Big Oak and Amber Waves
Thomas Calabrese –Captain Ron Greene and his wife Cassie, who was 8 ½ months at the time, had driven from Camp Pendleton Marine Corps base in Oceanside early Saturday morning to San Luis Obispo for a five day mini-vacation. Their tentative plans were to visit Hearst Castle and do some sightseeing; and beyond that they would just keep their options open.
Ron would be deploying in 14 days and would be gone for an undetermined length of time. His special operations unit would be involved in a joint search and destroy operation with the French Foreign Legion in the Republic of Ghana. Terrorist activity on the west coast of Africa had increased dramatically over the past six months and the Marines and Legionnaires’ mission was to eliminate several radical group operating in the region. Failing in that lofty goal, they intended to inflict major damage to their organizations.
If it wasn’t for this deployment, Ron and Cassie probably would not have decided to travel, since it was this close to the due date of their baby. Cassie reassured her husband, “We’ll be fine…let’s just go and enjoy ourselves.”
Ron answered, “You know better than I do, so if you say the mission is a go then it’s a go. At any time, you don’t feel well, we’ll turn around and come back.”
The couple were thoroughly enjoying their time along the Central Californian coast and decided to stop off for an impromptu late afternoon picnic as they drove along scenic Highway One. They parked and walked down a trail that weaved through a forested area. When they came to an opening on the other side, a single, immense white oak tree stood majestically before them. It overlooked an open field of amber-colored vegetation. Ron took off his pack, removed a blanket and set it on the ground. It was tranquil and awe-inspiring at the same time as the sun’s rays embraced them in its golden warmth.
Being pregnant, it Cassie took a minute to find a comfortable position on the ground. When she did, she commented, “It is beautiful…isn’t it?”
“Yeah, you don’t get many days like this in your life,” Ron laid down next to his wife, “Let’s enjoy it while it lasts.”
While looking up at the blue sky through the thousand branches above them, Ron and Cassie fell asleep simultaneously. It was three hours later when Cassie awakened and nudged Ron. He instinctively looked at his watch and then at orange horizon and knew that they had maybe 20 minutes of daylight left. “We better get moving, we don’t want to be walking through the woods in the dark.” Ron stood up and offered Cassie his hand. She started to stand up and then quickly sat back down again.
Ron asked, “Didn’t you hear me?”
“I’m not going to make it.”
“Sure you will…it’s not that far back to the car,” Ron replied.
Cassie clarified her statement, “I mean, I’m getting ready to have our baby.”
“Aw hell,” Ron replied, “You’re really sure that you can’t make it.”
“Really, really, really sure,” Cassie grimaced, “What do you know about delivering a baby?”
Ron answered, “Very little, what do you know about having a baby?”
“Just what I’ve read.”
“I guess it’s going to be a learning experience for both of us.” Ron said.
The Marine officer did his best to make his wife comfortable as the temperature dropped quickly once the sun went down. While lying on the ground, Cassie shivered. Two hours later, their son was born. A thunderous clap and a flash of blinding light. A massive branch was struck by a bolt of lightning and it fell at such an angle that it provided a makeshift shelter for Ron and Cassie. They weren’t sure if it was the residual effects of the lightning or just the way the way that the branch fell and blocked the cool night air, but the couple and their newborn stayed warm until sunrise. The breeze rustling through the oak trees was melodic and soothing and it had a profound effect on the couple as they walked back to their car.
Ron drove to the Sierra Vista Regional Medical Center in San Luis Obispo, where Cassie and the baby were given a thorough examination. Doctor Shelley Raydor relayed her findings to Ron, “Captain Greene, mother and son are doing very well. They’ll be released in a few hours.”
“Thank you Ma’am.” Ron beamed.
While driving back to Oceanside, Cassie said, “I know that we agreed to name our son after my father, but I was thinking that after what happened, we might want to re-think that.”
What’s on your mind?” Ron asked.
“How does the name Forrest sound for our son?”
Ron asked, “As in Forrest Gump?”
“I was actually thinking more about the beautiful forest that we walked through,” Cassie said.
“How does Oak sound?”
“Like the one that saved us from the lightning and kept us warm?” Cassie said.
Ron sighed, “I always swore that if I had a son, I would want him to have a simple name, like Bill, Bob or like your dad’s name, Charlie. Our boy is going have to carry what we give him for the rest of his life.”
“Not necessarily, he could always change it when he’s old enough, “Cassie said. “If we were just thinking of names that went well with Greene and we came up with these two just to be cute, then I would be totally against it. Maybe it’s just my female intuition, but I feel that acknowledging what happened last night will be good karma for him and us.”
Ron agreed, “Far be it for me to dispute the value of good karma and female intuition.”
During his deployment to West Africa, Ron had several close calls with enemy combatants. On one particular mission, a terrorist came of the brush and fired point blank at his face. The weapon misfired and Ron returned fire and killed him. Sergeant Vince Lombardo commented, “Somebody is definitely looking out for you, Captain.”
Back at Camp Pendleton base housing, Cassie was sleeping and heard her son crying in the room next to hers. She looked at the clock on her nightstand and saw that it was 0600 hours, “It’s probably time to get up anyway,” she said, then thought to herself. Forrest was usually a very quiet baby and rarely cried in the early morning hours.
“What’s going on?” Cassie said to her agitated young son, who was lying in his crib, “Let’s go outside for a while…maybe the fresh air will make you feel better.”
Forrest smiled to signal his approval. Cassie dressed in her running clothes, put her son in his stroller and headed out for a little exercise. They exited through the front door and were almost down to the corner when Cassie looked up and saw a CH-53 helicopter flying overhead. Suddenly there was an explosion and black smoke poured out of the aircraft. The chopper lost power, spun out of control and crashed in the front yard of Ron and Cassie’s government quarters. The flight crew survived without sustaining any serious injuries, but one of the helicopter blades broke loose and somersaulted across the ground. It sliced through the stucco house like a knife through butter, and cut in half the bed that Cassie had been sleeping in minutes earlier.
Captain Greene was awarded the Navy Cross for his heroic actions in a brutal firefight with a group of well-armed terrorists. Several Marines were badly wounded and were being tended to by a Corpsman. A dozen enemy combatants were about to overrun their position when Ron grabbed an M-60, looped an ammo belt around his neck and charged into their midst. Spinning around like he was on a swivel, he killed nine terrorists with the machine gun in less than two seconds. Ron dropped the M-60 and killed the last three with his M18 striker-fired, semi-automatic, 9-mm pistol. Once again, good karma was on his side. Ron miraculously, wasn’t even wounded in the confrontation.
After his return to Camp Pendleton, Captain Greene was promoted to Major. From that point on, he was on the fast track to becoming a General. The Greene family moved several times over the years, with duty station at Camp Lejeune, Okinawa, 29 Palms and Quantico, Virginia. During that period, Ron also deployed five times to combat zones around the world.
By the time Forrest was seventeen years, he had grown to be a six-foot-five inch tall teenager. He weighed a solid 245 pounds, was quick, well-coordinated and a natural athlete. The nickname ‘Big Oak’, fit him well. While his father was stationed in Virginia, Forrest was attending Colonial Forge High School football team, where he was an all-state quarterback, an ace pitcher on its baseball team and a starting forward on the Panthers’ conference champion basketball team.
When Major General Greene received orders to assume command of the 1st Marine Division on Camp Pendleton, he sat down with Forrest “What do you want to do?”
Forrest answered without hesitation, “Sir, respectfully speaking, I would prefer to finish my last two years of high school here and honor my commitment to my school and teammates.”
Ron smiled, “I figured that would be your decision, but I just needed to know for sure. I’ve talked to Colonel A.J. McKenzie and he has a two-year duty assignment here. I’ve also talked to representatives at base housing about you staying behind. In order to comply with regulations, your mother and I will give the Colonel temporary custody to make most decisions on your behalf. On the bigger issues, he can always contact us at Pendleton. Colonel McKenzie will be authorized to move to larger quarters so you’ll have your own room. Is that acceptable?”
“Absolutely sir, I’ll show Colonel McKenzie the appropriate respect at all times. I’ll also make sure to express my gratitude to him and his wife, sir. Thanks to you and mom for allowing me to do this.”
“You’re welcome, son.”
Forrest finished his last two years and received numerous scholarship offers, but chose an appointment to the U.S. Naval Academy instead. His father picked up his third star and was now commander of the MEF (Marine Expeditionary Force). After graduation from the Academy, Forrest was commissioned a Second Lieutenant in the Marine Corps.
Lieutenant General Ron Greene’s next assignment was as assistant director of national intelligence and commander of the Joint Functional Component Command for Surveillance and Reconnaissance. During his tenure at the agency, Ron alienated numerous politicians and bureaucrats with his direct no nonsense approach to his duties. It is sometimes said that a general is just a politician in uniform, but that was not the case with General Greene. He was a Marine, first and foremost, who always made the welfare of his country and the men he commanded his top priorities.
While at a London intelligence conference, Wallace Halperon, a longtime, unscrupulous informant for the CIA saw General Greene conversing with several Russian intelligence officials. The less-than-ethical Halperon saw this as his opportunity to diminish the Marine Corps General’s reputation. He embellished what he saw to high ranking American authorities, “Greene and the Russians were really looking very friendly when I saw them together.” Halperon then got ex-agent Christopher Beale from MI-6, United Kingdom’s intelligence agency to falsify a dossier about General Greene to further discredit him.
Two FBI agents visited General Greene to question him about the London conference. They deliberately omitted the fact that he was under investigation and said they were there about another issue. Two weeks later, General Greene was officially relieved of his duties when the Department of Justice filed charges against him. He was accused of willfully and knowingly making false, fictitious and fraudulent statements to the FBI agents.
During this time frame, Captain Forrest Greene and his Marines were doing a joint operation with the Navy Seals in Kenya. The Intel that the special operatives received prior to the mission had been deliberately altered to endanger the American warriors. It misstated the location and numbers of the enemy combatants.
When the two helicopters dropped them off, it was in full sight of the enemy instead of behind the hill where they would have had cover. When they came under fire, Captain Forrest Greene radioed in, “Mission compromised! We’re moving to primary extraction point!”
While moving to the landing zone, two Seals and three Marines were wounded. When they reached the LZ, there were no medivac choppers for the wounded.
Captain Greene was outraged when he radioed in, “Where the hell are those choppers!”
The response was baffling, “Proceed to secondary extraction point.”
The Marines and Navy Seals took cover and prepared to engage the terrorists who had followed them. Master Chief Jason Murphy crawled over to Captain Greene’s position and grumbled, “Nobody can be this screwed up!”
The Marines and Seals repelled two attacks before making their way to the secondary LZ Captain Greene radioed, “Lima 3/1 this is Starburst, we’re at secondary extraction site.”
The response was even more baffling, “Assume defensive positions, night flight not authorized, extraction in the morning.”
“What the hell, we still have three hours of daylight.”
The response was curt, “Extraction in the morning.”
The Americans set up a defensive position. When enemy combatants breeched it, the Marines and Navy Seals were forced to engage in hand-to-hand combat. Captain Greene killed two terrorists who attempted to kill the wounded, who had been placed in the middle of the 360 degree perimeter.
Back in Washington, General Greene was paid a visit early the next morning. The man did not identify himself or which agency that he represented, “General, if you would admit to the charges, things would go a lot easier for all concerned.”
“Why would I do that, I’ve done nothing wrong.”
The man continued, “Your son is currently serving in Africa, you wouldn’t want your stubbornness to affect him in one way or another. Investigations have a tendency to roll downhill. Like they say, discretion is the better part of valor.”
It was a subtle threat, but a threat just the same.
Back in Africa, two helicopters landed at first light and the Marines and Navy Seals boarded and returned to base. Captain Greene and Jason Murphy were both angry and confused at how the mission was conducted. Their support team had never failed them before. After making sure that the wounded were cared, the two warriors headed for operational control for some answers, but they were intercepted by Lieutenant Amber Waverly, an intelligence analyst.
“What the hell happened, Lt?” Jason Murphy raged.
Amber endeavored to diffuse the situation, “I know you’re mad…well so am I.”
Forrest stayed focused, “What happened?”
“We had overwatch on the mission when we received a directive to stand down,” Amber said.
“Who told you that?” Jason asked.
“All I know is that it came from Central Command and where they got it, I don’t have a clue.” Amber shook her head in frustration.
Jason Murphy snapped back, “I’ll find out who’s behind this…I got two men wounded because some pencil-neck screwed up.”
Forrest held his comrade back, “Before you do anything crazy, Master Chief, let me make a call first.”
Amber turned to Forrest, “I’m glad that you and your men made it back. I wished I could have done more.”
Forrest reassured the female officer, “You’ve saved my ‘six’ enough times, I know you did your best…you always do. This isn’t on you.”
Forrest called his father to get his feedback and General Greene explained what was going on with him, then added, “This isn’t about you, it’s about sending me an unmistakable message on how high up the chain of command this goes and who they can get to.”
“How do you want me to handle this, sir?”
“ Not much you can’t do, they’re holding the high ground for the time being,” General Greene responded, “Stay safe, son.”
“You as well, sir,” Forrest responded, “Keep me posted.”
General Ron Greene pleaded guilty to the charges and resigned from the Marine Corps. Upon his return from deployment, Forrest also resigned his commission, despite his father’s strong objection. Forrest’s explanation made sense, “You don’t have a career like yours and not make some enemies, it comes with the territory. With you out of the Corps, I’ll be their next target. I can take the heat, but I won’t let my men become collateral damage in a battle that they have nothing do with…that would be irresponsible and reckless on my part.”
Two years passed, but Ron and Forrest never stopped trying to find out who was behind the insidious plan. Amber Waverly kept a low profile while continuing her career in the Marine Corps.
Having been promoted to Captain, Amber’s duties as an intelligence analyst expanded, which gave her more access to sensitive information. She had been secretly monitoring Wallace Halperon’s activities over the last eight months. She was having dinner at the Greene’s home in the Morro Hills area of Oceanside, “Halperon is going to be in Portofino, Italy next week to meet with some Ukrainian businessmen…one more thing, the President Boden’s son, Eric is going to be there too.”
Ron asked, “How did you get some Intel?”
Amber smiled mischievously, “Intelligence gathering is a matter of putting a lot of small pieces together until you’ve solved the puzzle,” then held up her passport. “I’ve checked the weather and it’s supposed be beautiful all week in the Mediterranean. I’ve got some leave on the books and I thought this would be as good a time as any to use it. Anybody care to join to me?”
While traveling from San Diego to Rome, Amber worked on her laptop, while Forrest leaned back in his seat, “You don’t have to do this?”
Amber smiled, “Do what exactly?”
Amber responded without looking up from her laptop, “I know that.”
“I know that I speak for my father when I say, we sincerely appreciate it.”
“Permission to speak freely?” Amber asked.
“Go for it?”
Amber said, “I respect your father and I like you, Forrest, but let’s be clear. I would not be doing anything to help if I thought you were in the wrong. This is more about our country’s welfare and security then it is about you and your father. Am I clear?”
“Am I clear?” Amber repeated for emphasis.
“Crystal,” Ron responded.
Just before landing in Italy, Amber explained, “Eric Boden has been in and out of drug rehab for the last twenty years. He’s been divorced twice and has two children from extramarital affairs. He also strong preferences for hard drugs and strong liquor. Most important of all, he has no impulse control and always places pleasure before business. He has no marketable skills and the only thing that he brings to the table is access to his father.”
“Sounds like a real stand-up guy,” Forrest commented, “What’s the plan?”
Amber smiled, “We’ll target his weaknesses, just like special ops targets a weakness in the enemy’s defenses.”
Eric Boden and Wallace Halperon had adjoining suites at Splendido Mare Hotel in Portofino, Italy. The two men were drinking in a lobby bar when Amber Waverly walked in. She looked absolutely stunning in a summer dress. Her golden skin was illuminating and her athletic and fit body accentuated her femininity. Eric Boden eyes were riveted on the beautiful woman from the moment she entered the room. He arrogantly walked over to her table and offered, “May I buy you a drink?”
Amber responded, “You may.”
Amber responded, “And I’m thirsty.”
“May I join you?” Eric asked.
“As long as you’re buying,” Amber said in her most flirtatious tone of voice.
Eric pulled out a wad of hundred dollars bills and set it on the table, “Is this enough?’
“For a start.”
“I don’t mind spending my money, but what are you offering in return?” Eric downed his double shot of whiskey.
“Besides witty conversation?” Amber replied.
“I’m a man of action…not words,” Eric boasted.
“I’m always open for some hands-on negotiations,” Amber said.
When Eric wasn’t looking, Amber dropped a few drops of a powerful and slow-acting knockout potion into his glass.
Forrest watched from a corner table and Amber nodded to him that things were proceeding as planned. When Eric Boden began slurring his words, Amber suggested, “Let’s take this party up to your room.”
Amber helped her drunken and drugged companion to his feet and they went upstairs to his suite on the restricted floor. Eric struggled to unlock his room and barely made it to the bed before passing out. Amber signaled to Forrest who had followed and was standing down the hall. He entered the room and closed the door behind him, “How long will he be out?”
Amber answered, “Long enough.”
While Amber began downloading the files off Eric’s laptop, while Forrest searched the room.
Amber said, “Got it…let’s move.” She was the first to exit the room as two Ukrainian security personnel came walking down the hall and saw her walking away. One of them called out, “Stop!” and pulled out his handgun.
Amber complied, turned around and walked back to them and responded, “Yes?”
The man asked, “Where is Eric Boden?”
“We were going to party, but his ambition exceeded his stamina. He’s passed out on his bed.”
The second man disagreed, “I know Eric very well. We have drank together many times and I have never seen him pass out.” The man grabbed Amber by the arm and pulled her back into the room. When they saw the way Eric was sprawled out on the bed, they knew that something was wrong.
What did you do to him?” The man demanded.
Forrest popped out from the closet and disarmed both men. When one of the men attempted to resist, Forrest slapped him on the side of the head with the butt of his pistol, “We need to tie them up.”
While the two men were lying face down on the floor, Amber tore strips from the bedroom sheets and secured their wrists behind their back and their ankles together and gagged them.
“You need to get out of here, first chance you get send a copy of that flash-drive to my father. We’ll meet back in California…now go!” Forrest ordered.
Amber was hesitant to leave, “What about you?”
“I’ll be fine,” Forrest promised, “I’ve trained in evade and escape techniques.
Whatever it was, Amber felt the uncontrollable urge to kiss Forrest. As they left the room, three more men came walking toward them. Amber went in the opposite direction and Forrest walked directly toward the trio. The men sensed something was wrong and attempted to grab Forrest when he passed them. He punched, kicked and eventually rendered them unable to fight. On the way down the stairwell, Forrest threw one man over the railing and punched another senseless.
In the lobby, he engaged in hand-to-hand fighting with two more bodyguards before running into the kitchen. When one man followed, Forrest was waiting and hit him the face with a frying pan. In the chaos, Amber escaped through the front entrance, hailed a cab and disappeared. She left Rome that night. Forrest drove to Milan and left three days later.
When General Greene received the flash drive, he carefully reviewed its contents. It was loaded with incriminating evidence about the President, his family and business associates. He didn’t have a lot of confidence that the FBI, State Department or the Department of Justice would be able to carry out an impartial investigation considering their politicization. General Greene made a list of the men and women that he had worked with over the course of his illustrious career. These individuals were stone cold patriots who would always place the welfare of the country above their personal agenda and sent each one of them a copy of the flash drive.
Later, when confronted by the evidence in a closed-door meeting at the White House, President Boden decided to resign rather than subject himself to a lengthy investigation where he would be required to answer a lot of embarrassing questions.
Several months later, Wallace Halperon was sitting alone in a sidewalk café in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Ron and Forrest sat down at his table and he asked “Do I know you?”
Ron smiled, “Has it been that long? Look closer, it might come to you”
Suddenly Halperon’s face turned ashen white, “General Greene! For the record, it was nothing personal. You have a lot of enemies and they pay very well. A guy’s has to make a living.”
Forrest interjected, “That’s what we thought…just business. If you didn’t do it, somebody else would have.”
Wallace Halperon agreed, “Exactly!”
“That’s why you’ll appreciate what happens next,” General Greene said.
A group of local law enforcement personnel surrounded the table. Ron informed the rogue political operative, “The Thai government gets very upset when someone sells weapons and explosives to the Barisan Revolusi Nasional separatist group. Don’t worry, the Chief of National Security is a good friend of mine and he has promised to give you special treatment,” The police took Halperon away.
Two weeks later, Forrest and Amber were driving up Highway One. “Where are we going?”
“Patience, we’re almost there.” Forrest said.
They parked, walked down the path through the emerald forest, then stopped at the giant white oak tree, “This is the first time that I’ve taken someone here. This place has special significance to my family and me. This is where I was born. Why don’t we sit down and I’ll tell you how I came to be known as Forrest Oak.”
Amber was deeply touched by the gesture and was caught up in the ambiance of the surroundings, “Thank you for bringing me here, I’ve loved to hear all about it and don’t leave a single detail out,” and passionately embraced Forrest.
The couple sat in the same place that Ron and Cassie Greene had set their blanket over a quarter of a century ago. The time and the weather were identical to that fateful day. Forrest put his arm around Amber and they leaned against the massive trunk of the special tree and looked out over the horizon. The Forest Green was a short distance away, the Amber Waves of sunlight were all around them and the Big Oak was right behind them. A different couple, a different time, but everything else was exactly the same, including the undeniable chemistry between the two occupants. There was one significant difference, however. Instead of a powerful lightning strike, Forrest and Amber willingly settled for a spectacular 4th of July fireworks show, that lit up the sky after darkness fell.
– This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, business, events and incidents are the products of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.