Taz and Kodak

by Rick Beck

Chapter 13

The Bond

The general handed Taz a big black cigar, holding the flame close to the tip for him. Taz puffed less desperately than the night before. The smoke didn't interfere with his breathing this time. Taz sat back and relaxed as soon as Gen. Walker had sat back puffing before taking the cigar from his lips to admire with his eyes.

The two men sat enjoying their silent smoke, when a knock on the door broke into the peaceful moment.

The door swung open and an officer rushed directly to the general.

"General, sorry to interrupt your lunch. We've received a couple of communications from the Naval Command operating in the Sea of Japan. I knew you'd want to be advised without delay."

Gen. Walker took the sheets of teletype communication the officer held out to him. Puffing up a cloud of smoke and nodding, once he finished reading.

"Do you have a car, Captain?"

"Yes, sir. He's waiting at the front door. I'll wait in the car if you like, sir?"

"Carry on, Captain. I'll be along in a minute, once I finish here."

Gen. Walker leaned back and took a few more long tokes off the cigar, butting it out in the middle of his half eaten T-bone.

"General business calls, son. Thanks for joining me. I've enjoyed hearing from someone who has his feet firmly planted on the ground. I'll be disappointed if you aren't calling me to arrange a visit to my ranch as soon as I'm back in the States."

"Yes, sir, I look forward to it, General. I'd like to get away from all this, when I can."

"I'll make sure my wife has all the particulars. You don't need to wait for me. The line-shack isn't much but I'll have it supplied for you on short notice and there's not a place more peaceful in the world. You'd find your way around in no time. The cowboys only use it a couple months a year for grazing purposes."

"I look forward to it," Taz said, having come around to accepting the general's hospitality without questioning it.

"My driver is at your disposal. You and your friend want to ride around town today, I won't be needing him and he'll enjoy a day in town."

"Thank you, General. I'd like that. I like the people here. They seem nice."

"If you keep the car you've got to stay in uniform. A precaution to save us a lot of explaining later on. My driver knows all the places I like best. He can make all the arrangements. My sergeant knows the lingo better than my officers. Kendall's fine. You'll like him."

Taz stood when the general stood. He took the general's hand and shook it firmly when it was offered to him. It wasn't like an officer leaving an enlisted man to his own devices. Taz thought it was more like two friends saying goodbye after lunch.

He liked the general. Spending time on a ranch was never on his to do list before, but Montana sounded like his kind of place.

Taz sat back down to finish his cigar, until the bus boys began to swarm over the small room. He stood up, tucked his hat under his arm, and went in search of his car and driver. He moved out past the brass unnoticed. They seemed to have little to do but drink and bullshit.

Once outside the door, he took a second to get his hat straight on his head and by that time the general's car was there and the driver moved swiftly around the back of the car to hold the door open for Taz. This didn't seem appropriate to Taz, being outranked by his servant, before remembering it was no longer true.

' Sgt. Tazerski,' he thought in amazement, processing the details of his conversation with the general.

"I'm just a grunt, Soldier. You don't need to do that," Taz said as the soldier stood in a tight posture for him.

"It's my job, Sergeant. The general said I should remind the sergeant to change his uniform before we go anywhere in his staff car. We wouldn't want to get our ass busted before we break in the stripes, now would we?" the sergeant smiled broadly as he chided Taz good naturedly on his promotion.

"I'll remember. What's your name?"

"Sergeant Kendall, Sergeant."

"Thanks, Kendall," Taz said, sliding into the backseat, puffing the big smoke, and watching Tokyo out the window as they turned out of the base entrance to go back toward downtown.

"I don't know the city, Kendall. I want to take… my friend to a show or something special. We'll eat in the room but I want to take him to see something he'll remember about being in Japan. Any suggestions? I don't have a dime, so I don't know how we'll manage to square it all."

"Sergeant, your money is no good in General Walker's city. The general has given me instructions to see to it you get what you want. I can think of several very fine places, pleasant and very Japanese. Maybe one of the general's favorites would be to your liking?"

"I'm sure if the general likes it, I'll have no problem with it. You don't mind staying late?"

"It's what I do, Sergeant. I'm the general's driver. I drive anyone the general wants me to drive. He doesn't do much hobnobbing with enlisted men. You're the first, in fact. He must be fond of you."

Taz had no answer. He didn't hobnob with anyone, especially generals. The general was good people, when good people were scarce. The driver seemed like a righteous dude, if a bit too formal for Taz's comfort, but he was doing his job and he'd lighten up.

Taz was also doing a job. It had been made easier by the general. Knowing what was expected of him and what to expect wasn't easy. He liked being treated with respect. It wasn't something he was familiar with, but he liked it. Usually the further he stayed from anyone around him the better off he was. He couldn't avoid the people who wanted to be around him now. They were presented to him or he to them. It was all very strange.

"Where'd the general find you, Kendall?"

"Me? I was wounded in the Nam. He came through the hospital with some of his officers. He sat down and started to talk to me. I tell him I want to stay in the army but they are talking discharge. Next thing I know I got orders to report to him. He asks me what I like to do. I told him I liked to drive. Here I am."

"You know Cook?"

"Sergeant Cook. I know of him. He's on the general's staff. He does more MP like stuff. No, I don't have much contact with him. I see him around the base."

"You been up to the general's ranch?" Taz asked, curious.

"His ranch? No, I never heard of no ranch."

"I was just wondering. He seems okay," Taz said.

"For a general, he's super. Of course, I never had anything to do with generals before Gen. Walker."

"I know how you feel," Taz said, chuckling to himself as he watched Tokyo out the window.

Cook also stood at attention as Taz approached his door.

"Jesus, Cook, lighten up. I ain't no officer," Taz rebuked him.

"I'm supposed to give you this uniform to have the stripes sewn on?"

"Yes, Sergeant. I'll take care of it for you. Might I say congratulations," Cook said, reaching politely to shake Taz's hand. "We're all proud of you, Sergeant. A lot of bad press on this war. You sure got the bozos standing up and taking notice."

"I still don't get it but its better than patrolling the bush. Thanks, Cook. I didn't do anything, you know? How about you, how'd you get this kind of gig? General says you're a regular guy."

"I took a hit in a battle over by the Delta. We were clearing a village when the Viet Cong came calling. They were just about to send me back to the world. I met General Walker a few days before I was due to ship out. He had a place on his staff if I was interested. Boy did I. I've been doing this kind of thing for him. I look after his guests. Mason and I keep an eye on his headquarters when he's traveling around his command. It's okay. He's a good C O."

"He ever take you to dinner? Invite you to his ranch?"

"Ranch? He's got a ranch? Cool. No, the general and I don't eat together. I'm not in his league, Sarge. You're a star. That's why he eats with you. He stops to chat whenever he sees me. He's what a real officer looks like. I don't need to eat with him to know he looks out for his men."

"I'll get this out to you," Taz said, reaching for the doorknob but being beaten to it by Cook's quick hands.

Kodak sat on the balcony reading. Taz stripped out of his uniform, hung it on the hanger he took it off of earlier, handing it out to Cook. He went back to stand in the doorway leading to the balcony and listened to the horns and commotion from the city below. It's the first time he paid attention to the city a few dozen floors below.

"You're out of uniform, soldier," Kodak said, hardly looking up.

"Noisy," Taz said, standing in his boxers and a T-shirt with sleeves.

"Yeah, isn't it wonderful? No damn birds chirping, crickets cricking, or frogs belching. Just plain old-fashion racket. I love it."

"I suppose," Taz said thoughtfully.

"How'd it go?" Kodak asked, holding his finger in between the pages.

"Fine. You want to go out tonight? I've got the general's driver. I figured you'd have something you might want to see."

"Kabuki."

"Same to you," Taz replied.

"It's Japanese dance. Colorful. Graceful. It's classic Japanese theater."

"I'll ask Kendall to see what he can do."

"Kendall?"

"The general's driver. He's going to drive us around. He's mine until I give him back."

"You don't sound very happy about it. We can pass on it if you want to stay in. We haven't done much relaxing."

"No, I don't mind. I want to go out. I've got to get used to people. Japanese people are people, unless there's something you aren't telling me."

"What can I tell you, Sergeant?"

"Does everyone in Japan know I'm a sergeant? I'm in my freaking underwear. They sew stripes on the back of them, while I wasn't looking?"

"I watched the seamstress sew the stripes on your tailored uniforms. Sharp. I used to know you when you were just a broken down private."

"Emphasis on the broken down part. I don't know what I'm doing here. I made corporal twice for about fifteen minutes. My only other experience with officers was having them bust me for insubordination."

"You still taking it day by day? No dinners and no news conferences until day after tomorrow when we leave. We can see Tokyo. We can relax. You can tell me what the general had to say."

"There was nothing new. He said what he said. I don't want to talk about it. He means well."

"That's something."

"Yeah, I suppose. Both Kendall and Cook got hit over there. Nam. They're working stiffs. I got lost and I'm up here living high on the hog. It's not right, Kodak. It makes me feel like I didn't give enough."

"A lot of guys are alive because you were there. I'd say you gave plenty. So, you got a little lucky. After nineteen years of being in shit, you get some good stuff. It's about time. It's time you lighten up."

Kodak didn't understand Taz's difficult mood. He was on top of the world and being treated like a king but something was on his mind and Kodak knew to leave well enough alone. Taz would tell him when Taz wanted to tell him. This was something best left for him to decide when he wanted to talk. It was all overwhelming and Kodak wasn't even in the center of the storm. He assumed the adjustment might take time, but Taz wasn't one to complain or make a big deal about anything.

Kendall made arrangements in accordance with the requests Taz made. By early evening he was dressed in one of his tailored uniforms and in the back of the general's staff car beside Kodak, heading for a Japanese restaurant before going to see the Japanese dancers perform.

Taz had yet to break a smile. He said little about the lunch meeting with Gen. Walker. There was a change of disposition Kodak couldn't miss. He wanted to ask what was on his mind but he thought better of it. The notoriety and public appearances kept Taz off balance. Kodak felt that in time he'd relax, especially once they were back in the States and he would stay in the background and let Taz adapt in his own time.

Taz had no trouble polishing off all the food the hostess recommended. People were always friendly. There was someone who spoke enough English in each place they went to keep things comfortable. While Taz didn't know any of them, they seemed to know him and they were happy he came to their establishment. Even in Tokyo, Taz had been on the front pages of their newspapers.

Kendall took care of all the arrangements in accordance with the way it was done for the general. No one bothered Taz or Kodak with checks or admission charges. Taz knew it was a nice way to be treated, because he'd never had much nice treatment before he joined the army and then people were shooting at him, so this was better than that. He missed 1st squad but not all that much.

"What did you think?" Kodak asked, as they were on their way back to the hotel.

"It was okay. As long as you enjoyed it, I did. Was it what you wanted?"

"It was wonderful. It's got everything. So graceful and gentle and yet the colors are all bright and bold. They're such beautiful people."

"Your sisters would have loved it," Taz observed without humor.

Kendall dropped them at the front door and bade them good night as they returned to the room. It was getting late and after undressing Taz sat on the balcony in his boxers. Kodak sat next to him after brushing his teeth.

Looking out on Tokyo at midnight they were comfortable together. Taz was still pondering the events surrounding his lunch. He'd broken one of his basic rules of life. He'd done it in front of a man he respected and liked and he felt guilty about it. There were things he left behind and thought he'd never need to deal with again, but twelve hours later it was still on his mind and he didn't like it.

"The food was terrific. The flavors are so unique," Kodak spoke fondly of the restaurant where they'd eaten.

"He put his cigar out in a steak that must have been a pound of beef," Taz said without any preparation for the comment.

"Is that what's bothering you?" Kodak asked. "He's a general. He can do what he wants with his cigar."

"No, I've never had a steak like that before. It was huge. I'd have given my left nut for a piece of steak that size when I was a kid. He just butted the cigar in the middle of it. I'd have eaten it. Asked for a doggy bag and brought it back to nibble on all afternoon."

"Did you eat yours?" Kodak asked.

"Every bite. I was going to pick up the bone and chew the meat off it, but he kept looking at me as if he wasn't going to let me do it if I tried."

"It seemed like he likes you to me."

"Oh, yeah, he thinks I'm peachy keen. Good thing because I don't know what the hell I'm doing. You started all of this. You just had to take that picture."

"Don't blame me. Blame the gods. I've taken about a million pictures and none have made it to the cover of Time. It's either you or them but I didn't do anything different. It was just your time."

"My time for what? I was just fighting this little Asian war and suddenly I'm Rock Hudson."

"Alan Ladd maybe," Kodak said, after looking at him for a moment.

"Alan Ladd? Shane? How do you figure, Tonto?"

"He is short. Rock is tall."

"I'm not short," Taz protested.

"You aren't tall. Rock is tall. Alan isn't."

"Yeah, well, I can get lifts. I might have to. If I'm going to be a star I've got to be at least five ten. Do they have three inch lifts?"

"I'm sure they do but no one can tell how tall you are by a picture on the cover of a magazine. You look pretty damn large to me."

"Maybe cowboy boots," Taz thought, planning his growth. "Three inch lifts and high heels. I'll be a real man."

"You are as real as it gets, Taz. You don't need lifts or heels or anything else to make you look more like a man."

"Yeah, but heels will make me look like a man."

"Most guys I've seen in high heels are anything but real men."

"You mean I'm plenty real in or out of high heels?" Taz asked.

"Yes, you are. It doesn't matter how tall you are. You're as big as men come. I've known no bigger."

"Yeah, but you love me. You're supposed to say that."

"The truth. Yes, it is important to tell the truth to the one you love. You're plenty tall enough for me. I like you just the way you are."

"See, you don't love me the way I are. I've always wanted to be tall."

"I've always wanted to be a singer, but I don't dare let anyone hear me sing."

"Why not?" Taz inquired.

"If you heard my singing voice you'd wish you hadn't."

"What do you know? You were raised with girls. They sing like Florence Nightingale?"

"She was a nurse. Who do you think knows more about real men than real girls?"

"Yeah, you got me there, Kodak. What I know stops with me being a man, and up until all this hoopla started, I wasn't sure about that. In my brain I was still the boy who lied to join the army way back when. They could still arrest me if they knew my father didn't sign my enlistment papers. I shouldn't even be here but if I stayed there I'd be dead or in jail or both."

"A lot of guys in 1st squad are glad you did it. I bet they miss you standing out there drawing fire."

"I was afraid to do anything else. I could hide behind the B.A.R., but it made me feel ten feet tall. It made me big as anyone."

"You are as big as anybody. I'm tired," Kodak said. "I think I'll turn in."

"You forgot to mess up the bed they put in there for you. The maid knows we're sleeping together," Taz complained.

"She doesn't speak English. She won't know the difference," Kodak reasoned. "So many people come through this room how does she know I stay in here? Maybe because my bed down the hall is always made? One little detail I overlooked when I moved down here."

"I keep forgetting. I keep thinking I've got to be careful about anyone knowing anything for fear they'd find me out."

"Find out what?"

"Just paranoid, I guess. Not wanting to be known so no one can pin my ass down. That maid's got more to do than count how many people are sleeping in my bed. It's probably not even something they think about in Japan."

"Who thinks about it if she doesn't?" Kodak asked.

"She's got eyes and besides, what if Cook or Mason come in and notice? You ever think of that? I don't want them thinking we're sleeping together."

"Taz, I hate to break it to you, we are sleeping together. If you want to mess up the bed, do it if it makes you feel better. The maid comes and makes it up before Cook and Mason come on duty."

"I know. I worry too much. I've got to do something. They're making me crazy with all this hero shit. I don't know if I can keep acting the way they expect."

"You've done pretty damn good, Taz. I'm proud of you. You could have drank all you wanted last night. You could have drank today. I'm proud of you for controlling yourself."

"Do you know what they'll do to me if I screw this gig up? I'll be on my way to Leavenworth. General officers don't look kindly on soldiers who make them look like fuck ups. I'm on my best behavior. They've got to get tired of this sooner or later and then I can drink if I feel like it."

"They can't hold a candle to the light you create around you. It's not about the generals, Taz. It's about you. They've got to get out of your way and let you shine. You're their man at a time and in a war no one likes. They need you."

Taz threw the pillow from the single bed onto the floor and he stepped into the middle of it to ruffle the covers to make it look slept in. Kodak smiled and shook his head. Taz turned out the light and slid between the sheets.

"You want to hold me?" Taz asked, snuggling up close to Kodak.

"You bet your bippy, buddy."

Kodak held Taz close and felt him breathing deeply. Taz rested his head on Kodak's chest, listening to the comforting sound of his heartbeat.

"Why did the steak deal make such an impression on you?" Kodak asked after a time.

"I don't want to talk about it."

"Okay."

"He's not giving me the Bronze Star."

"He's not? Why not?" Kodak couldn't hide his disappointment.

"He says I deserve the Silver Star."

"That's better?"

"I would say it is. Two Purple Hearts to go with it. I don't see it but he says I don't get a vote. Sgt. Jacoby must have spent all of his time putting me in for medals. They never went anywhere until you started taking pictures."

"That's why I'm here."

"I made him sick. That's why he didn't eat his steak. He tried to tell me about my father and how it was and I let him know he didn't know how it was. He couldn't eat after that. I didn't mean to upset him. People shouldn't think they know stuff they don't know. He pissed me off and I let him have it."

"I thought you were an orphan. It's what you told me."

"I am. I might have a father out there who is still breathing but I'm an orphan. I don't know him and he don't know me."

"He's going to know you when he gets a gander of his son on the cover of Time magazine. You think he might miss that little item?"

"I don't care. He's dead. I'm dead to him. I'll never go back there and if he ever comes near me…. Being a father requires something other than his biological participation."

Kodak could feel Taz shaking as his rage boiled inside him and he held him closer, brushing his hair with his hand. Taz slowly revealed what he'd told the general.

Kodak cried. He tried to hold it back but he couldn't. They'd become too close. Kodak cried for a long time into the night. They lay together, Taz in Kodak's arms taking comfort from the closeness to his friend. It's what he wanted and needed most.

Kodak cried himself to sleep at one point and he woke to Taz's quiet sobs. He couldn't hold the tears back any longer and he slowly let go of the tight control he maintained on his feelings. The pain and terror he'd been subjected to as a boy surfaced in the Tokyo bed. Once he began to cry he couldn't stop.

There was nothing Kodak could do but hold him close to comfort and reassure him. He wasn't going to leave him and any threat to Taz's well being was a threat to his own.

The pain of years of abuse was exposed. Ten years and ten thousand miles couldn't lessen the impact, once the memories came flooding back. The power of it was immense for the abused and the one who loved him.

Once the tears were cried, they both slept well into the next day. Kodak expected it had to come out sooner or later and perhaps this was the best time, as Taz was transitioning into a new life. It seemed as if it might be the best thing for Taz. Dealing with the past was never easy but he had gotten it out of his system without any other witness and without judgment on his tears.

Kodak was first up and he sat watching Taz for a long time before he went into the sitting room and ordered breakfast, coffee, and a copy of Time magazine's current issue. He showered, brushed his hair, and dressed in his last pair of clean shorts and one of the Hawaiian shirts he had come to love.

"Taz, you want to get up? I've ordered breakfast. It's getting close to noon," Kodak said.

Taz lay a long time fighting to keep his eyes open. They still stung from the hours of tears but he felt strangely calm and didn't remember much about the conversation the night before with Kodak. He told him everything because it had all rushed back to the front of his brain once the general had approached the subject. It seemed a lot less important the day after, and he struggled up and into the shower, where he spent a long time washing and enjoying the rush of water he could adjust to any temperature he liked.

When Cook came on the floor, he had all the details of Taz's departure for Honolulu the following afternoon. There was to be a ceremony at the main hanger at the military airport where the boys would fly out at 1:15 pm, local time. General Walker had been called away but planned to be back in time to see Taz off.

Cook ate several pieces of the bacon that was left from breakfast and drank coffee while looking over the Time magazine. The article was mostly about Taz and Kodak being lost after an ambush all but shot down their helicopter. There was speculation but no facts concerning their rescue.

"Damn fine picture, Sergeant," Cook said. "You look like John Wayne. How'd you get a picture from that angle during a firefight, Kodak. You must have been pretty damn close to the action."

"Yeah, you might say that. I was right where he knocked me down. He was straddling me after he pushed me onto the ground once the shooting began. He had no appreciation for my photographic genius."

"He must appreciate it now. I've never seen a picture capture battle the way this one does. One man's war."

Taz had seen copies of the picture everywhere he went, but when he took it from Cook it was the first time he had looked at himself in the picture of the warrior with the big rifle.

"They tell me the States are going nuts waiting for you to get home," Cook advised him.

"Is there another plane? Maybe one to Tahiti?" Taz asked.

"No, I'm afraid you're going to have armed guards all the way home. You're the biggest thing to hit the Army since Sgt. York."

"Yeah, he fight in Vietnam?" Taz asked.

"WWI," Kodak answered. "Maybe the most decorated American in that war.

"WWI? That come before WWII?"

"Yes."

"Which one was the war to end all wars?" Taz inquired.

"They're all billed that way," Kodak said.

They all laughed and only Taz wondered how he ended up in the middle of this show. He tossed the magazine back onto the tray and Cook retrieved it for a signature. Taz signed and handed it back, being made uncomfortable by Cook's entry into his fan club.

For Taz it was fine for officers to tiptoe around him, because he'd always tiptoed around them. Enlisted men were just like him and he didn't want them looking at him any different than before. He couldn't say, "Stop it!" and yet it's what he wanted to say to Cook. Mason brought his own copy of Time down later that afternoon, once he'd seen Cook's signed copy.

There was no reason to go out and they didn't. Taz seemed more relaxed and Kodak had never had it so good. They feasted through the day and relaxed from time to time.

After noon the following day, Kendall drove Taz and Kodak to the airfield where a ceremony was to precede the take-off by a couple of hours. They drove around to the back of a huge hanger and Kendall asked Taz to wait at the bottom of a flight of stairs that led into the building. He immediately walked Kodak around the corner of the building and came back without him, after telling him where he needed to go in order not to miss anything.

Kendall went up the steps and went inside before returning to light a cigarette and wait to be told they were ready for Taz.

"Once you go inside, follow the major and he'll escort you to the stage where you'll get your medals."

Taz felt alone and he didn't like that feeling. Kendall had nothing to say and questioning him was futile. Finally he signaled for Taz to come up the stairs and he followed an officer as they walked across the back of the building on the inside. The officer stopped at a door and held the knob to keep it out of Taz's hands.

"I'll open the door and Gen. Walker is waiting on stage for you. There are a few soldiers detached to the base and some civilians that asked to come see you off. The ceremony will only last a few minutes and then Sgt. Kendall will drive you out to the plane."

Someone knocked on the inside of the door and the major opened it to finally allow Taz to make it to his medal ceremony.

As quick as he stepped inside he was guided to a white curtain, which was held open for him to step through. It was a long way from the back steps onto the stage and further yet from rural Conway, Arkansas to center stage in the Vietnam War.

There was a sea of green and a roar they employed to welcome their hero. Gen. Walker sat among some other general officers behind the podium that was being occupied by a sergeant, who introduced Taz just before he came in from stage right.

Turning to survey the audience, cameras clicked, flashbulbs flashed, and Taz was caught by surprise as the applause and roar of the crowd was deafening. It was by far the biggest audience Taz had appeared in front of, and he waved at the green uniforms and they roared again, applauding louder. This went on for some time before the sergeant held up both arms, trying to quiet the crowd. They roared louder and the applause continued. Taz blushed for the first time in his life.

General Walker stood and moved forward to the podium.

"Gentlemen, I've got only so much time to get this done and if you want to roar some more, wait until I give you something to roar about," he said without any force to his words.

The level of the noise elevated before it began to quiet somewhat.

"It's my honor and privilege to introduce you to Sgt. Tazerski," he said, holding out his arm for Taz to come to the podium.

The ceremony was underway. Taz stood at attention as one Purple Heart and than a second was brought to be pinned on his finely tailored uniform. Each time the general pinned on the medal there was a roar of acceptance, salutes, and handshakes. The Silver Star was brought forward and Gen. Walker was careful to explain what it took to receive the medal. He pinned the medal on Taz, and there were more salutes and more handshakes, and cheers and hats were thrown in the air. Everyone loved it.

In the back of the hangar, standing among the random officers from the airfield, was a tall thin man in a tailored charcoal gray suit, dark blue shirt, metallic gray tie, and a Panama hat with a wide hatband. He wore big sunglasses and behind the sunglasses Kodak cried for his friend. Across the top of the stage above the ceremony was a huge banner that read, Welcome Sgt. Tazerski. The picture Kodak had taken on the battlefield and that now graced the cover of Time, was at the end of the banner.

Taz was among his own. He was in the hands of a general who cared for him and made him feel at ease. At the same time it was overwhelming and he had to fight back tears. Once the general sat down, the applause and racket were relentless. Taz smiled and waved and was grateful he couldn't speak, because he didn't know what he would have said. It was always Kodak who calmed him enough to remember where he was and why he was there.

Being celebrated was still new. For most of his life he was anything but celebrated. He felt lucky to have survived the war, and he had no urge to ask to go back. Feeling liked, accepted, and even adored gave him goose-bumps. He knew he could easily fail to live up to expectations. It was a difficult war and any heroes couldn't help but improve the image of soldiers who took a beating at home.

Sooner or later the real story about him would come out. He was a drunk and a fuck-up. Yet, he did what he did and did it fearlessly. Maybe that earned him a fuck-up or two. Maybe it didn't. He was there and he was being put out front to represent the fighting man, and he would do his best to do that honorably.

When the sergeant came back to the podium to dismiss the gathering, they were still applauding. All the officers had returned to their offices, and Kendall now waited for Taz and Kodak to get them to the flight line in time for them to be on their way.

Kodak stood in the back of the hangar until most of the soldiers were gone. He moved forward and climbed the stairs to the stage to be next to Taz, who never took his eyes off Kodak as he walked toward him. Kodak threw him a salute and they shook hands.

"You look like a million bucks, Sergeant," Kodak said.

"Yeah, I feel okay. Have you ever seen anything like that?"

"Never have."

"Come on. We've got to get you on the plane so I make sure your bags go with you," Kendall said, shaking Taz's hand as they came out the backdoor of the hangar.

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