Others in my arsenal
Mason Thorne had a little bit of an attitude, a combination of confidence and self-importance. Things came too easy for the charismatic teenager, and that was his biggest problem. He was intelligent, good looking, an excellent athlete and people liked being around him. His mother, Kristin, and father, Tyler, did their best to provide parental guidance on how to be an honorable person and not take advantage of situations and people. For the most part, Mason listened and was a good kid, but being young and evolving, he couldn’t help but succumb to temptation every now and then. His parents weren’t sure that he was learning from his mistakes.
Tyler advised his son. “Life doesn’t get easier as you get older so don’t make the mistake of thinking that things will always fall into place for you. Right now you might be the big fish in a small pond, but there’s an ocean out there filled with sharks and other predators.”
Mason wasn’t quite ready to listen to what his father had to say so he responded. “When I was in the junior lifeguard program, they told me that if I saw a shark, instinct will tell me to swim away, but panicking will put the shark in predatory mode. Don’t worry I’ll be as calm as a clam.”
“That is enough analogies for one conversation. Being calm is not exactly the point that I was trying to get across. ” Tyler tapped his son on the shoulder. “We’ll revisit this subject at a later time.”
“I’ll look forward to it.” Mason quipped.
Mason was a junior at Rancho Buena Vista High and was only five months past his 16th birthday. He was driving south on Melrose Drive in his mother’s Toyota Camry after baseball practice without a care in the world. Mason was eagerly anticipating pitching against Carlsbad High tomorrow afternoon. His arm felt good and his fastball had been in the upper-nineties during his last two starts. Suddenly, he was spinning and tumbling and when things stopped, his car was upside down. A truck’s brakes had failed as it came down the hill. It went through the intersection and broadsided Mason’s vehicle.
Paramedics arrived and Mason was taken by ambulance to Tri City Medical Center. His right femur and tibia were both broken and he also suffered a dislocated shoulder and two cracked ribs. This accident effectively ended his high school athletic career. When his parents told him that he was lucky to be alive, Mason snapped back. “I don’t feel very lucky!”
While attending the Vista Physical Therapy Center, a disgruntled and depressed Mason Thorne was just going through the motions. His therapist, Jessica Beckwith encouraged him. “C’mon, Mason, one more rep…you can do it.”
An older gentleman entered the facility and the mood lightened up immediately. He called out to everyone with a big smile. “There is no place that I’d rather be than right here. Thank you for your service!”
The staff responded with various cheerful responses. Mason asked Jessica. “Who’s that guy?”
Jessica responded. “That’s Greg ‘Bunky’ Chabot.”
“What is he so happy about?” Mason grumbled.
Jessica responded. “Everything… I’ve never seen him in a bad mood.”
Bunky walked over to the middle-aged receptionist and asked. “Why did the chicken cross the road?”
The receptionist responded, “I know this one…because he was a dirty double-crosser.”
“Nope…because he couldn’t believe how wonderful you were and had to go back for a second look.”
The receptionist smiled in appreciation. “You make my day, Bunky.”
“Right back at you.”
Bunky walked over to one of the exercise machines and one of the male therapist’s approached and asked. “Are you ready to get started?”
“I was ready when I opened my eyes this morning.”
The therapist inquired. “What time do you get up in the morning?”
Bunky smiled. “I live by the philosophy that if the sun rises before me, I’ve overslept.”
Two days later, Bunky came in with a tray of oatmeal and chocolate chips for the employees. “I made these…let me know if you like them.”
Jessica took an oatmeal cookie and bit into it. “This is great!”
On Friday, Bunky brought in a big bag of lemons and oranges from the trees in his backyard and passed them out. Mason was depressed and the older gentleman’s positive demeanor rubbed him the wrong way. “Isn’t there some kind of rule for excessive talking?”
When Bunky crossed paths with Mason, he said, “Good morning, sir.”
When he limped off, Mason turned to Jessica. “Why is he calling me, sir…he’s 50 years older than me”
Jessica replied, “Bunky calls everybody sir or ma’am until he gets to know you.”
“I haven’t done anything to earn it. I’ve just a busted-up kid.”
“Bunky says; I can treat everyone with courtesy, but only a few ever earn my respect.” Jessica said.
Mason was impatient to get back to normal so instead of following the instructions for his rehabilitation, he pushed it and reinjured himself. That pushed him deeper into a depression and he started skipping his physical therapy appointments. He lost his appetite and isolated himself in his room. His parents became worried about his increasingly self-destructive behavior.
Tyler and Kristin went down to the Vista Physical Therapy Center to discuss the issue, but no one had an answer. Jessica sighed. “We can’t force him to do the exercises. Getting better is as much mental as it is physical.”
Bunky Chabot overheard the conversation and said, “Sorry for the interruption, but maybe I can be of assistance.”
That evening, Bunky showed up at the Thorne residence. Kristin called out. “Mason, there’s someone here to see you.”
Mason gingerly made his way down the stairs and stopped halfway when he saw who was standing in the front doorway “What are you doing here?”
Bunky responded with a smile. “I missed seeing you at the center. Are you alright?”
Kristin suggested, “Please come in. Can I get you something to drink?”
“Anything non-alcoholic would be fine.” Bunky replied.
“I’ve got some fresh lemonade, I’ll bring it to you in the living room.”
“Thank you Ma’am,” Bunky smiled.
The elderly man slowly made his way to the easy chair and grimaced as he lowered himself into it. Mason noticed how badly scarred the man’s forearms were when his shirt sleeves slid up.
Kristin arrived with the lemonade, “Thank you ma’am….much appreciated.” Bunky took a long swallow and commented. “That hits the spot!”
Kristin responded, “I’ll give you some privacy,” and left the room.
Bunky just sat there sipping on his lemonade. Mason was on the couch watching him until he commented. “I’m not coming back. You can take the lemonade with you.”
“It’s your call.” Bunky said, “It wasn’t a wasted trip, I got a cold drink for my efforts.”
Mason was confused. “You didn’t come to try and talk me into coming back?”
“No sir…I learned a long time ago that when strong-willed people make up their minds, it’s a waste of time to try and change it. At my age, I can’t afford to spend time on hopeless causes… I’ve only got so much of it left. You take care of yourself…good luck in your future endeavors.” Bunky struggled to get out of the chair, but when he was finally upright. “Tell your mom thanks for the lemonade.”
Mason watched the elderly man through the front window. It took Bunky a while to reach his vehicle since his movement were slow and deliberate.
Afterward, Mason went into his room and googled Bunky Chabot and what he found out left him awestruck. Greg was one of the most decorated men of the Vietnam War. He would have received more medals except that many of his missions were in Cambodia and Laos and could not be acknowledged.
By February 1966, Corporal Greg Chabot was part a company of Rangers in Vietnam. They were assaulting a heavily defended enemy position near Chu Lai. The conflict that ensued lasted for hours. Chabot was seemingly everywhere. He stormed enemy bunkers single-handedly and ran across open fields to pull the wounded to safety. He defended a medic who had been wounded then ran down a trench that ran alongside enemy bunkers, tossing hand grenades as he went and eliminating a threat. When faced with armed enemy combatants, he killed them with his .45 caliber pistol or with his bare hands. He took all of these actions while already injured. In fact, his wounds were being made worse by grenade fragments. He was losing too much blood, yet he simply refused to stop or be evacuated.
One Ranger later spoke of what he saw: “Chabot did more in one battle than I previously believed a platoon could have done in a week. And he did it all while wounded. It wasn’t just the actual count of positions overrun and enemy killed which was important. . . . His courage and valor kept everyone going against some of the heaviest fire I have ever encountered.”
Greg Chabot transferred to a special covert unit and participated in 200 combat missions, some were common ‘search and destroy’ operations and others were highly secret missions into Cambodia and Laos. He was awarded the Medal of Honor, 3 Silver Stars, 4 Bronze Stars and 6 Purple Hearts. On his last mission to sabotage Haiphong Harbor in North Vietnam, Bunky was wounded and captured and spent the next four years at the Hanoi Hilton. He was routinely tortured and beaten for his refusal to cooperate with the North Vietnamese and denounce the war on their propaganda films. On February 12, 1973, Greg Chabot was among the first of 591 military prisoners to be repatriated. He spent the next 9 months in a military hospital recovery from his numerous injuries, a severe case of malnutrition and chronic malaria. Doctor Assali was amazed that he survived and commented. “You’re a medical marvel.”
Bunky replied. “I had a survival secret.”
“What’s that?” Doctor Assali asked.
Bunky started. “A doctor says to his patient, ‘I have some bad news and some really bad news. I’ll give you the bad news first, you only have 24 hours to live. The really bad news is I should told you yesterday.”
Doctor Assali laughed then asked. “Why do they call you Bunky?”
“I’m one of the few guys who actually thinks a military bunk is a luxury. My family was so poor that I used to fight with my brothers over who got to sleep on cardboard boxes instead of the concrete floor.” Bunky smiled.
“I like your positive attitude. You never told me what your survival secret is?”
Bunky responded. “Humor was and remains my weapon of choice. A smile is my umbrella in a storm of sadness.”
When Mason woke up the next morning, he had a completely different attitude and he asked his mother, “Do you think you could call the Therapy Center and get me an appointment?”
As soon as Mason entered the facility, Bunky called out, “It’s good to see you, sir!”
Mason responded with a smile. “It’s good to see you too…sir.”
From that time on, Bunky and Mason began to develop a close friendship. It was a strange connection to say the least. The old Vietnam veteran who was a war hero and the young high school boy. They even scheduled their therapy sessions at the same time so that Bunky could pick Mason up and ride to the Center together.
Bunky never spoke of his military exploits, but Mason’s curiosity eventually got the best of him and he asked. “You never talk about being in the war…why is that?”
Bunky was always self-deprecating or evasive when he came to talking about his war-time exploits. “In the 60’s people wanted to forget the war, it doesn’t make sense to remember it now. Besides my experiences don’t translate well into words. You had to be there to appreciate the ambiance of the situation.”
“I googled you and it says that you’re a war hero.” Mason said.
“Heroes is a very subjective term. Better men than me gave more but I will admit to one thing under penalty of torture. I am a lucky survivor and every day I show my appreciation.” Bunky quickly changed the subject” Sizzler has got a good salad bar… join me. I’ll put it on my expense account as a business deduction.”
Mason asked. “I thought you were retired?”
“I love to work at nothing all day.” Bunky sang the familiar line from the Bachman-Turner Overdrive song.
Bunky actually volunteered at several veterans’ organizations and animal rescue groups. Of course, he would never admit it to anyone for fear that he would be acknowledged for his altruistic activities.
While eating lunch at the Sizzler on Plaza Drive in Oceanside, three armed masked men burst through the front door and one of them yelled out. “Get on the floor, face down. If you try to use your cellphone, we will kill you. One of my associates will relieve you of your valuables. Cooperate and you’ll live through this.” When nobody moved, the man ordered, “Now!!”
All the customers, including many fearful senior citizens did their best to get on the floor. Bunky continued eating his salad. Mason looked up and asked, “Aren’t you going to get down?”
Bunky smiled. “Reckon not. I don’t digest food from the horizontal position very well.”
One robber forced the manager to empty the safe and cash register. The second man took the valuables from the patrons and the leader walked over to Bunky and placed the barrel of his 9mm against his head. “Are you deaf or something?”
Bunky smiled. “I’ll answer your question if you answer mine.”
“What’s your question?” The robber snarled.
Bunky took a bite of his salad then spoke. “What’s the difference between a gutless group of thugs who scare a bunch of innocent harmless people and a putrid rotting pile of compost?” When the man didn’t answer, Bunky gave him the answer, “A rotting pile of compost serves a useful purpose.”
“Funny guy.” The robber said.
Bunky responded. “Funny ha ha or funny strange?” When the robber diverted his attention for a split second, Bunky grabbed him by the hair and slammed his face against the table with such force that he was knocked unconscious, then grabbed the gun and shot the second robber in the thigh as he turned to point his weapon. The third remaining robber who was emptying the safe took the manager as a hostage and shield and threatened, “Drop the gun or I’ll kill him!”
Bunky smiled. “You kill him and I kill you. I can make you a better deal than that.”
The robber was panicking and stammered. “What kind of deal?”
“I’m twenty feet away from you and the front door is 15 feet from where you’re standing. You’ve got a couple minutes until the police probably get here so the question you have to ask yourself….do I feel lucky….well do you, punk?”
The last robber released his hostage and sprinted for the door. Bunky was going to let him go and leave it up to the police catch him on the road, except for one thing. The robber turned around and fired two wild shots in the general direction of Bunky and Mason. One of the bullets hit the Plexiglas shield over the salad bar and spread shards of plastics into the food, making it inedible. This upset Bunky who fired two shots that hit the fleeing robber in the posterior…one bullet in each cheek. He hit face first in the asphalt parking lot, moaning in pain.
Bunky extended his hand and helped Mason to his feet and commented. “If he hadn’t ruined the food, I might have let him go….well, maybe not.”
When the police arrived, Bunky personally thanked each officer for their public service. Three years later, Bunky flew cross country to attend Mason’s graduation from US Ranger School being held at Hurley Hills Training Center in Jericho, Vermont. The parade grounds were called Greg ‘Bunky’ Chabot Field.
When Mason commented about Bunky’s legendary status, the war hero joked. “It must be a different guy. You’d be surprised how many guys in the Rangers were named Bunky when I served. You couldn’t throw a grenade and not hit a Bunky. In fact, there were even some Viet Cong called Bunki-San if my fading memory serves me right.”
As they walked along, Bunky and Mason passed an engraved sign mounted on a post with these words on it; ‘Humor is my weapon of choice, but never fear, I also have others in my arsenal.’
– Work of fiction. Names, characters, business, events and incidents are the products of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance
The Veterans Writing Group of San Diego County invites all writers to join us at our monthly meetings. Veterans and Non-Veterans are equally welcome. For more information go to our website: www.veteranswritinggroup.org