhaps I can return this tag to the soldier’s family and help to solve a puzzle, and thereby, provide some comfort. If he is alive, perhaps I can return the tag to him in person.

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