The Dazzling Devons
Thomas Calabrese –Steve Curtis and Mike Densmore were best friends and first cousins, born within three months of each other in the year 1999. They grew up on East Toulomne Road in Turlock, California and attended Crowell Elementary School, located on North Avenue. Their mothers, Chris and Dina Del Monaco were twin sisters and married firefighters Greg Curtis and Bryan Densmore after meeting them at a Fourth of July celebration.
Steve and Mike were both the second child of three children families. To everybody in Turlock, the Curtis and Densmore families seemed like just one big extended clan, celebrating holidays and birthdays together on a regular basis. The children were in and out of each other’s houses so often that Chris and Dina always checked to see who was around before setting out the plates for a meal. The sisters communicated on a daily basis and their husbands both worked the same shift at the firehouse.
To see the lives of the Curtis and Densmore families so intertwined was both extremely rare and heartwarming. Nobody made an effort to stay close, it was just the way it was and nobody questioned it. Steve’s older sister, Juliet, went to nursing school and got a job at Emanuel Medical Center. Mike’s older brother, Zachary, worked at Spycher Brothers, a leading independent California almond handler. He started working there during the summer months when he was a high school student and was now a warehouse supervisor.
It was expected that everybody in the Curtis and Densmore families would work and stay in the fertile San Joaquin Valley. After graduating from Turlock High School, Steve and Mike attended Modesto Junior College for one year before making a decision that would totally surprise both their families. They had visited the Marine Corps recruiting station on Countryside Drive and discussed their options with Staff Sergeant Douglas Higgins, who explained, “The Marine Corps has a buddy program. You could join together and go through recruit training. After that, you’ll probably be separated, depending on your occupational designation.”
“What if we both volunteered for the infantry?” Steve inquired.
Staff Sergeant Higgins answered, “You might go a little further in training together, but eventually the Corps will put you where they need you. That is the nature of military service.”
Mike thought about another option, “What about special units…like Force Reconnaissance?”
“I see that you’ve done some research. I’m not going to make promises that I can’t keep or tell you something untrue just to get you to sign up. The more elite the unit, the smaller it’s going to be and the harder it is to get into. If you are good enough, then I guess there’s a slim chance you could end up together. You could also win the lottery or meet the girl of your dreams. Anything is possible, I guess it comes down to this. Are you good enough to qualify for one of these special units and do you feel that you’d be lucky enough to get into the same one?”
Steve and Mike would be the first in two generations to leave the San Joaquin Valley and the first in three generations to join the military. A distant uncle, Howard Hermann, moved to Alameda in the Bay Area to become manager of South Shore Beach and Tennis Club. That was such a big deal that the family had a going away party for him, even though it was only 96 miles away.
When they brought the subject up of joining the Marines at a Sunday barbecue, their fathers were more receptive to listening, since they were both first responders and knew the value of public service. Their mothers saw the danger in serving in the military and their first instinct was to discourage their sons.
Dina pleaded, “What is the great attraction in leaving your family…tell me that.”
Chris echoed her sister’s sentiments, “If you want to take a trip somewhere, we’ll help you pay for it.”
Steve replied thoughtfully, “Some people grow up knowing exactly what they want to do and where they want to live for the rest of their lives.”
Mike continued, “And some don’t…Steve and I don’t feel that Turlock is all there is for us. We want to serve our country too.”
“You always said that anything worth having…is worth working or fighting for,” Steve said. “Did you mean it?”
“You did the talk and now we want to do the walk,” Mike smiled.
Greg looked at his son with great pride, “He’s right…we can’t ask our children to listen to us, and then when they do, we tell ‘em that doing the right thing and following their heart is not for them.”
It took a while, but eventually Chris and Dina accepted the reality of the situation. The boys went with their parents to the recruiting office and they asked a long list of questions. Staff Sergeant Higgins answered every one of them with the same honesty that he told Steve and Mike during their first visit.
It was October 8th and the two boys decided to leave on January 8th, so they could spend Christmas and New Year’s with their families and use the next three months getting into the best physical condition of their lives. They arrived at Marine Corps Recruit Depot and began their enlistment. Thirteen weeks later they went to Camp Pendleton.
Everything in the military goes in cycles. There are build-ups and draw-downs. Sometimes they need more of one military occupational specialty than another and tomorrow it could be the reverse. So, depending upon the current needs of the Corps, there are occasional opportunities to “pipeline” directly from entry-level training into the Reconnaissance community and that usually happens at SOI (School of Infantry) or MCT (Marine Combat Training).
Steve and Mike requested to go through indoctrination at their first opportunity. They knew what to expect and were prepared for the challenge. They were required to run 3 miles in less than eighteen minutes, which they did. They crossed the finish line in 17:30, did 30-pull-ups and completed 100 sit-ups in under two minutes. They hiked at double-time over a ten-mile course with a 90-pound ruck sack and swam one lap in an Olympic sized pool while holding a brick over their heads.
No matter how difficult indoctrination was, it was still considered the easy part. Next up was 65 grueling days that averaged 16 hours of intense training where the attrition rate was 75%. Steve and Mike had never experienced the type of total fatigue they felt during the 12-week course, not even close. There was not even one part of their bodies that didn’t ache. Their hair was even sore and it was only an eighth of an inch long. If they were doing it alone, they might have dropped out. Instead when one started to falter, the other was there with an encouraging word and their survival motto became, ‘one more step…one more hour…one more day.’
After finishing the course, Lance Corporals Curtis and Densmore were assigned to Bravo Company, First Reconnaissance Battalion at Camp Pendleton. It was now time to take some well-deserved leave. While visiting their families in Turlock, the two Marines decided to stop in and see Staff Sergeant Higgins at the recruiting office. He offered his congratulations, “Good job, Marines.”
Mike replied, “Thank you, Staff Sergeant.”
Steve added, “Thanks.”
“Where did they assign you?” Staff Sergeant Higgins inquired.
Mike replied, “3rd Platoon, Bravo Company, 1st Recon Battalion.”
“Well, you wanted to stay together…just be careful what you wish for,” Staff Sergeant Higgins advised.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Mike asked.
Staff Sergeant Higgins reminded the two boys, “All I’m saying is don’t let your friendship affect you being good Marines.”
After their leave expired, Steve and Mike returned to Camp Pendleton. Three weeks later, Bravo Company left for the Middle East on a routine deployment. Three months into their tour, Steve and Mike were promoted to corporal.
The mission orders came directly from the Pentagon and Mike and Steve’s platoon was assigned to carry it out. It was simple; bring American Doctor Monica Barkley home before rebels attacked the hospital, orphanage and animal sanctuary that she operated with a group of volunteers in an area outside Beirut, Lebanon.
Seasoned combat, Gunnery Sergeant Dave Madison, was assigned to lead the elite team. We’re going in quick, avoid contact if possible, but if we can’t, then we’ll terminate any adversaries. No prisoners, no delays. Get Doctor Barkley, and get out…any questions?”
No one had any questions.
The two helicopters took off from the deck of the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Harry Truman and landed two clicks (one click equals 1000 meters) from the compound and the Marines proceeded to double-time to their destination. Steve took point and Mike was ten paces behind him. Off in the distance on the right flank, a pack of dogs walked parallel to them. Steve gestured in that direction.
Mike responded, “I see them.”
One of the dogs left the others and ran toward the Marines, then held his position while pointing west. Steve pulled out his binoculars and scanned the terrain. When he saw a slight movement, he passed the word, “Tell Gunny, I got something.”
Madison moved to the front of the column, “What do you have?”
“Behind that group of boulders,” Steve responded.
Madison looked through his binoculars, “I don’t see anything…are you sure?”
“How did you even notice something that far away?” Madison inquired.
Steve pointed to the black dog lying quietly on the ground, “He gave me a heads up.”
Madison thought for a few seconds, “We don’t have time to detour around them, and if they’re following, they’ll engage us before or at the compound.”
Mike suggested, “If you take your time moving down the trail, it will give Steve and me enough time to get to the ridge and come up behind them.”
Madison estimated the distance, “You’re looking at a couple of miles.”
“At least,” Steve smiled.
“Leave any extra gear…only take your weapons and ammunition. We’ll carry the rest for you. You need anybody else?”
Mike gestured to the dog on the ground and the others waiting on the ridge, “We got them.”
“Radio when you’re in position, we’ll give you a ten-minute head start.”
Mike joked, “Feet don’t fail me now.”
Both Marines dropped their excess gear and ran up the ridge with the black dog by their side. When they got to the top, they ran with the pack until they were looking down at the ambush site.
Steve caught his breath and sighed, “We’re going to need a distraction.”
“Too much open space to cover without being noticed,” Mike agreed.
Without being told what to do, the pack of dogs raced down the slope, barking the whole way. This gave the two Marines just what they needed.
Madison and the rest of the Marines came slowly walking up the trail, pretending to be unaware of the ambush. As the rebels prepared to fire on them, Steve and Mike came up from behind and shot them dead.
Mike radioed, “Clear.”
When the Marines reached the compound, Doctor Monica Barkley came out to meet them, “Welcome, I see that my dogs found you.” The pack of dogs circled the raven haired attractive American doctor and she bent down to pet each one. “We can definitely use the reinforcements.”
Gunny Madison was confused, “We’re not here to reinforce you, we were sent to get you out.”
Doctor Barkley called out, “Jim! I need you!”
A weather-beaten man in his late-forties came walking out of one of the buildings. He was followed by two German shepherd dogs. Doctor Barkley introduced him, “This is Lt. Colonel James Braddock, retired U.S. Army Ranger. He’s in charge of our security.”
“How are you doing, Marines?” Lt. Colonel Braddock said softly.
“Good sir, we’re here to extract Doctor Barkley,” Gunny Madison said.
“My husband was a veterinarian and he died protecting this place. I suppose that you’re not here for the rest of the people and animals, are you?”
“Just you, ma’am,” Madison responded, ‘That’s all our orders authorized us to do.”
Doctor Barkley shook her head in frustration, “Sorry that you had to make a wasted trip, but when I requested help, it was for reinforcements, not a rescue.” She then added, “Thanks, but no thanks.”
Madison looked at Braddock and appealed to him, “You are former military, you know how things work. We can’t save everybody. That’s the first thing you learn in this business. What the hell are you doing out here anyway. It’s a damn war zone!”
“I know exactly how it is. I work for the doctor and if she wants to stay then she stays, and I stay with her,” Braddock answered, “As for being out here, we had truces with the previous warlords. Samir Gemayel is the new gun in town. He’s unified several warring factions and nullified the truce. He sent word that unless we leave within 72 hours that he’s going to kill everybody including the children and the animals and burn the place to the ground.”
Madison suggested, “Sounds like a hell of an incentive to pack up and put this place in your rear- view mirror.”
Doctor Barkley added, “When we got his demands, I contacted Central Command for assistance. I made it clear that we weren’t leaving.”
“If you stay, you’ll probably be killed.” Madison warned.
Lt. Colonel Braddock said, “Definitely a possibility. We both know that there’s worse things than dying. This place has been here a lot of years. If Samir wants it, he’s going to have to pay with blood. I aim to take a lot of it before I go down.”
Steve and Mike looked around the well-constructed compound with the small hospital, a building for homeless children and several dozen kennels for animals. “Looks like they do some good work here,” Mike surmised.
“I can see why they wouldn’t want to leave it behind,” Steve added.
Gunny Madison walked off to the side and radioed back for further instructions. When he came back, he had one final offer, “Last chance, Doctor. My orders remain the same, I leave with or without you.”
Braddock turned to the doctor, “I’ll defend the place, there’s no reason for you to stay.”
“Thanks Jim, but I’m not leaving.”
Madison turned to his men, “Move out!” When he looked back, he saw that Curtis and Densmore were sitting down. “What’s with you guys?”
Mike answered, “I sprained my ankle running here. I can’t walk, I’d better stay.”
“What about you, Curtis, you got a sprained ankle too?”
Steve responded, “It’s my knee, can’t put any weight on it.”
“Knock it off! If you two guys want to play hero, then do it when somebody else is in charge!” Madison growled.
“Sorry Gunny, we hate to put you in this position,” Mike said.
Madison retorted, “You ain’t doing nothing to me. I’m giving you a direct order to move out.”
“We’re staying,” Steve replied defiantly.
“I’m going to have to write you up, you know that?” Madison said.
Mike said, “Yeah, we know.”
Madison yelled at his men, “Move out, I’ll catch up!” After the Marines were out of earshot, “Off the record, I’d like to stay too.” He turned to Braddock, “Take care of my men, Colonel.”
When Gunny Madison and the rest of the platoon were gone, Braddock turned to Steve and Mike. “Your Gunny was right; it was a big mistake to disobey orders.”
Steve replied, “If we live through this, then they can court martial us.”
Mike interjected, “You got a plan on how to defend this place, or are we just going to wing it?”
“I’ve got five men and quite a bit of firepower,” Braddock said.
Lt. Colonel Braddock had an Anzio 20mm anti-material rifle mounted on the back of a ¾ ton Toyota pick-up. He also had an armory of various weapons, including four Barrett .50 caliber sniper rifles. The three men left the compound after dark and used night vision goggles to navigate through the pitch blackness. When they located Samir Gemayel’s camp, the three men got in position where they had a clear field of fire. Steve and Mike took the 50’s, while Braddock manned the 20mm. They were over a mile away and after calculating wind speed, humidity, distance, altitude and spindrift, Braddock quipped, “The best defense is a deadly offense.”
The three men opened fire and destroyed 26 vehicles, seven diesel powered generators and killed 18 men before escaping back to the compound. Gemayel regrouped and attacked the compound, not knowing who he was up against. His men walked into a buzzsaw of annihilation.
After three days of failed assaults against the fortified compound, the power-hungry leader was a beaten man. His group of radical followers were depleted to the level of total ineffectiveness. Braddock took this victory as a golden opportunity to re-negotiate a truce with the other warlords. He left them with the stern warning, “Leave us alone to do our work…or else.” He did not need to finish his statement; the warlords got his point loud and clear.
Gemayel was later assassinated by his rivals and the area returned to a sense of tense calmness. Braddock thanked the Marines, couldn’t have done it without you.”
Steve answered, “I think you would have done alright.”
Doctor Barkley interjected, “Jim told me you’re going to get into trouble for helping us… is that true?”
“The main thing is that you, the children and the animals are safe,” Steve answered.
Doctor Barkley vowed, “We won’t forget what you did.”
“We did what any other Marine would have done,” Mike said.
“I’ll give you a ride into town and help you get back to your unit,” Braddock said.
“Can some of the dogs come with us?” Steve asked.
Braddock and Doctor Barkley sat in front, while Steve and Mike rode in the back of the pick-up with the same dogs that saved them earlier.
Their unit was definitely not pleased by their actions, despite the results they produced. They were both placed under arrest and sent back to Camp Pendleton to face a court martial.
While traveling under guard and shackled, Steve turned to Mike, “I guess the next question is, whether we end up in the Miramar Brig or Leavenworth.”
Mike answered, “Like Staff Sergeant Higgins told us, “Be careful what you wish for…you just might get it.”
When the plane landed at North Island, the two Marines were unshackled and placed inside a large Marathon custom motorhome. Steve asked the Captain in charge, “Is this the Corps’ new way of transporting prisoners?”
The Military Police Officer responded, “Make yourselves comfortable. It’s going to be a long trip. Don’t talk to the drivers.”
The motorhome drove north on Interstate Five. Steve looked out the window as they passed by the Harbor Drive exit, “It doesn’t look like they’re taking us to Pendleton.”
Both Marines accepted the fact that they had no idea where they were going. Steve pulled two beers from the stocked refrigerator and handed one to Mike. He placed an assortment of snacks on the table and both men sat down in overstuffed recliners. Mike picked up the remote control and turned on the flat screen television. The program playing was Gunsmoke. “This is like the last meal that they give a condemned man before his execution.”
“Maybe we messed up worse than we thought,” Steve said, and both men clicked their bottles together.”
The RV pulled into a small town and Steve looked out the window and saw a sign, “Do we have a military prison in Summerland?”
Mike said, “Maybe they’re sending us to a darksite.”
The RV drove up a long winding road and stopped in front of a palatial mansion. The driver turned around, “You’re at your destination. Please exit carefully.”
Both Marines stepped out and looked at the 50,000 square foot mansion in awe. Steve stammered, “What kind of brig is this?”
The dogs from Lebanon came rushing out, followed by Doctor Barkley, Lt. Colonel Braddock, another young woman and an elderly lady.
The elderly lady introduced herself, “I’m Devon DeHavilland. This is my granddaughter, Devon and I believe you already know my other granddaughter, Monica…and Jim.”
Steve and Mike were even more confused than ever. The elderly lady suggested, “Come inside and we’ll explain everything to you.”
The group sat in the large living room, and young Devon asked, “Can I get you anything?”
Steve answered, “This is the first time I’ve ever said this, but we ate and drank in the RV.”
The elderly lady explained, “My grandfather and his brothers came here in the 1890’s and built the Summerland Oil Field. The first offshore oil well was drilled into the sea floor, not more than a mile from where this house sets. Production on the beach and offshore continued into the 1930’s. They became very wealthy and invested in the movie industry. When I was old enough, I went to Hollywood to become an actress. Since my uncles were studio executives, it was a lot easier for me to get roles. I was on location in Lebanon doing a biblical movie when I got deathly ill from a parasite infection. A doctor at an orphanage saved my life. My family swore to help support the orphanage. We’ve been doing it ever since.”
Mike guessed, “And the orphanage and animal sanctuary is the same one we were at?”
“Exactly,” Monica answered, “It is part of my family history, so you can see why I wouldn’t want to leave it. Even after I graduated from medical school that has been the only place I’ve ever worked.”
Young Devon added, “I operate the foundation and we rotate the staff. Six months there and six months here in Summerland. We have an animal sanctuary and clinic here too.”
“That explains part of it. What confuses me is why we are here and not in the brig,” Steve said.
“That’s where I come in,” Jim said, “I work for the CIA. In return for providing security for the foundation, they allow us to use the compound as our base to monitor activity in the region. It is of vital importance to national security. I wasn’t allowed to tell you before, and I had to get permission from the Director to tell you now. When you volunteered to stay, there was no way I was going to let you be punished for it. The President was prepared to step in… if need be.”
Young Devon offered, “There will be a job waiting for you when you decide to leave the Marines. If you want it.”
Steve and Mike finished their enlistment and accepted the offer to work for the foundation. Their schedule was six months in Lebanon, working with Jim and the CIA. The other half of the year was at the animal sanctuary in Summerland.
The former Marines were given side by side cottages on the beach to live in and were treated like family. Things had worked out so well for the two lifelong friends, that they called the turn of events, Miracle at Summerland, and affectionately nicknamed the matriarch of the DeHavilland clan and her equally proficient and beautiful CEO granddaughter, The Dazzling Devons.