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Never Leave a Fellow Soldier Behind — A True Story

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A guest post by David John Karwoski

January 2009, Massachusetts.

Zack, a two tour combat veteran [199th Inf. Bdge, Vietnam 1968-1970] was walking through a hospital parking lot on his way to visit someone in the hospital. He noticed an elderly couple sitting in their car with winter coats on, bundled up with covers. Zack went into the hospital lobby and talked to the security about their situation. He was informed that the man had indeed come inside asking for help several hours before, as his car would not start. The man had no ID, he had left his wallet at home; his wife had ID but did not have any credit cards or money. Zack was told that security could not call for assistance because there was no one to repay the charges.

The man had called his daughter some 75 miles away, but only got the answering machine. He had left a message, and returned to his car. Zack repeated his question, much more demanding now,
“You guys can’t help?”
“No,” was a very abrupt answer from the guard on duty.
Zack went back outside and back to the couple in the car. He knocked on the window.

“What’s the problem?” Zack asked?
“Car won’t start, think the battery is dead.” was the answer.
“What happened?” Zack asked again.
“I had to bring my wife into the hospital for some tests, I think I left the lights on.”, the stranger said.
“Do you have AAA, or automobile assistance of any kind?” Zack asked.
“No, we have nothing.” He answered.
“What’s your name?”, Zack asked.
“Chet.” the man answered.

Zack asked Chet if he and his wife would come inside the hospital lobby.
Chet refused, stating that is wife was too cold to leave the car, and she was 81 years old and terribly afraid. “She won’t let me leave, to call our daughter again, she is scared and cold.”

While talking to him, Zack noticed a Department of Defense windshield sticker on his front windshield.
“You work at the base?” Zack asked.
“No.” Chet answered. “I am retired Army, WWII, First Inf., Big Red One.”
“How old are you?”
“81.” Replied Chet.
Zack told him to wait a minute. The temperature outside was hovering around 20 degrees. Zack walked off into the lobby, it was warm and safe, he could not convince Chet and his wife to join him. He took out his cell phone called triple AAA, and asked, was his card for the person or the car. The voice on the other side of the phone said, it goes with the person as long as it is family and you’re with them.

Zack had an idea. He bolted out to Chet’s car, knocked on the window again, and said, “Chet, my name is Zack, what is your full name?” Chet gave him his full name.

Zack told him: “You are my grandfather if anyone asks.”
“Why?” Chet asked.
Zach replied, “Just hold on, Chet; make your wife comfortable”.

Zack marched back to the lobby. As he did, he memorized the plate number and model of Chet’s car, and once inside he called AAA.
“I am at the hospital with my grandfather and the battery is dead. It is freezing, can you get a truck out here soon?”
The woman on the other end was great, and understanding.
She said, we have a contract with a service station 5 minutes away.
“Great,” Zack said “the sooner the better.”

Zack, gave the plate number, model, make, and row the car was parked in. He went back outside and knocked on Chet’s window again, which was getting frosted from the inside due to the cold and their breathing. He told them to hang on, someone was coming.

Chet had many questions: Who? What? Where?

“Just hang in there with your wife“, Zack assured him.

As he finished the sentence the AAA truck approached. The driver said he had a new battery, plus he said he would test the old one. The old one was finished, Army Vietnam Capdead. The truck driver was getting the new battery from the truck, and Chet was now outside. In the front of the truck, Zack spotted a baseball cap that read “Army” on the front and “Vietnam” on the back.
Zack faced the driver and said, “Vietnam ’68-’70”.
The driver nodded, “Nam ’67-’68, and Marines after that.”

Chet asked what they were doing. Zack told him they were changing the battery. Within hearing range of the truck driver, Chet said to Zack, “give me your name and address so I can pay you later.”

Zack looked at the truck driver like the whole deal had been blown. Zach told Chet to go sit in the car. The driver was just about finished with the battery and told Chet to start it up. The car started like a sunrise on summer morning.
Zack asked the driver where he had to sign, the driver replied,
“He ain’t your grandfather, is he?”

Zack looked at him, “No just a WWII Army vet who needed not to be left behind.”

Zack asked again, about signing something.
The driver said, “Hell, this is from the both of us”.
The driver closed his pad and was getting back in the truck when Chet kept asking about who Zack was and his address. The driver just smiled, and told him, “Can’t tell you that, it is confidential”, and drove away.

Zack walked back over to the car, the car heater was on, his Chet’s wife was smiling. Chet said, “What can I do to thank you?“
Zack smiled, “You don’t have to do anything.”
Chet’s wife said, “I will say a prayer for you every night, I promise.”
Zack walked back into the hospital. The guard, who was in his 20’s, asked, “why did you do that?” Zack asked back, “you ever been in the service?” “No.” the guard answered.

Zack looked at him. “It would take too long to explain.” Zack walked down the hall to the elevators to visit his mom.

Combat veterans are a breed to be remembered, and they never change.