Thomas Calabrese – Victor Everson was a Naval Academy graduate who met Catherine Douglas when he was in flight school at Naval Air Station, Pensacola and she was a pre-med student and All American soccer player at Florida State University. They fell in love, eventually married and honeymooned in Key West before Lt. Everson was assigned to the naval installation in Rota, Spain.
Three years later and almost at the end of their overseas assignment, the couple had their first child, Alex. Five years after that Kristin was born at Balboa Naval Hospital while her father was stationed at North Island Air Station on the Coronado Peninsula in California.
Lieutenant Victor Everson served his country with honor and distinction and became a Commander after twelve years in the Navy. Catherine Everson never lost her passion for exercise and competition and strived to provide her children with a healthy lifestyle. As they were growing up, she would take Alex and Kris to facilities in the nearest town or city where they could do various activities. Catherine did not want her children to become addicted to social media websites so she monitored their internet access without being a helicopter parent that hovered over their child, overseeing all aspects of their lives, including social interaction. She wanted them to succeed on their merits and learn from their mistakes. The Everson children were lucky enough to have a strong paternal influence too and when Commander Everson was home, he was present, both mentally and physically and Alex and Kris knew that their father always had time for them. He was the kind of man that led by example and emphasized a code of honor. One of his favorite sayings was, “Once you get in the habit of breaking your word, it gets easier each time.” Victor Everson was strong, yet flexible and was always willing to listen to another point of view and willing to admit when he was wrong. He wanted his children to have strong opinions, but also to know the distinct difference between having strong feelings and possessing hard facts. Alex and Kris learned at an early age to respect the family hierarchy and chain of command.
Catherine showed her children various agility drills and emphasized how proper balance and footwork were essential in all sports. She always asked her children what their interests were and never pushed, but constantly challenged them so they would not be complacent with their accomplishments and strive to get better. Sometimes she would pitch to her son from and her daughter would be happily running all over the outfield chasing down dozens of baseballs. It didn’t take long before the Everson children settled in on their sport of choice. Alex chose golf and Kris preferred tennis. Even though Catherine was not an expert in either sports, she learned enough about them to coach her children. It wasn’t unusual for the Everson family to play 36 holes of golf in the morning then go to the tennis courts in the afternoon to hit balls for a couple hours. One of Kris’s favorite possessions was a birthday present that she got when she was eight-years old. It was a ball machine that sent tennis balls flying at her so she could practice hitting forehands and backhands. It was hard work, but it was a labor of love and she enjoyed every moment it.
The work ethic and patriotism that Victor and Catherine instilled in their children served them well as they got older. It strengthened them as people and athletes. They faced adversity head on and never sought out a safe space because somebody offended them or things didn’t work out like they planned.
Kris and Alex had better fundamentals, trained harder and had the proper mindset to deal with pressure situations when things were at their most crucial. They made the shots when they counted most and never gave up. They embraced the old idiom, ‘It isn’t over until it’s over’. They were humble winners and gracious losers and kept their priorities in order; God, family, country and sports was in fourth place.
Both siblings began winning tournaments in their age groups on a consistent basis. Whenever Alex competed in a golf tournament, his sister would caddy for him and when Kris played in tennis tournaments, Alex would practice with her between her matches.
Even though he was offered numerous college scholarships, Alex declined them. The atmosphere on most campuses did not coincide with his conservative upbringing and core values so when he was offered an opportunity to play on the European Golf Tour, Alex accepted it. After a discussion, the family decided that Catherine would accompany her son to Italy to help him get situated and Kris would stay with her father. It was a major change for the Eversons, but they were strong and independent and knew that being a close-knit family had more to do with love, honor and loyalty than being in the same locale.
One of the most successful players on the tour was Pietro Badalucco, a multi-millionaire who resided in San Marino, the fifth smallest country in the world, covering only 24 square miles. San Marino is an enclave surrounded by Italy in Southern Europe, on the border between the regions of Emilia Romagna and Marche and six miles from the Adriatic coast at Rimini. He told Catherine and Alex, “I have several villas and one of them is currently vacant. It is completely furnished. You can stay there until you can make other arrangements.”
“How much?” Catherine asked.
“Stay the first month as my guest and if you like it, we can do something more long term?”
Catherine said, “That is very generous of you.”
“It is my pleasure, signora.”
Catherine stayed six weeks with her son and during that time he played in two tournaments. Alex came in seventh in the Italian Open and placed 3rd in the Porsche Open in Germany. Pietro promised to keep a watchful eye on Alex, and Catherine returned to California to rejoin her husband and daughter. Over the next four years, Alex became very successful on the tour and Kris was now ranked 16th in the world in tennis. Captain Victor Everson decided to retire rather try for Admiral and discussed the issue with wife, “So what do you think?”
“If that’s what you want to do, its fine with me,” Catherine said.
“Are you up for one more deployment…last one and long time coming.”
Catherine inquired, “Accompanied or unaccompanied?”
“Accompanied, Naval Air Station Sigonella: ‘The Hub of the Med’, is in Sicily. The Navy is putting together a new squadron and they offered me Commanding Officer. I figured that we would be closer to Alex. It’s a good assignment, but I won’t take it if you don’t want me to. I can walk away right now.”
“What about Kris?” Catherine said.
“She’s traveling all over the world playing tennis so I don’t think she’ll mind if we go to Europe. Let’s ask her just to be sure,” Victor said.
Kris told her parents, “Do you mind if I come along?”
“That’s even better!” Catherine exclaimed.
Per government regulations the Everson were only allowed to take a certain amount of weight to Europe so they packed up the rest of their furniture and personal items into a U Haul truck and took them to Catherine’s parents’ two acre property in Flagstaff, Arizona. They towed one of their cars and Kris drove the other one. They decided to make a small vacation out of it at the same time since it could be a while before they were stateside again.
Victor told his in-laws, “I appreciate your help with this. I’ll send you money each month to pay for the storage.”
“That’s not necessary, we’ve got plenty of room, “Jeff Douglas, Catherine’s father said and then added with great emotion and sincerity, “We love you and we’re glad to do anything to help you. I’ll start the cars on a regular basis so don’t worry about that. You’ve got enough on your mind. The main thing is that you stay safe and thank for your service.”
Myra Douglas, Catherine’s mother added, “We’d like to make you an offer. Since we have more land than we can use, why not build a house here after you retire. Even if you don’t use you as your primary residence, it would make a great vacation home. We would love to have you around.”
“Sounds good to me,” Kris smiled, “Even if my parents don’t take that offer, I gladly will if you let me.”
“I have an idea….why don’t we make just make it big enough for everybody,” Victor suggested.
“It’s a deal, “Catherine said and raised to her glass to propose a toast, “To my parents!”
The Everson decided to rent a villa instead of living in base housing and Alex came down to visit from San Marino once his family got situated. He was doing extremely well on the golf tour and Catherine took on the responsibility of overseeing his charity.
While living in Sicily, Kris met Eddie Mallory, a Navy Seal who was currently assigned to the base with his team. They were both very athletic and had similar core values. They were overachievers who didn’t take themselves seriously and there was a strong chemistry between them.
Captain Everson’s squadron was a combination of fighter jets and transport aircraft and their primary function was to fly covert missions throughout Europe. It was the Navy’s version of the Army’s 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (SOAR) that flew Delta Force and Special Operators all over the world.
Kris broke into the top ten in tennis and her mother traveled with her to tournaments around the world. When her popularity and income increased, her mother suggested, “Why don’t you and your brother combine on one charity instead of having two separate ones?”
“And we would focus on what?” Kris asked.
“Veterans and animals,” Catherine said.
“How can I say no to that?”
Catherine replied, “I’ll contact your brother and begin the paperwork
Victor was happy to hear that his old friend, Mike Ruiz would be coming in from Naval Air Station, Lemoore to take over the duties of executive officer for the squadron. They went through Top Gun together and served on three West Pacific deployments.
The French Open was due to begin in two weeks and Kris was practicing diligently for the two week tournament. Alex made arrangements with Chuck Pare, a French golfer to rent his guest house in Paris so the entire family could stay there during the event. Since this was one of the four majors in tennis, the other three being the Australian Open, Wimbledon and the US Open Victor requested two weeks leave from his duties in Sigonella to see his daughter in action and it was granted.
Kris played very well in her initial matches at Roland Garros, hitting winners from both wings. She had a high percentage of first serves in and kept her unforced errors to a minimum. It was a good time for the family as they chose to stay inside rather than go out to restaurants or do any sightseeing. Kris made it through the quarterfinals after a tough match with Irina Buchova. Her semifinal match would be against hard serving Rebeka Bonavento.
Victor received a call from Mike Ruiz while he was having dinner with his family. Mike said, “I know this is bad timing, but we’ve got an emergency…sorry.”
“It’s going to take me a while to get back,” Victor said.
“I can be in the air in ten minutes and pick you at De Gaulle in sixty,” Mike said.
“That important, huh,” Victor said, “See you there.”
Victor informed his family, “Duty calls, I’ve got to go…sorry.”
Kris smiled, “No apologies necessary,” and hugged her father, “We know the drill.”
Victor said, “I need a ride to the airport.”
“I’ll take you,” Alex volunteered.
Catherine said, “I’ll ride along.”
“You get some rest, you’ve got a big day tomorrow,” Victor gave his daughter a big hug, “I’ll be thinking about you and good luck.”
When Victor arrived a secured location of Charles de Gaulle International Airport, Commander Ruiz was waiting next to a F-16 B Falcon fighter jet. Victor put on his flight gear including his helmet.
“Do you want pilot or co-pilot?” Mike asked.
Victor said, “You take it,” and climbed into the backseat. The plane received immediate clearance from the control tower and taxied for take-off. It was airborne in less than two minutes.
Kris won her semi-final match in straight sets and had a day to rest before the finals. At about the same time Captain Everson was in a top secret briefing with military and intelligence officials.
Admiral George Benes explained, “A nuclear device had been stolen from a secure location outside Brussels, Belgium by a terrorist group. It was equipped with a homing beacon device and we have located it outside the small town of Cortina d’Ampezzo near the Falzarego Pass. Take a look at these,” Surveillance photos were shown on the big screen television with the 8G resolution. Victor got up from his chair, walked over to the screen and pointed to one photo. “I need a close-up on this one”
“What is it?” Admiral Benes asked.
Victor pointed to a mountaintop with some equipment on it, “If I’m not mistaken and I don’t think I am, that is the Overview 6000. It is the most sophisticated and technically advanced air defense system in the world. Trying to fly past it would be like running through a rainstorm without getting wet. I’ve come against it once before, but it does have a weakness.”
“Which is?” Admiral Benes asked.
“It is better shooting up than shooting down,” Victor said.
The Navy Seals was assigned the mission of retrieving the device. They would have to do a high altitude low opening parachute jump and hit a landing zone at the edge of a cliff that was no larger than a three car driveway. And if that wasn’t hard enough, they would have to do it at night.
This was a time critical mission and every second counted or hundreds of thousands of people could die if the device was detonated. Admiral Benes said, “We go in 18 hours. Can you be ready?”
“We’ll have to be…that’s our job, sir.” Eddie Mallory said.
Back at Roland Garros, Kris was playing against Gabriella Batosa in the finals and it was the deciding set. Kris was leading 5 games to four and was serving when all of sudden she lost focus and double faulted and proceeded to drop the next two games when visions of her father kept flashing through her mind.
The Navy Seals got in a firefight with the terrorists and found the nuclear device using their tracking device. Eddie radioed in, “We’ve got the package and are moving toward the extraction point.”
As they entered Falzarego Pass, they were surrounded by terrorists and it looked hopeless for the Special Operators. The radio call went out, “We’re trapped…request immediate air support…sending coordinates.”
Captain Everson and Commander Ruiz were cruising in their F-35 Lightnings about 20 miles from the Seals’ location when they heard the call and hit the afterburners. Captain Everson ordered Commander Ruiz, “Don’t let them lock in on you, I’m going in.” then dived to the canyon floor. He took out three gun emplacements that had the Seals pinned down, saving their lives in the process. Victor fired a missile at the overview defense system and destroyed it before anti-aircraft fire from a hidden location severely damaged his tail assembly, causing him to lose control of his aircraft. Every light on his control panel started flashing, indicating numerous system failure. Victor radioed to Commander Ruiz, “I’m ejecting!”
The Seals made it to the extraction point with the nuclear device and Commander Ruiz circled his friend’s position until he got low on fuel then departed for base. Victor was injured in the jump, suffering a badly sprained ankle. He immediately went into evade and escape mode, limping off in the dense undergrowth.
Eddie and his Navy Seal team wanted to go back to get the pilot that saved them, but the Department of Defense denied their request after getting into a territorial dispute with NATO officials. Commander Ruiz was outraged at the administration’s disregard for his friend’s life and their failure to stand up against bureaucratic posturing of our European allies.
Eddie and Mike knew that they were risking their careers, but they mutually agreed to tell the Everson family about what happened and plan their own rescue mission.
When the Eversons arrived at Cortina d’Ampezzo, they were met by Eddie Malory, Mike Ruiz, and six several Navy Seals. “We’re going after your father.”
Catherine asked, “Does Command know you’re doing this?”
“Captain Everson saved our lives and now we’re going to do our best to save his. That’s the way it works for us.” Eddie stated, “We leave no one behind.”
“We’re going too,” Kris said.
“It’s too dangerous,” Mike protested.
Kris said, “My father saved your lives and now you want to save his, that’s your code. In our family we have a code too, when one of us is trouble, we all answer the call.”
“If you are willing to risk your lives and careers then we can do no less,” Catherine said, “We’re wasting time…let’s go.”
Eddie smiled, “I know better than to argue with an Everson once they’ve made up their mind,” then pulled out a map and pointed to an area, “This is the last place we saw your father’s parachute. I’m hoping that he found a place to hide and that the terrorists didn’t see where he landed.”
“I like your optimism,” Kris said. “I’ll hang on to that if you don’t mind.”
After three hours of strenuous hiking over mountainous terrain, they heard gunfire in the distance. Kris said to Eddie, “I need a weapon.”
Eddie knew better than to argue so he gave Kris his Heckler and Koch 416 assault rifle and a bandolier of magazines, “Do you know how to handle one of these?”
Kris pulled out the magazine, checked it and reloaded, “I do, but thanks for asking.”
About 1000 yards away Victor was doing his best to hold off the terrorists with only his service weapon. Just when all seemed lost, he heard a different sound of gunfire and listened intently. As they came over the ridge Kris took aim and shot one terrorist and Eddie killed another.
After the rest of terrorists were neutralized by the Seal Team, Eddie called out, “Captain Everson, all clear, you can come out!”
Victor came into view and was overcome by several emotions. The first one was relief, followed by elation. When Captain Everson saw his wife and two children standing with the Seals and Commander Ruiz, he was speechless. After he thought about the situation for a few seconds, he was outraged, “What the hell were you thinking? You had to know how dangerous this was. I expected you to make better decisions than this. You better have a damn good reason for being here.” Victor vented his frustration at the Navy Seals and Mike Ruiz.
Finally Kris interrupted him, “Take it easy, dad, they had no choice. If they refused to let us come along then we would have come on our own. We have the best reason in the world for being here.”
“I’m listening,” Victor said.
“Kris explained, “Very simple…love means nothing in tennis, in everything else it’s worth any risks.”