Thomas Calabrese -Victor Orsini began working for the Atlantic Coast Railroad after leaving the Army. He had been with the company for ten years and was currently assigned to the Trenton Railyard in New Jersey as a locomotive mechanic. Victor had been married for eight years to his wife Eileen and they had three children; Joe was five years-old, Mary was three and his youngest son Frank had just turned two.
When Victor’s supervisor recommended him for an engineer training program, it required relocating. He discussed the move with his wife, “I know this would be a big change for us, but I believe it’s the right one. I know we were brought up in this area, but if I can pass this program and become a certified engineer, it will double my current salary. We’ll be able to provide a better life for our children.”
Eileen inquired, “Where exactly would we have to go?”
“North Carolina… I spent some time there when I was stationed at Fort Bragg. It’s a good place to raise a family, otherwise I wouldn’t ask you to go,” Victor said.
“Then that’s where we’ll go. You have my one hundred per cent support.”
The Orsini family settled in the Crabtree Township of Yancey County, North Carolina, located 145 miles from Charlotte. The area was a main distribution point for the railroad carrying mica, feldspar, fertilizer, building materials, livestock feed and steel spring wire. Many people who lived in the area were either retired military or individuals who had served in the Army or Marines and were now employed by the railroad. Victor made it through the training program and became an engineer and his family quickly acclimated to their new rural environment.
Colonel Paul Smith was a retired Army Chaplain and was the Orsinis’ next door neighbor. His strong beliefs had a profound effect on the Orsini children during their formative years especially Joe who really connected with the man of faith. The former chaplain was more than just a neighbor, he was part of the family. Victor always let Paul know when he was going to be gone overnight or longer. Even though Eileen was a strong and self-sufficient woman, she liked knowing that she could always count on Paul to be there for her and the family if something came up that she couldn’t handle. The three Orsini children knew they would be always welcome at Paul’s house and often went over there to play or watch television.
Joe grew up with a strong belief in God, love for his family and country and a fierce loyalty to his friends. His father and Paul Smith were strong male role models who showed him the value of hard work, responsibility and dedication. These two men did it more with their behavior than with their words. One of Paul Smith’s favorite sayings was; ‘The only thing necessary for evil to triumph in the world is that good men do nothing.’
By the time Joe graduated Clyde A. Tate High School, he had developed into an honorable young man. He was physically, mentally and emotionally strong and had his own code of conduct of which a core principle was, courtesy is given, respect is earned. When he was growing up, he learned from his mistakes, accepted the consequences and seldom repeated them. Joe never played the ‘woe is me’ card or felt entitled to anything that he didn’t earn. He was kind, generous, easy going and quick to flash a smile or express a greeting.
A few bullies mistook Joe’s affable personality for weakness and when they pushed him too far they paid the price when he showed them some basic rules of respect.
When Joe told his mother that he wanted to join the military, she was equally proud and concerned for her son, but not surprised. She knew how much Joe appreciated the sacrifices of veterans because of the complimentary way he spoke about them. One statement by Joe was forever etched into her memory, “A lot of good men and women have made the ultimate sacrifice so that I can live in a country of freedom and liberty. When the time comes, I’m going to do my part.”
His goal was clear in his mind, but its attainment was clouded in doubt. The longest journey starts with a single step and that was the way Joe chose to look at it. As long as he was moving forward, he wasn’t falling back. From regular infantry to airborne then to Rangers and finally to Delta Force. Every time he didn’t think he could go any further, he’d repeat to himself, ‘one more step, one more breath, one more step, one more breath’. Those words got him through some very difficult phases of training
The years passed and Joe Orsini continued to hone his skills while serving with some the finest fighting men in the world. He eventually earned the nicknamed of ‘Grizz’, short for Grizzly Bear, because of his strength of spirit and that in Italian, the name Orsini is derived from the Latin word, ursinus (bearlike) describing the name-bearer’s purported strength.
Victor Orsini moved into management for the railroad and Joe’s younger brother, Frank followed in his father’s footsteps. Mary was working in a Charlotte hospital as an emergency room nurse and the Orsini family was doing well. Victor used the income from a yearly bonus and some savings to build three guest cottages for his children on his ten acre parcel of land. This way they would have their own place near the family home, have their independence and come and go as they pleased. Joe had been gone for almost a year, but his mother made sure his cottage was prepared for his return.
Fort Liberty, formerly Fort Bragg is the home base of Delta Force and is only 73 miles from Yancey Township so whenever Joe ‘Grizz’ Orsini wasn’t overseas on assignment, he was usually at Fort Liberty training and was able to go home on a regular basis..
Paul Smith would always ask the same question when Joe was home, “How are things, Grizz?”
“The most important thing to me is that you are alright,” This was Joe’s standard reply.
Paul smiled, “Spoken like a Special Operator, always divert attention away from yourself.”
“That’s not true, I love talking about myself,” Joe quipped, “Now that we’ve established that fact, tell me what’s going on in your life since I’ve been gone.”
“Not so fast, how much longer are you going to stay with Delta?” Paul asked.
“Two things will decide that…one will be when I can’t do the job anymore and the other one is when they don’t want me anymore.”
Paul reminded Joe, “God is on the side of the righteous warrior.”
“I willingly accept the hardships and risks that come with my job, but what is getting harder and harder to take is the increase of dishonorable people in the government making stupid self-serving decisions that cost good men their lives and or their body parts.
I don’t trust the bureaucrats in Washington to pick up dog droppings, let alone put them in charge of billions of dollars and thousands of lives.”
Paul laughed, “You’re preaching to the choir, why do you think I retired? It is a slippery slope that you are now on. In the military we are often required to do things that we don’t agree with, I don’t have to tell you that, but those are the rules of the games that we agreed to follow. However, when we get older, more experienced in life, we’re less inclined to live by the motto, ours is not to reason why; ours is but to do and die.”
Joe corrected his mentor, “That’s a slightly altered version of Lord Alfred Tennyson’s 1854 poem, ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade. The original three lines are; Theirs not to make a reply, Theirs not to question why, Theirs but to do and die.”
“Good memory,” Paul smiled, “Ours, theirs…let’s not get hung up on pronouns, too much of that already.”
Despite growing calls for peace, the Houthis terrorist group, funded by Iran continued to escalate their lethal attacks inside Yemen with dire consequences for Yemeni civilians and bordering countries. A C.I.A. informant notified the agency that three of the terrorist leaders, Abdul Malik al-Houthi, Abd al-Khaliq Badr al-Din al-Houthi, and Abdullah Yahya al-Hakim would be meeting in Zinjibar, a coastal town in south central Yemen. Delta Force was assigned to terminate these men in retaliation for the Houthis firing three missiles at the U.S.S. Paul Revere, a Navy ship patrolling in the Persian Gulf. Several sailors were seriously injured in the unprovoked attack.
Delta Force is divided into seven squadrons—Squadrons A–D (assault), Squadron E (aviation), Squadron G (clandestine), and Combat Support Squadron (medical, intelligence, and so on)—and each squadron is divided into three troops. Squadrons Bravo and Charlie would be doing this particular mission. Joe’s squadron, Bravo would be doing the actual assault while Charlie would provide cover and support.
The mission went accordingly to plan and the exterior guards of the compound were quickly eliminated by proficient Delta snipers. The breach team silently entered the structure like phantoms in the night and terminated several more guards with weapons that included CO2 powered spear guns and pistols with state of the art noise suppressors that barely made a sound. When one terrorist guard popped out of a doorway, Joe killed him with a strategically placed punch to the throat.
Once the three purveyors of terror and mayhem had been sent to their eternal damnation, the Special Operators exited the building. Two truckloads of terrorists armed with rifles and rocket propelled grenades came racing up the road to engage the Americans. Joe had been in enough battles with terrorist organizations to know that what these miscreants lacked in combat skills, they made up for with their suicidal fanaticism. The Special Operators were highly trained and quickly took out the first truck and its occupants in short order. They were in engaged in a fierce firefight with the terrorists from the other truck as men from Charlie detachment came up from behind. One terrorist turned to fire his rocket propelled grenade at the men from Charlie when Joe shot the man three times in the chest. The terrorist’s body jerked spasmodically and when he hit the ground, the rocket propelled grenade discharged. It came directly at Joe and his comrades and he instinctively pushed Derrick Hauvin out of danger and took the full force of the explosion.
When he tried to stand up, Joe felt wobbly and disoriented, Derrick quickly looked over at his teammate and expressed his gratitude, “Thanks Grizz, are you hit?”
“I’m alright,” Joe lied.
On the helicopter ride back to the ship, Joe began bleeding from his ears and nose and eventually passed out. He was medically evacuated to Landstuhl Military Hospital in Germany for examination and treatment and was diagnosed with a serious traumatic brain injury (TBI).
His symptoms included; dizziness, headaches and severe nausea. Joe was prescribed medication, but it only helped a little and the side effects were worse than the symptoms. His military career was over and Joe accepted it with dignity and class then spoke a platitude that is commonly used by Special Operators, “I always knew that any mission could be my last one.”
After being medically discharged and returning home, Joe did his best to readjust to a civilian lifestyle, but it wasn’t easy. He’d be alright for a few hours and then he’d get queasy and the light would hurt his eyes. Joe would fight through the pain and after a while he’d be alright. On this particular day, it was a little worse than usual so Joe went back to his small cottage, dampened a cloth with cold water, lied down on the bed and put the cloth on his forehead and did some deep breathing exercises. There was a knock at the door and Joe called out, “It’s open!”
Paul Smith entered and commented, “Are you alright?”
“I’m fine,” Joe downplayed the pain, “Just a little headache.”
“Don’t get up. I made a call to Mike Cameron from the Mighty Oaks Foundation. I’ve known Mike for years and I told him about you. There’s a pilot program in California for veterans with TBI. It is completely holistic; herbs, vitamin injections, massage therapy. It is a six week program and it won’t cost you a thing. It is completely funded by donations from Americans who appreciate the sacrifice that you made. I know that you don’t like to take something for nothing, but look at it this way, if it helps you then they can use the findings to help other veterans.”
“Where is it?” Joe asked
“Oceanside, right by Camp Pendleton, Bart Billings, Charlene Swillman, Chris Toslin are all involved. There are all at the top of their game when it comes to treating traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder.”
“So you think I should go?” Joe asked.
“I absolutely do,” Paul said.
Joe responded, “If it doesn’t work then they’ll know what to change. I don’t mind being a guinea pig for a good cause.”
Three weeks into the six week program and Joe saw dramatic improvement in his quality of life. His headaches were slight and passed quickly and it had been ten days since he had a bout of nausea. He was given a strict diet to follow that mainly consisted of fish and vegetables while minimizing his intake of sugar and gluten. The treatments at the center were given on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday. Wheb Joe felt confident enough, he told Charlene, “I believe I’m well enough to drive long distances. I have a couple buddies from the military who are living in the Bay Area. I can leave early Friday and drive back on Sunday for my treatment on Monday. I won’t go if you think it’s a bad idea.”
Charlene answered, “You have made remarkable progress since you’ve been here so I’ll leave it up to you to make the decision. If you do get sick or feel weak on the way there or back then stay somewhere until you’re ready to drive. Do not push it, we can always reschedule your treatment. You’ve got my number, call me if you have any serious problems.”
“I will, thanks for everything you’re doing for me. I deeply appreciate it,” Joe said sincerely.
Joe drove his rented car to Danville, California and followed the directions to the gated Blackhawk Country Club Estates. He stopped at the guardhouse and a man approached the vehicle and asked, “May I help you?”
“Joe Orsini, I should be on the guest list.”
The guard did not even have to look at his clipboard, “Yes sir, we’ve been expecting you. I’ll let them know that you have arrived.”
The guard went into the guardhouse, made a call, then returned, “Gordon will show you the Ruskin estate.”
“You don’t have to be bothered, just give me directions and the address and I’ll find it.”
“Mr. Ruskin’s residence isn’t visible from the street and there are no address markings,” The Guard explained.
“That would make it a little more difficult,” Joe smiled.
The Guard said, “Welcome to Blackhawk Country Club Estates…enjoy your stay.”
Joe followed Gordon in his bright yellow Cadillac Escalade that served as a security vehicle. There were six LED spotlights mounted on it. Their route went down a tree-lined private road where every home was hidden from view. A gate opened and Gordon and Joe drove up the triple wide driveway to the top of the hill where a 50,000 square foot mansion with 15 bedrooms and seventeen bathroom was located.
Two former Green Berets came walking out. The men were Marty Michaels and Jake Holman.
Jake called to Gordon, “Thanks Gordie.”
Gordon drove off.
Joe looked at the palatial estate and commented, “Nice place.”
“When we told Ethan that you were coming up, he gave us the use of the house and guest privileges at the country club,” Marty said.
“At last count, he had sixteen houses around the world,” Jake said, “it’s not like he doesn’t have a place to stay.”
Marty added, “Ethan loves the military especially Special Forces.”
“I’d like to thank him for his generosity,” Joe said.
“He’s in Singapore right now, but he’ll be back before you leave. He wants to meet you,” Marty said.
The three men had a great time over the following two days and when Sunday morning came, Joe heard the sound of a helicopter landing on the helipad.
Ethan Ruskin entered the house and quickly approached Joe with a friendly smile and an outstretched hand, “I’ve heard a lot about you, thank you for your service.”
“Thank you for your hospitality,” Joe replied, “it’s been a great visit.”
“Jake and Marty tell me that you are no longer with Delta Force,” Ethan said.
Joe replied, “That is correct.”
“Are you looking for a job?” Ethan asked without hesitation.
Joe responded, “I appreciate the offer, but I’m damaged goods.”
“Whatever is wrong, I’ll find a job for you.”
“I’m going through some treatment right now, when it’s finished I’ll have a better idea on what I want to do or can do,” Joe said.
“Sounds fair enough,” Ethan said, “Jake said that you’re staying in Oceanside. I can have my pilot fly you home.”
“I’ve got my rent a car with me,” Joe said.
“I’ll have it shipped back for you,” Ethan offered.
“I’m looking forward to the drive along the coast, but thanks anyway,” Joe replied.
“Jake and Marty will know how to reach me whenever you’re ready,” Ethan said.
After saying farewell to his friends, Joe got on the road. It was a beautiful day and was just warm enough to keep the windows down in the car. The wind in his face had a soothing effect on Joe.. His thoughts were clear and focused, it had been a quite a while since he had this type of glarity.
While cruising south on the 405, Joe glanced down and saw that he was down to an eighth of a tank of gas and figured he’d fill up now then drive straight through to Oceanside. Joe took the Century Blvd off ramp in Los Angeles, turned right at the light and stopped at the Shell Station. While filling up, he noticed a California Highway Patrol officer standing next to his car and conversing with two Los Angeles police officers inside their car at a Wendy’s parking lot.
Suddenly three cars raced into the parking lot and eight men got out and opened fire on the law enforcement officers with automatic weapons. It was a deadly crossfire and there was no escape for the trapped officers. Reacting rather than thinking, Joe ran into harm’s way and came up behind one of shooters, snapped his neck and took his weapon. Using his special set of skills, Joe proceeded to kill all of the attackers and save the officers. By this time bystanders started arriving on scene and began recording the aftermath of the gunfight with their cellphones cameras. One photo that quickly hit the internet was Joe standing over two dead bodies with an A-47 in each hand.
It did not take long for the media to twist and manipulate the story to fit their warped agenda. Once people in the government began to politicize the story, protests quickly turned into riots and Joe was called a cold blooded murderer by many news commentators.
Pertinent evidence was destroyed while other documentation was fabricated. The current administration called Joe Orsini a killer while the trial was in progress and biased the jury against him. Before long the murderous gang that attacked the police were just a group of innocent demonstrators marching for social justice. Once the government decided to put its heavy hand on the scales of justice, it did not let up.
Even though Delta Force operators’ identities are supposed to be kept secret, leaks began coming out of the Department of Defense stating that Joe had a history of violence and his irrational behavior was why he was discharged from the military. It was all lies, but a lot of anti-police, anti-military people were happy to believe anything negative about an American patriot.
The trial was a disgrace from beginning to end and it soon began evident that Joe Orsini was going to be found guilty, the only thing that was in doubt was how severe the sentence was going to be. Ethan Ruskin was enraged by the treatment of this good man and vowed to use his wealth to get Joe a new trial once this fiasco concluded.
Judge Adam Ellison, a radical judge eagerly and happily pronounced the sentence while mugging for the court cameras, “Twenty-two years for the seven counts of second degree murder and nineteen years for violation of the victims’ civil and constitutional rights. These sentenced are to run concurrently.”
Joe’s family and friends were in the courtroom and they were enraged and deeply saddened by the unfair verdict and screamed out in protest. Being the kind of man that he was, Joe consoled them, “Don’t worry about me, I’ve been in tougher situations.” As he walked passed Paul Smith, Joe said, “God is on the side of the righteous warrior.”
Joe Orsini was transported to the United States Penitentiary in Tucson, Arizona. Ethan Ruskin and a dozen veterans’ organizations immediately began working to get Joe a new trial but each time the corrupt justice system intervened to stop the due process of law.
Three months into incarceration and Joe was escorted to the lieutenant of guards’ office. Upon entering the office, a man told the escorting guard, “That will be all…you’re dismissed.”
The guard hesitated then responded, “You sure that you don’t want me to stay? Orsini is a convicted killer.”
“I’ll be fine, close the door behind you,” The man said.
After the guard left, the man locked the door then went over and took the shackles off Joe’s wrists. He walked over to a small refrigerator and opened it, “How about something cold to drink?”
“Water will be fine, thanks,” Joe responded.
The man tossed a bottle to Joe and suggested, “Have a seat and relax.”
Joe was naturally suspicious, but complied.
“You look a little confused,” the man said.
The man said, “Let me clarify, it’s good to see you again, Grizz.”
“Not many people call me that anymore,” Joe said.
“I’m Jeff Douglas and I was with the 75th Ranger Regiment. We were in Afghanistan at the same time. I know you don’t remember me, but anybody who ever served in the Rangers knows about you. I just transferred in from Lompoc to cover your ‘six’. Ethan Ruskin, Jake Holman, Marty Michaels and Mike Cameron send their regards.”
“I appreciate that,” Joe said.
“If you have any problems, find me,” Jeff said, “One more thing, Ethan told me to tell you that they found a federal judge in Texas who’s willing to look at your case. He’s getting ready to retire and ready to take on the establishment before he leaves the bench.”
Judge Alex Wolf made a public statement, “After reviewing the Orsini case, I have determined that he was denied a fair trial. Corruption and abuse of the legal process existed at the local, state and federal levels. I am making a formal request to the Supreme Court to take this case. This is a national disgrace and must be rectified.” Three days later, the brave jurist was killed in a carjacking on his way home from work.
A week after that, three imprisoned members of a drug cartel confronted Joe in the exercise yard and attempted to stab him. Joe killed them, but was wounded in the leg during the altercation. While in the jail infirmary, Jeff Douglas came to visit him, “The word is that there’s a contract out on you. As soon as you’re released, I’m going to put you in solitary confinement, say that you assaulted me. The bottom line is we need to get you out of here because right now you’re a dead man walking.”
Joe smiled, “People have been trying to kill me for years, there’s no reason for it to stop now.”
“I’ll bring you food, I wouldn’t put it past them to poison you,” Jeff warned.
Two weeks later, two men were transported to the prison by three FBI officials. One of the agents said “These men are confidential informants, we’re going to keep them here until Witness Protection can get their new identities prepared.”
Jeff responded, “Sure,” but didn’t believe the agent for a second.
While Joe was in solitary Jeff made arrangements to get a guards’ uniform and fake identification so he could exit the facility. There was a short period of time when Joe had to be in general population so when he identified the assassins, he approached them in a corner of the exercise yard and asked, “You looking for me?”
At first the two men acted oblivious, but Joe persisted, “Is the way that you want to play it…I’m showing you some professional courtesy, but don’t try my patience.”
The two men looked at each other and one of them commented, “It’s just business…nothing personal.”
“That’s the difference between you and me, I always take it personal when vermin try to kill me,” Joe made this challenge, “Make your move!”
One of the men lunged at Joe, who stepped aside and jammed a pointed metal rod through the man’s heart. He kicked the other man in the knee, snapped his femur bone then stuck the metal object through his temple. Joe placed both dead men on the bench to make it look like they were talking to each other then walked across the yard to where Jeff was standing, “It’s done.”
Jeff led Joe to a storage room where he changed into a guard’s uniform. He showed the fake identification to the guard at the gate was allowed to leave. Once outside the facility, he walked over to the employees’ parking lot where Jake Holman was waiting for him. They drove off and met Marty Michaels about 20 miles way.
They left the car in a Target parking lot and got into a large motor home and the trio drove off. Five hours later and 338 miles away they arrived at Slab City, also called The Slabs, an unincorporated, off-the-grid alternative lifestyle community.in the Salton Trough area of the Sonoran Desert, in Imperial County, California. It took its name from concrete slabs that remained after the World War II Marine Corps Camp Dunlap training camp was torn down. Slab City is known for attracting people who want to live outside mainstream society where not even the police venture into the area.
The three veterans were there for one week before Ethan Ruskin arrived in his private jet. Joe boarded the aircraft with Ethan and Jake and Marty drove away in the RV. The Gulfstream jet flew to a private airfield in Yancey County, North Carolina. A helicopter was waiting and Joe and Ethan boarded it. They flew ten minutes to an isolated area in the Black Mountains and landed on a cleared area near Mount Miller.
Ethan explained, “I had three fully sustainable pods constructed in one of my factories and transported out here. They are imbedded into the side of the mountain and geothermal energy powers the electric generators. The pods are cool in the summer and warm in the winter,” Ethan walked over to a metal door that was concealed behind a camouflage tarpaulin and pressed a keypad and said, “the code is E.I.L.E.E.N.”
“My mother’s name, I won’t forget that,” Joe grinned.
They entered the first pod and Ethan explained, “All the amenities that you should need, fully equipped kitchen, bathroom, best furniture I could find, satellite communications, surveillance cameras and sensor devices. The pods are lined with lead so that aerial reconnaissance can’t penetrate them. There’s a small, but very functional fitness center and a laser range to practice your marksmanship. I had some of my employees who were former Navy Seals develop the perimeter security. The steep incline makes it impossible to come up or go down without a rope. I bought five hundred acres so there shouldn’t be anybody coming out this way. The title is registered under a shell company. I picked this location because it is close to your family. You can see them on a regular basis if you exercise the appropriate caution…which I know you will.”
“I’m at a momentarily loss to find the right words to adequately express my gratitude,” Joe said, “Give me a few minutes to process all this.”
“Let me show you one more thing,” Ethan pulled open a large door that led to the outside where an unusual piece of equipment was setting, “That is an electric hovercraft and allows you to easily access the facility without going through the thick foliage. It doesn’t have much range, but once you are at the bottom of the slope, there’s a metal garage with the same code as the pods. Inside it are two vehicles and two motorcycles and all of them licensed under a different shell company. Is it alright to use ‘Grizz’ as your call sign?”
“Yeah,” Joe responded.
“Any supplies that you need, all you have to do is call in to a secure number and one of my helicopters will deliver it. Don’t worry, anybody that I allow to come up here is going to be one of my most trusted veterans.
I know this is a lot to take in so I’m going stay a couple days to make sure that everything is working properly or if I have to make any adjustments. Is that alright?”
“Yeah, fine with me,” Joe said, “Back in California, you mentioned a job opportunity. As nice and technically advanced as this place is, I can’t imagine staying up here and doing nothing. I need two more things from you; one is to keep busy and the other is to find a way to repay you for all this.”
“When do you want to start and what do you want to do?” Ethan asked.
“I’d like to start now and I want to start with the people who ordered the hit on Judge Wolf and the men who carried it out.”
“I agree, we’ll start putting together a termination list while I’m up here,” Ethan added, “It could be a long one…a lot of bad people in this world.”
“You furnish a few essential items and I’ll take it from there,” Joe suggested.
If you are a patriot who believes in the rule of law, common decency and follow a code of honor, you can call Joe Orsini, ‘Grizz’. On the other hand, if you are a criminal or a threat to America then you may never know that the man who took your worthless life was the Phantom Vigilante.