“Men in general are quick to believe that which they wish to be true.”
Julius Caesar (100 BC – 44 BC)
There were two messages on his answering machine when he got home late from Christmas shopping. The stores were crowded even though he expected more people than normal to stay home. After all, it was Friday the thirteenth.
He hit the blinking play button and proceeded to pull off his tie and hang up his overcoat and sports jacket while he listened. Two messages within a few hours of each other from the same person indicated a matter of some urgency. Despite the late hour, J.P. decided to return the call, if only to leave a message. He was surprised when someone picked up the phone.
“Colonel Chase. May I help you?”
“Ah, yes, Colonel…this is J.P. Kilroy. I’m returning your calls.” J.P. had his wireless telephone tucked between his ear and shoulder as he scurried around the kitchen to prepare his dinner, a nightly ritual that he became adept at since his divorce.
“Very good, Mister Kilroy, I was hoping it was you.”
“How can I help you, Colonel?”
There was a slight pause and J.P. could hear the shuffling of papers in the background. “If you have a moment, this might take a bit of explaining.” There was a tone of gravity in the colonel’s voice.
“I have some time. I’m listening.”
“I’m currently assigned to the Untied States Army Awards Branch here at the Pentagon. For the last six months my team has been researching the lack of Medals of Honor for African-Americans serving in World War II. We recently concluded our analysis and recommendations. There will be a ceremony in the East Room of the White House on January thirteenth for one living recipient and six posthumous awards. Here is where it gets a bit delicate. I would like to invite you to attend a…”
“Excuse me, Colonel,” J.P. interrupted. “If you want that ceremony covered you should call the assignment editor at the Times.” There was silence on the other end of the line.
“I don’t think you understand, Mister Kilroy,” Chase began again but more slowly and deliberately. “We want to invite you to accept the Medal of Honor on behalf of your father. It would be a private ceremony but on the same day.”
J.P. was utterly bewildered. He sat down at the kitchen table. “You’re right, Colonel, I don’t understand. My father is not African-American.”
“True. However, your father participated in a combat action that resulted in the awarding of the Medal of Honor to both himself and an African-American named Lincoln Abraham.”
This was all happening too fast for J.P. If he accepted the invitation, he would obviously have to meet with his father. He still was not ready for that confrontation. Perhaps he would never be. “Why can’t my father accept the Medal himself?” he finally asked.
Again there was a pause on the other end of the line. “This is quite awkward for me, Mister Kilroy,” Chase stammered. “Uh hum, didn’t you know that your father recently passed away?”
J.P. let out an audible sigh. “No, I was not aware.”
“My condolences, sir,” Chase responded. “I’m sorry to break the news to you this way. I didn’t know…”
“We weren’t exactly close.” J.P. realized how lame that sounded. “I mean…we weren’t close at all. You could say that we’ve been estranged for some time.” He took a deep breath. “We never stayed in touch.”
“Once again, I sincerely regret having to break the news to you this way.” Chase sounded sincere and contrite. “We have invited three of your father’s wartime friends to attend the ceremony. If you choose not to attend, the Sergeant-Major-of-the-Army will accept the award.”
J.P. considered what the colonel just said. All he had to do was decline and he would finally be done with his father. This news could conceivably put that chapter of his life behind him. He simply had to hang up the phone.
But he couldn’t get his mother’s words out of his head. He made a promise and hadn’t kept it. His mother died knowing her last request went unfulfilled. And then there was the family secret he was supposed to uncover. It all seemed so damn important to her. Maybe if he accepted the Medal of Honor on behalf of his father, he would earn some level of redemption. It was the last possible act he might perform to partially honor his mother’s last wishes.
But there was something else pulling him in the other direction, telling him not to go. Perhaps it was that other reason he never wanted to face his father again. Maybe his reluctance was the product of how quickly this all came to pass and the shocking news.
Whatever the reason, he found himself suddenly adverse to the notion of attending any ceremony. Before he could distill the conflicting thoughts, the words began spilling out of his mouth.
“Thank you for the invitation, Colonel Chase, but I’m afraid I must decline.”