Start the next part of your journey. Go far close to home at McDowell Tech, the 6th best community college in the USA

Soldier Finds Hope Near the End

By Tim Tron

Burke CountyTim Tron Burke County


The shadows had barely begun to stretch across the barren, mountainous landscape as the setting sun finally gave up its stranglehold on the sweltering temperatures. Platoon Sergeant Jack Turner’s back lay against the track of the armored personnel carrier. Scattered around him in other positions of cover, the rest of his platoon sat waiting for Ops to call in the strike. Their target was an enemy concentration just beyond a crucial bridge that stretched across the Arghandab River, a vital link between them and the enemy’s stronghold. Once the fortifications were blown, Jack and his team were instructed to take out all insurgents in the area, clearing it for another build-up coming behind them and taking back control of the all-important bridge.

Jack’s earpiece squawked as the corpsman took confirmed the coordinates. Moments later, two F-35B Stealth Fighters thundered overhead, their exhaust fanning the men below as they gut-twisted a ninety-degree turn as their missiles flared from underneath. One hit just beyond the far side of the bridge, hitting a large swath of fortified bunkers and machine gun nests, the explosion echoing across the valley. The other hit a weapons depot, both exploding almost simultaneously. There was a momentary pause, then the voices from command came to advance. “Hold the bridge at all costs,” the voice echoed in Jack’s head. While the smoke from the explosions still provided the crucial cover they needed, Jack yelled at his men, “Let’s go.” Without hesitation, his platoon began to advance on the critical link, knowing full well that the enemy that remained was waiting.

They were within fifty yards of the bridge when the distinctive sound of the AK47 began firing. To his left, Davis went down. The helmet did little good, as the headshot was instant – he never felt a thing. To Jack’s right, Tex took a round to his leg, throwing him to the ground, scrambling now to find cover before the next bullet found its mark. Again and again, the sound of lead stinging the air, like a nest of angry hornets, buzzed by his head -the sound of death, with the ever-present thought, “Eventually, one of those would be for him.” No sooner had the words passed through his mind than a mortar struck, the shock waves through him backward as a piece of shrapnel hit his chest, burning, rage, and fear enveloped his body. A strange warmth began to ebb down his left side. Still conscious, he sat up, looking around him. There was no sound anymore, the senses stunned, but he could see his men still working their way before him, stealthily advancing into the shroud of smoke and dust.

Another explosion, another wave of shock.

The world now separated from his existence, he fought the urge to sleep – the shock was unbearable. “Focus, dang it, focus,” Jack repeated the words out loud, yet he could still not hear his own voice. Trying to stand, leaning on his rifle for support, he lurched forward, seeking to catch up with his men. The voices in the earpiece kept shouting, “Hold the bridge at all costs.” At that moment, the repeated feeling of being tapped in the chest caught his attention. Looking down, he saw the rounds penetrating his upper torso, and blood began to flow. Slowly, like being caught in quicksand, he felt his body melting into the ground. Unsure of what was happening, he fought against the feeling, struggling to move his legs, only to look down and see that they now had dissolved into the earth below him. Gradually, against his will, Jack began to melt into nothingness.

“Hold the bridge at all costs, at all costs,” the voice echoed.

He battled once again to move what was once a leg, but nothing. With all his might, he forced himself to focus, “Just one toe, move just one toe.” Jack strained with every ounce of strength he could muster until there was finally a slight twitch.

Gasping for breath, he sat up – sweating and stunned, the nightmare had returned. He could still feel himself trying to move a toe. He twisted both his feet, responding out of confirmation more than ability, assured it had only been a dream. He breathed a sigh of relief. He reached up and felt his chest beneath his damp t-shirt. The smooth, tortuous ridges of the scars from the battle were still there. The painful reminders would never go away. They would forever be part of his story. He squinted at the nightstand nearby. It was already late in the morning; he was supposed to go pick up his son from the rehab clinic at noon. Trying to function, he swung his legs over to the floor and started to get up. The pang from the previous night’s binge still stung. Jack tried to escape the past by drowning himself in the bottle, but as much as he wanted to leave it all behind, it remained with him, like a stain on his soul. The pain turned to bitterness, so much so that when he returned from Afghanistan, he was not the same father as when he left. His anger soon bled over into his family. Eventually, his wife left him, taking their son Isaac with her. But the darkness crept into all their lives as his son, like his father, found comfort in alcohol. Yet, unlike his dad, his son Isaac couldn’t control his desire. His life had gone from a bright, healthy teenager, to one of a chronic alcoholic, in and out of rehab.

The day progressed, and as was typical for their relationship. After Jack picked Isaac up from the clinic, they got into an argument over some trivial event which triggered a wave of anger in them both. In the end, they were both bloodied, and Jack watched as Isaac limped away, crying, screaming that he was going to put an end to this. A few days later, Jack got a call from the Sheriff’s office. It was one of his old high-school buddies, Preston. After a short jaunt down memory lane, he got down to business. He was calling to warn Jack that his son had lawyered up and that he was requesting a restraining order on him. Preston added that to avoid the legalities, he should not come near his son. “Avoid him at all costs,” were his words. The last altercation was the final straw to break the camel’s back, and Jack knew it. Against his will, Jack cut off all communications with his son – another painful memory, another scar.

Years would pass, and Jack would remarry. He found a Godly woman name Shelly that understood his PTSD. He and Shelly became one; oneness as far as those traumas would allow. Yet, the darkness would not abate. Jack and Shelly were both chain smokers. Eventually, the harm associated with such addictions caught up with them. First, it was Shelly that was diagnosed with lung cancer. The initial prognosis was that she might have a year to live. For the first time in his life, Jack prayed. He begged God to give him more time with this woman that was a godsend in his life. Jack took out a second mortgage on the house to pay for an experimental drug that the Doctor’s said might extend her life. Seemingly, God answered Jack’s prayers. Shelly lived twelve more years, but during the last two, she was bedridden. At about that time, Jack came developed throat cancer. It took every bit of strength he had to make it through each day. He quit his job, taking what meager pay he could collect from his incomplete pension and welfare.

To some, it seemed as if Jack had been cursed. In all practicality, he had lost a wife and his son. And now, his beloved Shelly was dying. If he didn’t beat this cancer, he could easily join her in the grave. He was ok with that too. For the last two years of her life, he remained at home, becoming her primary caregiver. It was gut-wrenching, watching his soulmate slip away.

Meanwhile, Jack battled through the surgeries and radiation treatments, which nearly killed him. He would’ve given everything to go in her place, but it was not to be. She passed on a cool summer morning as she watched the hummingbirds on their porch from her bed in the living room.

A few days later, as Jack stood looking out at the few he came to her funeral service, he thought, “Why couldn’t this have been me instead of her God?” That day, another one that he would just as soon forget, was another painful reminder that his life was hell on earth – one more scar. He would just as soon stop the treatments for his throat cancer, but there was something that felt unfinished, something he had to do before letting go.

It was a cold, blustery night as Jack’s truck pulled out of the hospital parking lot in Indy. Another round of chemo, another draining week of needles, and sleepless nights. The snow was falling so hard that his headlights could barely make out the ice-covered road before him. The hospital offered to put him in the hospitality room for the night, but he insisted he get home. His faithful dog Joe was there waiting. She was all he had left.

The three-hour ride would be rough, but he had been in tougher straits. The streets of Indianapolis were all but deserted as he wound his way through the unfamiliar roads. Seeing the sign pointing toward the interstate, the GPS voice confirmed his turn. As he rounded the corner, a figure barely visible flashed before his headlights. Unsure, Jack slammed on the breaks, but too late. His truck slid, now out of control; a loud thump and the sound of the bumper hitting something metal caused the truck to stop abruptly. He jumped out of the cab and did his best to shuffle on the slick surface toward the headlights. The blur of the blizzard-like condition made it difficult to see. Holding his hand above his eyes to shield them from the onslaught, he rounded the hood, holding onto the truck with one hand. There on the ground lay a figure, still, unmoving. “Holy crap, I’ve killed somebody,” he said under his breath. He knelt and searched through the dark layers of clothing for the skin. Feeling for a pulse at the person’s neck, he felt warmth and a faint heartbeat. Knowing time was of the essence, he reached for his phone to call 911. “Crap, it’s in the truck,” he thought.

He started to get up to retrieve the device, but as he began to get up, a moan came from the injured pedestrian, now quickly beginning to be covered by a thin layer of white. “My shoulder, oh, my head.” Before Jack could respond, the lump of humanity sat up. It was an elderly man, his white beard closely trimmed but barely visible above the scarf wrapped around his neck. A black stocking cap pulled down tight around his ears revealed tufts of white hair from underneath. But something about his eyes caused Jack to pause. They twinkled a brilliant blue that seemed unnatural.

“Hey, old chap, I think I’ve had a spill.” The man’s voice had a Scottish ring.

“Well, not really,” Jack responded hesitantly.

“I was just on my way to meet an old friend when bam, out of nowhere, I landed here.”

“Yes, I’m so, so sorry.”

“Oh, hey, I think I’ll be okay. If you could just help me up here.”

“Oh sure, not a problem.”

Jack reached down, and with all his remaining strength, for the treatments had drained him physically, he did his best to get him up. They both leaned against the snow-covered hood of the vehicle catching their breath. “Can I take you to the emergency room to get you checked out,” Jack asked with concern.

“Well, maybe, but I’ll tell you what I could use more right now.”

“What’s that.”

“A good hot cup of joe.”

“Seriously,” Jack quipped. He thought back to his military training and how shock could confuse people and disorient them to the point that they sometimes make fatal decisions. He felt he needed to step in. “I really think we should have you checked out. You hit your head pretty hard.”

“Well, I understand and appreciate your concern, laddy,” the stranger replied, smiling as those eyes sparkled even more, “but I think we both could use a good hot cup of brew. Don’t ja?”

“Sure, but in this weather, who will be open?”

“Oh, no problem. I know of a little shop just around the corner. That is, if’n you don’t mind?”

“Oh, of course not, it’s the least I could do,” Jack now went along with it, knowing that he had to stick with this guy, whoever he was, to ensure he wasn’t still traumatized from the collision.

Jack helped him into the truck’s passenger side, then shuffled around to his side and backed out of the light pole that had caused his truck’s forward motion. He drove Slowly through the white-out conditions, following the old man’s direction. Sure enough, they pulled up in front of an ancient-looking establishment, something out of the early 1900s. “Here it is,” the old guy remarked as Jack pulled alongside the curb. There wasn’t any other vehicle around, so the parking was easy. Once inside, the low mellow lighting added to the ambiance, making the dark wood and large fire in the fireplace seem like home. Across the table, the old man sat. As the waitress brought them their coffees, the old guy smiled at her, and she responded as if he was an old friend. “Clearly a regular,” Jack mused to himself.

“My friends call me Gabe,” finally, he introduced himself, extending a gloved hand with the fingertips removed toward Jack. The steam from the coffee drifted between them like a morning fog over a dark bog.

“I’m Jack, a pleasure to meet you, or rather, bump into you,” he responded with a smile. They both chuckled. “Really, Gabe, if you want me to take you to the ER, I would be more than happy.”

“I’m fine, my boy, not a word more about it. I’ve had worse scrapes. Besides, we’ve got a lot to talk about.”

Jack didn’t quite get that last bit, but then again, the old guy had a pretty good knock on the old noggin, so the least he could do would be to humor him for a while. The more Gabe talked, the more Jack felt like he had known Gabe his whole life. They spoke of many things, but the longer the conversation went on, the more it began to feel like it was the old guy was reaching into his very soul, pulling him up from the depths of despair.

“You see, my boy, it is the love of God that permeates everything and everyone. Without it, we are nothing but creatures existing without a purpose. By Jove, if I didn’t know better, I’d say you have lost everything except the life you now cling to. But have you wondered why?”

Jack shook his head no. Gabe seemed to be reading his thoughts, and yet, he was right. He had only focused on the details of making it from one day to the next, not looking beyond what was in the immediate.

“You’ve probably pushed others in your world away because of this baggage you carry. In your anger, you’ve put up barriers where you’d rather pull them down. Am I getting you?”

With his head down now, looking at the table, Jack whispered, “Yeah. Pretty dang good.”

“Jack, you’ve got to seek God, and when you find him, let his love be the light that draws those back to you. It’s the only way. Quit trying to make it work. Let God into your life, and then step back and watch what can happen.”

Jack’s head was swimming now, unable to think; he needed a moment to regain himself. “Excuse me for a second, but I need to hit the restroom. The coffee, you know…” Gabe nodded, smiling lovingly. Jack wandered back to the restroom and stayed there until the dizziness dissipated. When he returned, the little old man was gone. His heart sank. He started to sit down but noticed a napkin folded in the spot where he had been sitting. Curious, he picked it up and read the inscription. At that moment, something inside Jack snapped. Years of pain and years of denial suddenly washed away. He began to weep.

The drive back to New Harmony seemed like minutes. When he left the coffee shop, the skies had cleared, and the roads were already melting. When he got home, Joe was happy to see him. He then found that old Bible on the shelf beside Shelly’s box of ashes. Jack turned page after page, reading scripture until he fell asleep on the couch. The next day he called Isaac and asked if they could meet in a few days, that he had something he needed to share. There, in that meeting, Jack told his son about the horrors of war and how he wanted to apologize for all the wrongs he had done in his son’s life. Then he asked Isaac to give him one more chance.

Weeks would pass. Jack joined a Bible study group in town, and soon, everyone could see the changes. Gone was the hiding. Gone were the harsh words. Slowly, Isaac started coming around. He and Jack began fishing and hunting together again, something they hadn’t done since Isaac’s childhood. Isaac even sat with his father on Sunday evenings reading the Bible with him. Slowly, like Jack, Isaac began to change. He had seen something in his father that felt different. It was so significant that it caused him to seek help with his alcoholism. He went through a recovery program, and before he knew it, he was two years clean.

But no matter how much God’s love poured through Jack, his body continued to whither away from the cancer. Soon, he passed. As Isaac went through the house to gather his dad’s belongings, he found a napkin lying on the shelf next to Shelly’s ashes. Picking it up, he read the aged, tear-stained note. The emotion rose in his eyes as the tears began to stream down his own face, Isaac remembered his father talking about the strange encounter in Indy a few years ago, but he never shared with him what the old man left behind. There in his hands, he read the words that changed his father’s eternal life and saved his soul.

There on the white piece of paper, the old man had touched Jack in only a way that could have come from God, “Dearest Jack, remember to cling to God and to seek Him with all your heart. And Jack, most of all, Hold the bridge at all costs. – Your Friend, Gabe.”

Thanks be to God.


Timothy W. Tron lives in Collettsville, NC. with his family. He is currently the Systems Administrator for the Computer Science Department at App. State. Timothy is the former Director of the Trail of Faith in Valdese, where he still volunteers and helps with tours. He is the author of a new Christian series, “Children of the Light”, with the first book being, “Bruecke to Heaven”, revised as “Bridge to Heaven”, and his recent book, being the second, “The Light in the Darkness”. He is an active blogger, artist, and musician. Timothy also has a BSEE from UF, and is a Lay Speaker. He is currently acting as the Faculty/Staff Liaison for the Ratio Christi campus ministry at App. State. He can be reached at  You can visit his website at // or see more of his writings HERE