Because Others Have Fallen
Thomas Calabrese –Joe Silvera’s great-grandfather on his mother’s side was a Navaho Code Talker. These Native Americans used their language to create an unbreakable code enabling American military forces to communicate freely in the war against the Japanese in the Pacific theater. His great-grandfather on his father’s side was killed during the invasion of Normandy on June 6, 1944. His engineer battalion was assigned to land on Omaha Beach, where the highest casualties occurred. 2,000 U.S. troops were killed, wounded or went missing on that fateful day.
Over the decades that followed, various members of the extended Silvera family served in the military. The list included the Korea War, Vietnam War, Desert Storm, the Second Gulf War, Iraq and Afghanistan. Joe’s father, Frank met his mother Maria Yazzie, when he was an avionics technician at the Marine Corps Air Station in Yuma, Arizona. After getting out of the Marines, Frank and Maria moved to Vista, California. Maria used the reciprocal agreement between the Navaho Nation and the Pala Tribe to get a job at the Pala Casino & Resort in Pala, California and Frank applied for the electrician apprentice program and was accepted. During the five years that Frank was training to be a journeyman electrician, the couple saved as much money as they could to buy a house. Maria was promoted twice and soon became a supervisor in hospitality.
When Frank became a journeyman electrician, he and Maria took their life savings and put a down payment on a four -bedroom home before the first phase of construction began in a new sub-development on Osborne Drive on the border between Oceanside and Vista. Frank and Maria chose the lot and floorplan that had almost everything on their list. It was at the end of a cul de sac on top of a hill. It had a large yard with a panoramic view of the San Luis Rey Valley. The front of house faced east and the back faced west, which meant they would have good cross ventilation. Two of the bedrooms were a little small, but that was really the only drawback. During the framing part of the construction, Frank worked out an agreement with the builder to allow him to upgrade the electrical, plumbing and the carpentry with the stipulation that he furnish the material and performed the labor. By the time the house was completed, Frank had made sure that no corners were cut. He contacted several friends and they did the entire landscaping, including installing a 20-foot high flagpole in the front yard. One of Frank’s habits was to raise the American flag on his way to work in the mornings and take it down after sunset. If he was on a construction job where he was going to be gone overnight or longer, his wife would take over the duty.
Frank and Maria’s first child was a girl that they named Elena. She was quiet and content to spend most of her time reading or doing things by herself. Their second child, Tony, was impetuous, rambunctious and had a tough time accepting authority and enjoyed pushing the boundaries that his parents set for him. Their third child was another boy they named Joseph. He had some of the traits of his older sister in that he was could be quiet and pensive at times and didn’t mind being alone. Then there were times when he was playful and mischievous. As time passed Frank Silvera became a superintendent with his electrical contractor company. When his income increased, he began investing in real estate and before long he owned four houses in his neighborhood that he rented out. With the help of his sons, they upgraded them and did the routine maintenance. To give his daughter more privacy, Frank built a granny flat in the spacious backyard for her.
As the Silvera boys grew older, their friends nicknamed them the fire and ice brothers because of their different personalities. Tony used slights or innocent comments to motivate himself, it didn’t matter how big, small, relevant or inconsequential they might be, it required his emotional response. When they did not exist, Tony created one in his mind. Joe did not need to psych himself up to perform at his best. He approached each challenge with a coolness and confidence that was rare for anyone, especially someone of his age.
There was this one time when Tony came home, outraged, ranting and raving about an incident that occurred at Vista High school, “I don’t know what the hell he thinks he’s doing!”
Frank told his oldest son, “Take a breath and tell me what happened.”
“Mr. Calvert excluded me from the field trip to the movie studio in Hollywood!” Tony bellowed.
“Why would he do that?” Frank said.
“Because he doesn’t like me!” Tony bellowed.
“If it’s personal then I would like to know. Joe, we’re going to the school, you’ll need to see this too.”
When they arrived at Vista High School, Frank told Tony, “I’ll handle this…you keep your mouth shut, understand?”
Tony didn’t respond.
“I said, do you understand me? That question requires a response.” Frank said sternly.
“Yes sir, I understand,” Tony answered meekly.
Mr. Calvert was in his office and sitting at his desk when Frank knocked on the open door, “Excuse me, sir, I was wondering if I could trouble you for a few minutes of your time?”
“Who are you?” Mr. Calvert asked.
“Frank Silvera, I’m Tony’s father.”
“Of course, please come in.”
Frank motioned to Tony and Joe and they stepped into view. “Tony told me about this field trip and he thought that there might have been an error in the selection process.”
“There was no mistake.”
Frank asked, “How did you select which students to go?”
“Or why wasn’t Tony one of them?” Mr. Calvert retorted.
“Either answer is fine.”
“I have a cousin who is a studio executive at Disney. Once a year, he allows me to bring some of my students up there for a personal tour. We agreed that 10 was a reasonable number. So each year, I’ll tell my homeroom class about this opportunity. I also inform them that my decision will be based strictly on first semester grades. Tony wasn’t even close. My class has 23 students and Tony was number eighteen,” Mr. Calvert handed Frank a notebook, who looked at it.”
After looking at the documentation, Frank smiled, “This answers my question,” Frank turned to his son, “Do you have anything you want to ask?”
“No sir,” Tony murmured.
As they were driving home, Frank asked his son, “What do you think…learn anything?”
Tony hesitated for several moments then responded, “It’s easier to blame somebody else rather than myself.”
Frank rubbed his hand through his son’s hair and said, “That’s my boy! That’s the answer that I was looking for. If you learned just that one thing from missing this field trip then it was well worth it!” Frank looked back at Joe who was sitting in the backseat and Joe smiled, “I already knew that, Dad. It was Tony you needed to convince.”
The two brothers started playfully punching each other. When they got home, there was a letter from the Homeowners Board of Directors. He was ordered to remove the flagpole and stop flying the American flag. Frank was given seven days to comply or face legal action.
Maria asked her husband, “So what you going to do?”
“What do you think I should I should do?”
“Some battles are worth fighting and this is definitely one of them. We’ve been in this house almost 20 years and now the flag bothers the new board, I got your back,” Maria said.
“I belong to several veterans’ organization. I’ll give them a call and see what advice they have to offer. I’ll stop by the Veterans Center on Mission Avenue tomorrow and see if anybody else has had a similar situation.”
When Frank brought the issue up to Elena, Tony and Joe, all agreed that fighting the removal of the flagpole and flag was the right thing to do. Frank had a meeting with a lawyer and he sent a letter to the Homeowners Association requesting a grievance hearing. It was scheduled for later in the month. There was a teachers’ meeting and the students at Vista High School were given a half day off. When Joe and Tony got home, there were four men in their front yard, getting reading to take down the flagpole.
A big man with a sledgehammer was getting ready to bust the concrete around the base of the pole. Tony called out, “What are you doing?”
The man replied, “Taking down the pole, what does it look like we’re doing?”
“You can’t do that, my dad has a meeting with the Homeowners Board in a couple weeks to discuss that issue,” Joe said.
“We’re on the board and he’s going lose. We’re just getting a head start taking it down, The man snickered.”
“Every day that this flag is flying, it offends people,” A second man interjected.
“That is their problem,” Tony replied and added, “You’re not taking down that flag.
“You going to stop us, boy!” The man menacingly waved the sledge hammer back and forth.
Tony turned to his brother Joe, “What do you think?”
Joe responded without hesitation, “This is our home, our flagpole and our country. Nobody disrespects them without a fight.”
Tony was only 17 years- old, but he was solid muscle. Joe was two years younger and while he was more slender and what he lacked in brute strength, he made up for in quickness. The big man swung the sledge hammer at Tony, who ducked out of the way. Joe picked a large clay flower pot and threw it at the man. It hit him in the chest and knocked him off his feet. Fists began flying and by the time Frank and Maria got home, the street was lined with San Diego Sheriff’s vehicles. Paramedics were treating the four trespassers for their injuries. Once Frank found out that his sons weren’t injured, he told them how proud he was of them, but had to use all his self-control not to go after the four men.
Frank contacted the lawyer who was representing him against the homeowners’ association, who advised him to sue the four trespassers and the homeowners association for civil damages. If he sued the association, they would just raise the monthly dues on his neighbors to cover the losses. Frank discussed what he wanted to do with his sons and they agreed on a plan that was the best option. If the four men put up their houses for sale and moved out of the neighborhood and gave 25,000 dollars to a charity of their choice, the Silvera family would not press criminal charges and ask for civil compensation. The four men discussed the offer with their attorneys and were told they could end up in prison and lose their homes in the process. They reluctantly accepted the deal. The Homeowners’ Association was also required to add to its regulations that the American flag could be flown in front of residences.
Elena was almost done with her first two years of college at Mira Costa and decided to enter the Air Force nursing program. In return for a six-year commitment, the military would pay for the rest of her education and medical training.
“This is a major commitment,” Maria cautioned her daughter.
“I know, I look at it as a win win situation. I get my education paid for and the country gets me for 6 years. When I get out, I can get a job in a hospital. They might even pay for me to become a physician’s assistant,” Elena said, “So what do you think?”
“Speaking from my perspective, I don’t want you to go, but if I had to be objective and that’s pretty tough for a father to be when he’s talking about his only daughter. I have complete confidence in you and if this is what you want, you have my full support.” Frank swallowed his emotions as he struggled to get the words out.
Elena lovingly embraced her mother and father. Tony and Joe had one year to play together on the Vista High football team. Tony was a senior and an all-state linebacker who roamed from sideline to sideline and his motor was always running in overdrive. Joe had grown to six foot three inches tall and weighed 210 pounds. He had a powerful left throwing arm and was the team’s starting quarterback as a sophomore. Joe could fire the ball with amazing accuracy between defenders and into the smallest of spaces so that only his receiver had a chance of catching it. He had the rare combination of strength and touch and it didn’t matter whether he was firing the ball far downfield in a tight spiral to a sprinting teammate or gently lobbing the pigskin over the heads of rushing lineman into the waiting hands of a running back on a screen pass. Joe had the speed and elusiveness to extend the play and throw the ball on the run when his pass protection broke down. These were the physical tools that he possessed, but what set Joe Silvera apart was his mindset. He could make split second decisions and nothing panicked him and was at his best at the most crucial times. College scouts from the around the country were already looking at him when he was a freshman. His coach Greg Whittington said this about his signal caller, “Joe plays at a different speed than other players, both mentally and physically. He challenges his teammates to match his work ethic and this makes everyone a better player. A coach is lucky if he gets one player in his career like Joe Silvera.”
Joe was half Hispanic and half Native American, but with his brown wavy hair, high cheekbones, chiseled features, bright smile and dark smoldering eyes, he could easily pass for being Greek, Italian or Spanish. Despite the numerous accolades he received for his athletic accomplishments, Joe remained humble and unassuming, but there was little that he could do to hide his natural charisma.
After graduating from high school, his brother Tony received a scholarship to San Diego State. He played with such intensity at this next level of competition that he sustained three concussions and a neck injury during his first year on the team. When medical professionals told him to give up the game or risk permanent paralysis, Tony reluctantly took their advice. Having lost interest in attending school without football, he enlisted in the Army with the intent of becoming a paratrooper and a Ranger.
Joe made high school All-American, his junior and senior year and could have gone to any school in the country with a big-time football program. He chose instead to attend the United States Naval Academy. He made All-American during his sophomore, junior and senior year. During his last season at the Academy, Joe led the midshipmen to the National Championship Game and was named the most valuable player in their victory over Alabama in the Sugar Bowl. This was the first time that the Naval Academy won the National Championship since 1926. In the closest vote in over 50 years, Joe was runner-up to Herbert Walker a running back from Michigan who had 4124 all-purpose yards from scrimmage and 26 touchdowns.
After receiving his commission, Joe applied for the Navy Seals and after making it through training, he was assigned to Seal Team Seven.
At this particular time, all three children of Frank and Maria Silvera were serving in the United States military; Elena was in the Air Force and stationed in Italy, Tony was in the Army and at Fort Bragg and Joe had just arrived in Afghanistan. Frank placed an Air Force flag beneath the American flag, an Army flag beneath it and a Navy flag at the bottom. He flew all four flags proudly every day.
Despite the drawdown in Afghanistan, the United States decided to keep four bases to conduct operations against the Taliban. One of the locations was called Fire Support Base Tango and it was guarded by a detachment of Marines. The base needed some security upgrades and while construction was in progress, a Taliban suicide bomber disguised as an Afghan soldier breeched security. He shot ten Marines then detonated his explosive vest and killed 15 more Americans and 12 Afghans. When Joe and his team arrived at the base, soldiers from Delta Force were already there.
Marine Corps General Louis Woods informed the special operatives, “I need you to stand down. We’re waiting to hear from the Pentagon on how the President wants to handle this.”
Joe and his team were billeted at the other end of the base as recovery teams and Intel specialists sifted through the debris for bodies and clues.
Back at the White House, Admiral Stanley McKittrick briefed the President, “We know who was behind the attack. They are hiding in the Hindu Kush Mountains in Pakistan. They are not going to give us permission to conduct a mission inside their borders. Even if we ask, somebody in their government will warn the Taliban about our plans.”
The President growled, “We’re not going to ask and we’re not going to tell them. I’ll take the heat from Pakistan, just make sure that our Intel is correct. Bring the vengeful wrath of America down on their heads!”
The mission immediately went into the planning stages. The Navy Seals and Delta Force were given their assignments and began preparing for the mission. They were waiting for the helicopters to arrive and sitting in the same hangar as the 25 flag draped coffins of the Marines. Recordings of the Star Spangled Banner and the Marine Corps Hymn played on a continuous loop. A transport plane landed to take the dead Marines back to Dover, Delaware, to be processed for release to their families. The special operatives stood at attention in full combat gear and watched each coffin pass by. Joe heard a Delta Force operative say, “We stand because others have fallen.”
This moment in time and those words would forever be etched into the memory of Joe Silvera. Two dozen Air Force jets with their bunker busting bombs came in low from the east over the mountain tops and carpet bombed the western ridge. The concussion impact of the bombs rattled the infrastructure of the cave complex and forced the Taliban to move through the tunnels into the canyon where the Navy Seals and Delta Force were waiting for them. It wasn’t much of a battle as the highly skilled American warriors obliterated the Taliban force.
Chief Petty Officer. Bill Houston commented with a stoic face, “It doesn’t make up for the Marines, but it eases the pain a little.”
“Sometimes pain is the best reminder that we’re still alive,” Joe responded.
Joe received orders for Naval Amphibious Base, Coronado, a military installation located across the bay from San Diego, California. It is the West Coast focal point for special and expeditionary warfare training and operations. By this time, Tony was out of the Army and attending school on the G.I. Bill and working with his father. Elena was engaged to an Air Force doctor and would be getting married in three months.
Frank and Maria set up a welcome home party for Joe and the entire family was together for the first time in over five years. Frank proposed a toast, “To us, it takes more than time and distance to break this family apart.” The Silveras raised their glasses.
After the San Diego Chargers moved to Los Angeles, the city had been petitioning the league for a new team. Conrad Barrington, real estate mogul and La Jolla resident and his group of investors finally convinced the league to give them a franchise. The team was named the San Diego Currents. The team was rapidly building toward being competitive. It had a good offensive and defensive line, coach and special teams. There were holes that needed to be filled and the biggest one was at quarterback. The Currents traded a number one and three number twos to the New York Giants for the rights to sign Joe Silvera. It was a high risk deal because there was no guarantee that Joe still wanted to play football or if he was still the same quality of player that he was six years ago. That was a long time to be away from the game. Roger Staubach was gone from the game for four years and still managed to lead the Dallas Cowboys to victory in two Superbowls.
Joe’s enlistment was coming to an end and he had to make a decision. Conrad Barrington contacted Joe and they set up a meeting. Conrad made his offer, “With you as the face of the franchise, we can bring millions to the local economy. That’s a lot jobs for people who need it.”
“It sounds good…but I don’t know.”
“I’m a big supporter of the military. See if this sweetens the deal, we’ll start the Joe Silvera Foundation, and make it a 501(c) 3 charity. I’ll put 5 million in it to get it started. You can help disabled veterans, rescue sentry dogs, give scholarships to children of veterans. That’s a lot of good work that we can do together,” Conrad offered.
“How long a deal are we looking at?” Joe asked.
“I can’t give you a long term contract because of your time away from the game, but I can go three years with performance bonuses. Why don’t you get an agent and we’ll negotiate a fair deal.”
“I’ll play for the minimum, seems like you’re already being more than generous,” Joe said.
After getting out of the Navy, Joe hired a personal coach to help him get ready for training camp. and Tony took on the duties of Joe’s workout partner. It was six games into his first season that Joe became the starting quarterback of the San Diego Currents. He earned the award of Offensive Rookie of the Year. In his second season, he led the team to the second round of playoffs and would have gone further except for a series of injuries to key players. Joe had a great relationship with the owner, head coach, offensive coordinator and his teammates. Great things were predicted for the San Diego Currents. In his third season, the Currents won the Superbowl. There were millions of dollars in the Joe Silvera Foundation and as fast as it was being distributed, it was being replenished from generous donors. Joe had become the face of the franchise and his endorsements were in the millions. Joe bought a home in his old neighborhood and there was no chance that success would ever go to his head.
“I want to make you the highest paid quarterback in the league,” Conrad said.
“That’s not necessary,” Joe responded.
“Humor me,” Conrad said. Two weeks later Joe signed a 10-year, 450 million dollar contract. Two months later while exercising with Tony, Joe received the word that Conrad died of a massive heart attack. Without his strong leadership, his partners decided to sell the team. The current value of the team with its recent Superbowl victory was 2.8 billion dollars. The owners of the team were asking 3 billion dollars. Internet multi-billionaire Wang Ma, founder of ClockTok, offered 4 billion dollars plus another 500 million to the league to expedite the sale.
It soon became obvious that Wang Ma had a different agenda that winning football games. He traded away most of the good players, fired the head coach and offensive coordinator. When he met with Joe, he informed him that the team would no longer contribute to his foundation, “I’m not a big fan of the U.S. military so we’ll also be discontinuing any promotions for the Armed Services.”
As time passed, the team’s morale kept getting worse and worse. No players were offered long term deals and if they balked at the treatment that they were receiving, they were either cut or traded. Fake news stories about players mysteriously appeared on the internet and slandered their reputations with outlandish accusations.
Wang Ma informed Joe, “The entire team will be kneeling during the National Anthem and since you’re the face of the franchise and the highest paid player, I want you out front.”
“That’s never going to happen,” Joe retorted quickly than added, “short of shooting my legs out from under me during pre-game workouts.
Wang Ma snickered, “You don’t want to challenge my authority.”
“And you don’t want to challenge my patriotism,” Joe said defiantly.
Joe was suspended without pay. The press release read simply; For conduct detrimental to the team, Joe Silvera has been suspended indefinitely without pay. Fake news stories came out about Joe’s alleged sexual assaults against female cadets as well as allegations of wartime atrocities committed by his Seal Team. It was a systematic and deliberate campaign to destroy an American hero by accusation and innuendo.
Joe discussed his predicament with his family, “I’ve given this a lot of thought and the only explanation that makes any sense to me is that China is behind this. Wang Ma is just their flunky.”
“What’s their motive?” Tony asked.
“China wants to sew hate and discontent in our country and the best way to do that is by discrediting organizations that people love and trust. The military, the police, football. It doesn’t matter to them as long as they can weaken the foundation of our nation.”
Frank asked his son, “What’s your plan?”
“What makes you think that I have a plan?” Joe smiled.
“Well…several reasons; you are my son for number one. You are an American for number two, a warrior and patriot for three and four and they are interchangeable. Another important fact that is indisputable is that any enemy of this country is walking on the fighting side of the Silvera family,” Frank said.
“China screwed with the wrong Americans.” Tony vowed, “There’s no snowflakes in our family weather forecast.”
“Absolutely,” Maria interjected.
“I’ve contacted some of my Seal buddies and asked them to get in touch with a friend of ours in the Intel community. Since there’s been some stories about me from unnamed sources circulating around, let’s give them one about me being a CIA asset won’t sound too unbelievable.”
“How is this going to work?” Maria asked.
“If Wang Ma is involved, then Chinese Intelligence will tell him about me and he’ll have to make a move. If he’s not then nothing will happen and we’ll know that China isn’t interested in the NFL,” Joe replied
“Look what they did to basketball. The National Basketball League has become China’s most popular sports league. The NBA is making billions from China and turning a blind eye to their human rights abuses,” Tony added.
Chinese intelligence intercepted the following message, Silvera, termination sanctioned.
Joe was on suspension and prohibited from being on team property. He was notified that the message was intercepted and now it was just a matter of waiting to see what happened next.
Wang Ma contacted Joe on his cellphone, “This situation has escalated too far and too fast. I bet if we sat down, one on one, we could mutually agree on a solution and you could get back to playing football. Would you be willing to do that?”
“I would,” Joe answered.
“I want to keep this private, no publicity whatsoever. Can you meet me at my yacht?”
“Is tonight too soon?”
“I have plans, how about tomorrow evening?” Joe countered.
“Seven PM, I’m docked at the Kona Kai Marina, slip 37. You can’t miss my boat, Illusion Plus, it’s the biggest one.”
“I’ll be there,” Joe answered, then hung up then dialed another number, “I’m texting you the details right now.”
Later that night, three swimmers boarded the Illusion Plus and placed surveillance equipment in strategic locations around the mega yacht. Before leaving, one of the swimmers taped a Sig Sauer P 226 pistol under the sink in the bathroom next to the main dining room.
When Joe arrived at the mega yacht, he was thoroughly searched for weapons and scanned for communication equipment by Wang Ma’s bodyguards.
“I hope that you’re not offended, but I want make sure this meeting is private,” Wang Ma said.
“I’m not offended, I don’t trust you either,” Joe smiled.
“You don’t mind if we take a cruise while we eat dinner? Wang Ma asked.
“No, I don’t mind.”
While Joe and Wang Ma ate dinner, the yacht headed out to sea. Wang Ma sipped from his glass of imported brandy and commented, “The more I think about this situation, the more that I realize that we’re not going to be able to work together. We’re both too strong willed to compromise.”
“I can compromise on some things, just not this” Joe answered, “May I use the bathroom?”
Wang Ma gestured down the hall, “It’s right over there.”
When Joe entered the bathroom, he reached under the bathroom sink and took out the pistol, checked the magazine, slipped it in his waistband and pulled his shirt over it. He went back in the dining room and sat down.
“I’ve lost patience with this charade,” Wang Ma grumbled, “I know you’re a CIA operative. Did you actually think I was going to let you destroy this plan or kill me?” He gestured to three of his bodyguards, “Weigh the hero down and throw him overboard!”
Joe pulled out his pistol and shot the three men dead than slapped Wang Ma across the head with the butt of his pistol and he tumbled out of his chair.
In less than a minute, two boats filled with armed men boarded and took control of the vessel. Soon afterward a helicopter landed on the helipad and Joe prepared to get on it. A man approached him, “Your charity should be receiving some large donations in the very near future. We got it from here. Good luck on your next season.”
Joe headed back to shore while several private security contractors took Wang Ma to a secret site for interrogation. The Chinese agent would never be heard from again and his mega-yacht Illusion Plus vanished as well.
The San Diego Currents Football team was eventually sold to a group of American patriots who came into billions of dollars unexpectedly. Joe was standing on the 50-yard line with the new owners and some of his former Navy Seals teammates. They were looking up at the newest renovation to the stadium. In the highest part of the structure was a monument called ‘Patriots Pinnacle’. It contained the flags of the five military services waving prominently for all to see, and in the middle was the tallest flagpole and the largest flag. It doesn’t matter if you call it Old Glory, the Stars and Stripes or the Star Spangled Banner, it is the most recognizable symbol of any country in the world and the inspiration for our national anthem and freedom. Beneath the flags in 10-foot high lettering were these words; We Stand…Because Others Have Fallen.