One Small Step
by Lori Beatty
July 20, 1969, Nellis AFB, Las Vegas, Nevada.
The sleek silver F-16B streaked across the clear blue Nevada sky,
banking sharply and catching the sun's rays as it turned and arched
away to the south.
"Not bad, Freeman, not bad at all. Now take her up to 15,000 feet and
let's try a vertical roll. Keep it within the 6000 mark. Don't wanna
spoil the show." Captain H.M. Murdock, pilot #2, left wing man with the
Air Force 4520th Aerial Demonstration Team, the Thunderbirds, watched
the instruments closely from the front seat as his student executed the
required maneuvers. "Good. Good. Take her down to show center and we'll
try an inverted pass, gear down."
"Roger," the pilot in the rear cockpit said through his helmet.
Murdock felt the gravity forcing him into his seat as the plane lost
altitude. The craft leveled off then rolled over, and the captain
viewed the world inverted as the plane raced over the airfield upside
down. It righted itself in the expert hands of Major Freeman and banked
to come around again.
"Let's take her down, Major. It's show's end," Murdock ordered. He
watched the instruments, smiling as he watched his student performing
even above expectations.
Freeman had a good chance of making the Thunderbirds. He had a sixth
sense about flying, and technically he was superb. He was nervous but
still remained cool under the gun. Murdock would recommend that he be
chosen as one of the three new pilots to join the elite Thunderbird
Back on the ground, Murdock held out a hand to the older pilot. "That
was some damn good flying, sir," he praised. "Almost as good as me."
The major grinned. "Thanks, Captain. I must tell you though--I was scared shitless."
Murdock shook his head. "Don't feel bad. We all were. It's tough. But
you'll know tomorrow if you made the team. Colonel Drake will make the
announcement right after breakfast."
Freeman nodded. "One way or the other."
Murdock heard the hint of doubt in the major's voice and smiled. "Hey,
don't worry. You've got the more than enough hours in the air and
actual combat experience. That's in your favor. I made it without the
combat time, so don't give up."
"Yeah, I've heard about you. The youngest ever to make the team. I wondered if you were really that good. Now I know."
Murdock took the compliment and smiled. "Thanks. But you know, even if
you don't make the team, there's still a whole new world opening up out
The major looked puzzled.
"The moon! I'm talking about the moon!" Murdock said enthusiastically.
Freeman grinned and waved the idea aside. "I'll stick to planes if it's
all the same to you and leave the daredevil stuff to you younger guys."
The major extended his hand. "Thanks for the pointers."
"You're welcome. And good luck," Murdock called as the trainee walked
away. He could remember vividly his own nervousness waiting for the
final selection to be made. Finding his name on the list was one of the
high points in his life.
But now his time with the Thunderbirds was almost completed. In three
months' time his two-year hitch with the Thunderbirds would end and he
would be off to Vietnam. This time his aerial maneuvers would be
demonstrated for the NVA and not the admiring public around the world.
He'd have to put into practice all the skills he'd been honing for the
last eight years. No chance to "try it again" over the skies of
Vietnam. From now on it was first time counts.
"You got your head in the vacuum of space again, Murdock?"
H.M. turned to see his good friend, Linc Rivers, #4 slot man with the
team. "No, man, I'm on the moon. I still can't believe it. We did it.
We actually put a man on the moon! It was the most inspiring thing I've
Murdock's enthusiasm was infectious. "It was something, wasn't it?"
Rivers recalled. "Man, I don't think I drew breath at all while he was
climbing down that ladder."
Murdock nodded, smiling. "This is it, pal. This is really the Space Age. From this day forward, nothing will ever be the same."
"How do you mean?"
"It was perfect--a perfect flight from start to finish. Do you know
what that means?! Think of it. The technology behind this moon landing,
the knowledge we've gained, will be felt in every field of science, and
ultimately everyone on the planet will benefit. Electronics will be
revolutionized," Murdock continued, warming to the topic. "We'll have
better means of communication, better transmitters, receivers, better
stereos, TV's, and probably much smaller ones too. The capacitors, the
transistors, look at what they've given us already. Who knows? Someday
there may be a satellite receiver dish in every back yard in America.
And TVs so tiny that you could carry them in a pocket or wear them on
your wrist just like Dick Tracy."
Rivers placed an arm affectionately across Murdock's shoulders. "Murdock, you're a dreamer."
"No, you don't seem to grasp the significance here, pal. Medicine.
Think of the benefits there. Equipment that could monitor the minutest
flux in the blood pressure, brain scans that could read out patterns
for the doctor to interpret, ultrasound devices. Drugs made in space,
the purest form imaginable. Organ transplants."
"Hey, man, you're talking Star Trek here," Rivers jokingly interrupted.
"Exactly. Maybe even transporters that can move you from one place to
the other," Murdock added with an excited gleam in his eye.
"Oh, no. Wait one minute. I saw that movie. Vincent Price and David
Hedison tried that, and one of them ended up with the head of a fly."
Murdock laughed softly. "Okay, maybe I am getting a little carried
away. But what about this. Jets that damn near fly themselves or can
climb at 5000 feet per second. We could use shorter runways. And the
air strike capabilities--target shooting would be near 100 percent
accurate." Murdock paced a few steps and whirled around. "And the
computers. Geez, everyone will know how to run the damn things. They'll
be in every home. Laser technology. Physics..."
"Whoa. You're getting too far out for me, buddy."
"Maybe. But I'll tell you one thing for certain, pal. I'm going to be a part of it all."
Murdock stared into the distance as if gauging his next words. "When I
get back from Nam, I'm going to see about getting into the astronaut
"I don't know, Murdock," Linc said thoughtfully. "It's pretty tough.
You heard what Haise said last week at that dinner. They are real
"So? I am the best. Look. I've got everything they're
looking for." He ticked off the list. "Flight experience here at Nellis
and in a few months the combat time. I've even got the academic
background in aeronautical engineering they want. I'm in good shape
Rivers laughed. "You're a trip. A real LSD-in-the-flesh trip. Yeah,
okay, I think you'd probably be the astronaut type. They're all brainy
but a bit out of trim, if you ask me. You'd fit right in."
Murdock looked up at the sky, his mind soaring beyond the vivid blue
canopy to the dark vastness of space. "Yeah. I'll make it. I think
that's my calling, Linc. Up there. In space."
"You're probably right. More than likely you'll end up a space cadet."
"Maybe. But it's a goal I'm not going to let go of. Not without one hell of a flight."
"Come on. Let's go eat. Running these candidates through their paces makes me hungry."
"Breathing makes you hungry," Murdock quipped.
"Ha ha. Look who's talking. Besides," Linc commented, "we've got to get
ready for our celebration flight when the new guys are chosen."
"Yeah. Look sharp, Mouseketeers. It's Fun With Airplanes Day."
"Astro nuts." Murdock grinned, his eyebrows bobbing.
"Know any good astronaut songs?"
"There aren't any."
"Too bad. Maybe someone will write one someday." A sly grin spread across Linc's face. "Or, maybe someone will write a book about you someday."
"Think so?" Murdock asked, intrigued with the idea.
"Sure. You'll be a legend. Wacko ex-Thunderbird pilot first to land on Mars."
"I like it. I like it!"
July 27, 1969, somewhere near Hill 47, Vietnam.
B.A. Baracus was walking point. He didn't like it, but Corporal Woods
had held that position for the last two days, and the man needed to be
spelled. The ten-man LRRP had been diddy-bopping through the jungle for
twelve days, and the guys were tired. It was hot and miserable in the
highlands, and humping over the hills for days on end was a real gut
buster. They'd run into Charlie twice during their patrol and as a
result were now five men shy of a full squad.
B.A. tried not to dwell on the deaths of his men. It didn't do any good
anyway. He couldn't bring them back. All he could do now was try and
get the rest of them back to the landing zone for the scheduled pickup.
He concentrated on the ground ahead, staying alert for any sign of
booby traps or a Bouncing Betty. They were only one mile from the LZ,
but that was still too far away to get careless. You couldn't drop your
guard for a second in Charlie's land. It could cost you.
B.A. remembered other patrols and other lost men and gritted his teeth.
He was tired. Bone-weary, dragging-ass tired. When he was tired his
mind grew morbid, dwelling on the more ugly events and situations. He
couldn't afford those thoughts to overtake him now. There was still a
mile to go. A mile to go. A mile...
He stepped through the thick brush and froze. Quickly he motioned his
men to halt. He didn't have to tell them to be quiet. Silence was SOP
in VC country.
Dark eyes scanned the scene before him. A small Montegnard village was
nestled in a clearing. He counted four huts and a few lean-tos. No
livestock and, hopefully, no humans.
It was quiet. Nothing stirred in the village, but the sergeant knew
that wasn't necessarily a sign that the place was deserted. Experience
had taught him well. The VC were cunning, shrewd, patient. The knew how
to lay silently for hours, barely breathing, never moving until they'd
lulled the grunts near the hut. Then with snakelike quickness they'd
strike--destroying the hut, taking their own lives as well as every GI
in the vicinity.
B.A. waited a long time, watching, studying, listening. Then he
motioned his men to their positions. Quickly, cautiously, they scouted
the perimeter, one eye on the ground and on the huts. Their sixth sense
was tuned toward their backs, trusting instinct to warn of any attack
from the trees.
Sergeant Baracus reached a hut first and again took time to listen
before entering. Inside he found neither VC nor any signs of
booby-trapped tables or debris. There were still three hours remaining.
Retreating outside, he looked over at Corporal Meloncon who signaled
all clear in his hut. Private Johnson gestured likewise.
The three converged on the last hut where PFC Cramer emerged, shaking
his head and tossing the others a disgusted look. B.A. frowned at him
and stepped inside. Private Peterson was stooped down examining the
remains of a makeshift Vietnamese kitchen. In his hand he held a tin
can. He lifted it toward B.A.
The sergeant knew before he took it what it was. Del Monte cling
peaches. With a grunt of disgust and anger he dashed the can to the
ground. The hut was littered with dozens more. Green Giant corn, Hunt's
tomato sauce, pears. It looked like the dumpster of a restaurant in
Turning on his heel, he walked to the center of the tiny village and
motioned his men to form up. The village was clear. The LZ was still a
mile away. They'd wasted enough time here.
Once more taking the lead. Sergeant Baracus plunged into the jungle,
his alert quotient tuned to the maximum. This was the most dangerous
part of patrol. That last mile. The men tended to ease up, become a bit
careless. More men were injured during the last few miles of a patrol
than any other time. B.A. turned and glared at Corporal Meloncon behind
him. "Stay awake," he growled. The corporal nodded and turned to pass
the command along.
The perimeter of the LZ was just visible between the trees when they
heard the pop and resulting explosion. Private Peterson landed with a
sickening thud. B.A. went to his aid while the others kept guard.
Peterson was stunned, lying on the ground not fully aware of what had
just happened to him.
"Finger mine," B.A. said over his shoulder to the others. He heard Johnson curse behind him. Peterson's left foot was missing.
Peterson finally registered the implications of the term and looked down at what was left of his leg. "Jesus."
Their pickup had already been contacted. As B.A. tended to the injured
man, he heard the chopper approaching. The initial shock of Peterson's
injuries was replaced now with the reality of excruciating pain. He
cried out, clutching the big sergeant's arm.
"It's okay. You'll be fine. The chopper's here now. Just hang on," B.A.
said. Bending, he scooped up the man, who had mercifully passed out.
Moving as quickly as his burden would allow, he made for the Huey. The
last GI had barely crawled inside when the pilot had the slick in the
air, carrying its cargo back to camp and medical aid.
The crew chief leaned over and smiled at B.A. "Welcome back, Sergeant."
B.A. only frowned in reply.
Undaunted, the chief chattered on. "Lots been happening since we
dropped you off. Geneva got another cease-fire agreement. This one
lasted fifteen minutes. A record, huh? Oh, and wait till you hear this.
We just put a man on the moon. Can you believe it? NASA put a goddamned
man on the moon. This is science fiction come true. Far out!"
The massive sergeant growled deep in his throat, and the CC finally
took the hint and adjusted his headset, deciding it might be safer to
converse with the pilot.
The moon. Men on the moon. American men. B.A. seethed. He wanted to
smash in the head of every government and NASA official he could get
his hands on.
Damned ignorant, self-serving assholes. Money-grubbing ass-kissing
wimps. He looked over at Peterson and his anger flared anew.
He'd lost five men on this patrol and the private had been maimed for
life. Yet no one back home seemed to care or even understand what was
going on here. Young boys in their prime sent in untrained and
innocent, asked to live in hell and like it. Lives here were wasted
like so much worthless garbage.
The GIs were suffering all the indignities of life, living in mudholes
and eating bad food, and the U.S. was sending peaches and pears to the
VC. Hell, the GI couldn't get fruit--fresh, canned or dried. They ate C-rations while so-called CARE programs spent millions of dollars on food for the VC. The same VC who after eating a hearty meal of U.S. canned goods would bury a finger mine that blew a man's foot off.
The Army expected you to live in this rotten steam bath where the
humidity was so bad your uniform mildewed on your body. Even the
canvas-topped boots designed especially for the climate didn't last
beyond a few months. Yet it was easier to get a pass to Saigon or Japan
than it was to get a new uniform.
The Army couldn't afford to keep the men in decent uniforms. If you
needed one, you went to the corpse pile and took one from the dead boys
who had been retrieved that day.
The U.S. government sent aid to the Vietnamese in the form of Tractors,
seeds and booklets on the proper care of rice fields--as if these
people needed help in raising rice. The whole damn world was crazy.
Soldiers were sent to fight the Viet Cong, but the VC were getting help
from the U.S.
More help than the grunts.
The Army screamed lack of funds, yet the government could find millions
to waste on reaching the moon. The whole damn thing made B.A. want to
He was still boiling with anger when the chopper touched down at the
camp. After making sure Peterson was taken care of, he walked back to
his hooch. The fierce scowl on his face kept anyone from speaking to
him as he crossed the compound.
Inside his small dwelling, he discarded his pack and other gear,
intending to get some much needed sack time. As he pulled off his
boots, he noticed a copy of the Stars and Stripes lying under his bunkmate's bed. "MAN LANDS ON MOON."
Suddenly all his anger exploded. He snatched the paper and tore it into
bits, venting all his feelings of injustice and betrayal. Even after
the paper resembled nothing more than confetti, his blood boiled with
fury. With a savage yell, he rammed his fist into the small mirror on
the wall, shattering it to pieces. Damn the moon! Damn the whole
fucking war! Would anyone who'd never been here ever understand?
July 24, 1969, Fort Campbell, Kentucky.
Lieutenant Templeton Peck strode angrily across the parade field making
a beeline for the CO's office. His handsome face was twisted into an
expression of determination. In his hand he clutched a piece of paper
that flapped loudly with each swing of his arm.
"Peck. Hey, brother, where ya headed?" Lieutenant Davis Greene
approached his quick-footed friend, falling into step easily. He was
early twice the size of the slender Peck and ten years older. During
the intense six-month training for the Green Berets, the pair had
become close friends. Davis attributed their camaraderie to a mutual
streak of avarice. Peck was a born con man, and life with the young
lieutenant was always a gas.
"Headquarters," Peck responded, not once breaking stride.
"I thought you just came from there."
"I did. I'm going back."
"Oh." Davis looked askance at his friend and shook his head. Sometimes this white boy was a real strange dude.
Greene stayed abreast of the younger officer until they reached the
broad stone steps leading into the battered brick building that housed
HQ. Peck bounded up them, a man with a mission. Davis stopped and
leaned against the balustrade, calling after his friend, "I'll be
waiting right here for ya. Take your time, pal." Turning one eye toward
his watch, Davis began some hasty but knowledgeable calculations.
Exactly ten minutes later Templeton Peck emerged. Greene's smile of
triumphant glee was quickly replaced with a frown. "Oh, boy. Looks like
someone just jumped on your head and beat it flat."
Peck sagged against the balustrade, starting down at the papers still
clutched in his hands. "They're sending me to Nam. Tomorrow morning."
Davis shook his head. "This is the Army, Mr. Jones."
Peck groaned. "I don't believe this. Tomorrow. Can the Army do this to me?"
"The Army can do anything they want to, Jack," Davis quipped. "Guess
they'll be cutting my orders any day now. Hey, maybe we'll be in the
same unit, huh?"
Sighing, Peck turned and started out for the parade field again.
Walking seemed to help alleviate some of his frustration. Davis joined
him. "I can't leave tomorrow," Peck lamented. "I need time to disburse
my investments, reconstruct my financial base, and formulate a new plan
of business directions for my vast holdings in this community."
Davis chuckled. "No problem, friend. Duke will be more than glad to take over the bookmaking chores for ya."
Peck grimaced. "Duke! I've got responsibilities here that require a
very delicate touch. I can't turn these projects over to just anyone.
Duke? No way. He'd bilk every one of the guys in a day and a half."
"While you, on the other hand, only bilk them in a week or more."
Peck ignored him. I've got a lot of money invested in this place. I
can't get all the loose ends tied up by 0900 tomorrow. What about the
supply store and the floating crap game? And what about my dating
service! It's really starting to pay off now."
Both lieutenants took a moment to reflect upon the many benefits Peck's
dating service had provided. Blond curves, redheaded curves. Peck was
the first to break the lovely reverie. "I just rented that great
"Scammed," Davis corrected.
"I've got a fortune to lose here, pal. I can't leave. And Vietnam.
Geez, I can't go to Nam," he wailed. "Jungles. Fighting. Gooks. It
doesn't suit my style, my image, ya know."
Crossing his arms over his chest, Davis stared at Peck quizzically.
"Now that's something I always wondered. How did you ever expect to
join up with the GBs and still think you'd never have to see Nam?"
Peck squirmed, hedging a bit. "Well, actually, I only joined as a
stall. Ya see, my unit was next on the list to ship out to Nam. The GBs
was a six-month postponement."
"So what ya going to do to postpone it now, hot shot?"
Peck didn't answer. He just frowned and turned away. "Twenty grand up in smoke. I'm ruined."
Davis smiled and placed a friendly arm across the slender man's
shoulders. "Hey, don't give up, man. You still got 24 hours. Come on.
Let's go to the snack bar and get a cup of java and talk it over. Two
well-tuned minds like ours ought to be able to think of something.
"Why not? I'm already doomed. Bankrupt. Geez," he signed heavily. "Vietnam."
Inside the large cafeteria/snack bar the pair moved by unspoken mutual
agreement toward a table in the far corner, away from the rest of the
off-duty GIs. Peck retrieved the coffee while Greene made a quick trip
to the newsstand for a copy of the Stars and Strips. They regrouped at the table and settled down for a good talk.
Peck sipped his black coffee and lamented again on the injustice in the world.
"Hey, man, look on the bright side," Davis advised as he added a third
spoonful of sugar to his own drink. "You can start another dating
service in Nam. If anybody needs women, it's those guys."
"Right, but you're forgetting one thing. Where am I going to get the
women for the guys to date? Huh? There aren't enough nurses to go
around, pal. Remember?"
"True, but the grunts have lots of bread, man. Between the regular pay,
hazardous duty pay, combat pay, those dudes are rolling in money. And,"
he added pointedly, "there ain't too much to spend it on over there
except drugs and booze. You'd be fulfilling a service. A real need."
"I'm not so sure that using the locals is a good idea, though, and that's what I'd have to do."
"Hey, I've heard stories about GIs blowing a thousand bucks a night on
a good time in the city. You could offer it to them for less and still
make a killing." Peck looked skeptical.
"Of course, you could always provide one of the other services that grunts are in constant need of."
Peck looked at him sharply and pointed a finger at the man's nose. "I'm
not into running drugs and you know it. Forget it. I'll think of
something. It might take a little time, but I'll find something the men
Davis shrugged and picked up his paper, leaving the younger lieutenant
to contemplate his future in the depths of his black, too-strong coffee.
"Well, all right!" Davis shouted triumphantly after a lengthy span of silence. "Our guys made it home in one piece."
Dragged from his morbid thoughts, Peck frowned and asked, "Who?"
"The astronauts, man." At Peck's blank stare, Davis elaborated. "You know, from the moon. They splashed down today."
"Oh, yeah. I'd almost forgotten."
"You are something else, ya know that? Man finally puts a human being on the surface of the moon and you hardly notice."
Peck shrugged. "I've been busy. I had other things on my mind, that's all."
With a shake of his head, Davis went back to reading the paper and
silence settled between them again. "Man, what I wouldn't give for one
of those. Who-whee."
Startled at the unexpected outburst, Peck glared at his friend. "Now what?"
"Rocks from the surface of the moon."
"What? Are you into rocks now, are you?"
"No. But the astronauts are only bringing back a sackful. Those things
are going to be priceless. I mean, only the bigshots in Washington and
at NASA will have access to them. Can you imagine what it would feel
like to hold a piece of the moon in your hand? I don't know about you,
but I'd feel like a freaking god," Greene chuckled. The thought amused
Peck looked at him intently a moment, then a slow smile began to spread across his face. "Rocks?"
"Yeah. Those dudes at NASA had better put on some extra heavy security if they plan to keep them from being stolen."
"Moon rocks?" Peck repeated. His voice penetrated Greene's enthusiasm
and he peeked over the top of his paper at the handsome officer. "Oh,
no. I recognize that look. You're movin' and groovin' again."
"Davis, what do you suppose the GIs would give for some genuine moon
rocks? Something to send home to the folks, to cherish forever, to hand
down like family heirlooms to the grandkids."
"Yeah. Priceless, just picked up." Peck's eyes glazed over as he
mentally began to construct his story on how he obtained these rare
specimens and why he was willing to sell them to the deserving GI at
such a reasonable cost.
"Peck," Greene called for the second time, "you are out of it, man."
Snatching the paper from Davis' hand, Templeton Peck rose and gestured for the older man to follow.
"Where are we going, man? I'm not done with my coffee."
"To the quarry. I need some rocks."
With a shake of his head, Davis Greene followed behind the enthusiastic
Lieutenant Peck in the jungles. Look out, Vietnam, here come trouble.
July 21, 1969, Pleiku, Vietnam.
The night sky was clear but few stars could be seen. The humidity was
100 percent and the temperature, even at 2000 hours, felt like a
lukewarm pool of syrup. If it were possible to swim through humidity,
the climate in Vietnam wouldn't have seemed nearly so damnable.
The oppressive heat and cloying air were barely noticed by the tall,
well-built man who stepped form the hospital compound in Pleiku.
Major John Smith, 5th Special Forces Group, stopped and lit a cigar,
the light from his match briefly illuminating his face. Clearly his
weekly visit to the injured had not gone well. But then, it never did.
Seeing the young men under his command lying helpless and broken in the
infirmary always left him deeply pained and angry. Such a waste.
He wondered briefly why he perversely paid these ritualistic visits to
the GIs. There was precious little he could do, aside from talking to
them and now and again writing letters to family. Perhaps he was trying
to ease his conscience by pretending the boys felt better knowing that
their CO cared and shared their pain. That was a bunch of bull and they
all knew it. It was a mind game, a fantasy left over from World War II.
These boys didn't need a pat on the head from a major, whether that
officer was in the trenches or not. They needed a reason, an
explanation for being here, for killing other human beings. They needed
some justification for the brutality and senseless mutilation that took
place all around them every day of the year. Silently they all asked
the same question. Why?
Major Smith didn't have the answers. No one did. Only God knew, and he
wasn't telling. Smith figured the Lord was sitting up there either
shaking his head at the profound ignorance of humankind or else
chuckling at their stupidity.
With a sigh, Smith pulled the thick stogie from his mouth and stared at
it. He'd not been the only visitor tonight. Two other groups were
making their way through the wards.
The first was General Kessler and his entourage, here to bestow the
Silver Star on a young lieutenant who had acted above and beyond the
call of duty. The lieutenant didn't want the medal and had told the
general as much.
Horrified and offended, Kessler had sprouted nonsense about duty, honor
and love of country. The lieutenant had damn near spit in his face.
Smith flicked the ashes from his smoke and contemplated the
lieutenant's reaction. "Duty! Who's going to do my duty now to my wife
and kids? I lost both legs and an arm. How do I make a living now? Who
will hire me? I'm going home an invalid and you want to give me a
medal! Up your ass, General, sir."
The second group was from Miss America. What a joke. The quintessential
form of torture. Slinky dress, swiveling hips, false encouragement and
fake smile. Where did the idea come from that a girl in a tight,
low-cut dress made a guy feel better? Hell, it only pointed up all the
things they were missing and, in some cases, a basic human function
that they could never again experience.
The cigar which only moments ago had tasted so good was now bitter. He
pulled it from his mouth, ground out the ashes on an oil drum, and
tossed it aside.
His thoughts were still with the wounded men as he walked slowly toward
his hooch. Bits of conversation from a couple of passing GIs reached
his ears but the words barely registered. "...only a couple hours ago.
Yeah, man, it was far out. AFN carried the whole damn thing."
It wasn't until he'd returned to his office and picked up the copy of the Army Times
that he realized what the grunts had been discussing. Mankind had
achieved the impossible. In bold type the words declared MAN VISITS
MOON JULY 20 1969.
History had been made only twenty-four hours ago. Hannibal eased into
his chair and stared at the pictures. "We came in peace for all
He felt a strange sensation wash over him as he read. Man's capacity to
achieve and persevere was limitless. The human mind could accomplish
incredible feats, solve the most complex of problems. Determination and
will power could conquer the impossible.
Yet those same minds could advocate the senseless slaughter of millions
of their own young men. With hardly a thought, their government ordered
them to leave behind their safe world and come to a foreign country to
kill a people whose philosophy and culture were totally
incomprehensible to them, and all in the name of patriotism. But
Hannibal was possessed of a deep belief in the innate goodness of the
human animal and his ability to learn and benefit from his mistakes.
Perhaps this unprecedented feat of putting a man on the moon heralded
the beginning of a new age, of peace and understanding. Like that song
he'd heard, "Aquarius."
Maybe this awesome testimony to the ability of man to achieve would
open the eyes of men everywhere and force them to realize the time for
unity was at hand.
The day might be near when people would set aside their petty
grievances of race, religion and country to dedicate their efforts
instead of unifying the planet into one community. A world where each
nation could embrace its own beliefs without fear of retaliation or
censure from it's neighbor.
The eyes of the world were on those men in Eagle. Tranquillity Base, how apropos. The freedom of the Eagle,
the peace of the moon's surface, not yet marred by man's greed and lust
for power, his thirst for supremacy over his brother. Surely it was an
Maybe just maybe, peace was finally at hand. If so, then he'd be out of
a job. There wouldn't be much need for soldiers, at least not the type
of soldier he was now--fighting, killing, exploding bombs.
He'd never live to see it, but perhaps the soldiers who followed him
would. The ones safe at home with their sandpiles and their toys. Those
whose eyes see only wonder and delight in the world around them. The
ones as yet untouched by life's harsh realities.
Perhaps someday the role of soldier could be exchanged for that of
peacemaker. A man in the uniform of his country would be a symbol of
inner strength, of honor. He would be a vanguard of man's goodness, not
a defender of his might.
If only the vast amount of brain power, resources, talent and knowledge
that put Neil Armstrong on the moon could be rechanneled now to glorify
man, not war.
He was a dreamer, and a soldier with a dream of peace was a candidate
for the shrink's couch. Was it such a dream? Probably. Still, if man
could put himself in orbit and on the surface of another planet,
anything was possible.
"Major Smith, sir."
"Yes, Lieutenant," Hannibal said, reluctantly pulling back from his
melancholy state to address the young man who had entered his domain.
"Long range reconnaissance and patrol just returned, sir. Looks like
Charlie is gearing up to the west of us. Colonel Baker requests your
presence at the briefing, sir."
"Right away, Lieutenant." Wearily Smith rose and picked up his hat.
Time to go back to the war games. Time to discuss the strategies, the
counterattacks, the campaigns, to count the dead and to restock the
troops. Send the boys home in boxes with one hand and hand out rifles
to the newbys with the other. A revolving door of waste and grief. The
newsprint still blared its headlines from the front page of the Army Times. Peace? Not in his lifetime.