Charleston, South Carolina – June 20, 2007
“There is nothing on this earth more to be prized than true friendship.”
Saint Thomas Aquinas (1225 – 1274)
Macie made the revelation with the calm conviction of someone who was certain of the truth.
J.P. folded his hands and looked at her. “I learned a lot from his buddies. I know they were both back in the States in September of forty-three and they stayed in my parents’ apartment for one night.” He hesitated, trying not to contradict this nice old lady. “Are you telling me my mother had an affair with Jake that night?” The words sounded foreign, like they were coming from someone else. “And I’m the result?” He pondered the unlikely thought for a moment. “Because I already know the man who raised me is not my biological father and if I were Jake’s son, that would explain it. Is that the big secret everyone was trying so hard to keep from me?”
“No, silly!” she admonished. “You have it all backwards.”
“Well, that’s a relief,” he exhaled. “And Frank said the same thing, that I had it upside down. But you said Jake was my father?”
“No, John, I didn’t say Jake was your real father. What I said was the father you knew, the father you grew up with, that man was Jake Kilroy. John Patrick Kilroy was your biological father but he never made it home. Jake raised you.”
J.P. nodded. He considered that possibility when he realized the name on the tombstone had no middle initial. That was either a mistake or the person lying there was John NMI Kilroy. However, there were too many unanswered questions to arrive at that conclusion. “This makes no sense, Macie. How can that be?”
“Let me explain,” she took another sip of her tea. “It gets complicated so try to keep up.” She smiled her disarming smile. “Johnny, your biological father, was killed in France in 1945, right after the War ended. Unfortunately, a drunken American soldier killed him. On his deathbed he asked Jake to promise to take care of you and your mother. Jake gave his word. And once Jake gave his word, it was written in stone! Besides, Jake always blamed himself for Johnny being killed over there. It was a guilt he never got over.”
J.P. contemplated what Macie just told him. “So, that’s why he failed the paternity test,” he mumbled aloud. “So, why did he pretend to be my real father? Why didn’t he ever tell me who he was or who my real father was?”
“Jake was too modest to tell anyone what he was doing. That he was giving up his own life to raise his friend’s son. He didn’t want anyone else to know. It was Jake who made everyone promise to keep the secret, even your mother. He certainly didn’t want your mother embarrassed. Neither of them had any family. It was an easy ruse to pull off. So he stayed with you and your mother until you were grown and on your way in life and then he came home to Bedford and back to me. Then the Medal of Honor thing came up and he figured if he went back to Washington, he was likely to run into you, with the publicity and all. He was trying to avoid that. With Harley’s help Jake pretended to be dead to avoid the ceremony. He wanted you to have the Medal. Harley just reminded everyone involved they made a pledge to keep Jake’s secret. They didn’t realize until later that your mother had sent you on the mission to reconcile with your father and find out the secret. It wouldn’t have mattered. Even after your mother passed, it was a matter of honor for them to keep their promise.” She touched his hand. “Jake always had your best interest in mind.”
“But to do that? Give up his own life and dreams to keep a promise?”
“Let me explain. Jake and I were engaged when I sent him a Dear John letter. I was a confused kid,” she smiled again. “When he got the letter he went a little crazy and wound up punching an officer. A few months later, when they each missed rotation back to the States by a few points, they went to appeal. The appeals officer was the one Jake hit. Of course, the officer denied them on the spot.”
“The point is?” he aked.
“The point is Jake felt totally responsible for his friend not making it home. He never got over that guilt. They would have gotten the needed points on appeal but for Jake hitting that officer. Then the night your father was killed, Jake got into an argument with an armed sentry who was drunk. Your father tried to break it up and stepped in front of Jake and was shot and killed.” She paused, her eyes welling up. “Jake was overwhelmed with guilt. In his own mind and heart, Jake caused your father’s death and was honor-bound to keep his last request. For Jake, it was also a small piece of redemption.”
“Unbelievable,” J.P. shook his head.
“And your father believed Jake had no one to go home to anyway. He was wrong. Jake had me but he could never tell Johnny we had reconciled.”