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Calendar >  Sergeant Wonderful and Ernest T. Best – Thomas Calabrese

Sergeant Wonderful and Ernest T. Best – Thomas Calabrese

By   /  February 13, 2021  /  7 Comments


They Had Skills

Thomas Calabrese — Hank Lee grew up on a cattle ranch outside Dumas, Texas in the Northern High Plains region, often called the Panhandle. This area is ranked as the number one county in Texas for cattle population. His father, Virgil, was a rough and tumble cowboy who served as a gunner on a B-17 Flying Fortress heavy bomber during World War II. He completed 25 missions and was wounded twice.

After returning home, he took over leadership of the family ranch. It didn’t matter what race, religion or political persuasion that a man was. Virgil judged each person on the quality of their character and their work ethic. As he became more successful, he often helped his hired hands purchase land of their own or lend them money when they were in need. Virgil was a man of honor, a true friend, a fierce enemy and he never wavered on any of them. His wife, Rita was Hispanic and born in Guadalupe, Mexico.

They had three sons, Hank, Ben and Clay. Virgil instilled the same qualities in them that he lived by. The boys were raised to lead by example and it was made emphatically clear that they could never ask anybody to do a chore on the sprawling ranch that they weren’t capable of doing themselves. Virgil emphasized, “Treat everyone with courtesy…like you would want to be treated.  Remember, that respect is earned and not given.”

As the three boys grew older and became more proficient, their duties and responsibilities expanded. By the time he was a senior at Dumas High School, Hank was the ranch foreman and not because he was the owner’s son, but because he earned it.

After his graduation in June 1967, Hank approached his father, “Sir, I’m thinking about joining the Marines, but I don’t want to leave you shorthanded on the ranch.”

Virgil retorted, “You let me worry about that, son. Serving in the military is both a privilege and a sacrifice. If you’re willing to go into harm’s way, then you let me worry about the ranch. When you’ve made up your mind, we’ll talk more.”

            “When you put it that way, I’ve made up my mind.”

            “Remember…this country is your home and we defend our home,” Virgil extended his calloused hand and his son shook it. This was a bond that would never be broken.

Hank Lee joined the Marine Corps and quickly adapted to military life. After all, he had spent his entire youth getting up before the crack of dawn, working hard and taking orders.

When he got to Vietnam, he applied to join the Combined Action Program (CAP Unit). A counterinsurgency tool usually comprised of a thirteen-member Marine rifle squad and a Navy Corpsman. The CAP concept in Vietnam was opposed by some who considered the “hearts and minds” programs a waste of money, men, and material. CAPs were often ignored at best and despised at worst by many area commands and commanders. The prevailing concept was; “Get ’em by the throats and their hearts and minds will follow.”

Corporal Hank Lee couldn’t disagree more with the pinheads in command because he knew that they were making a difference in their battle against the Viet Cong.

Beginning in 1968, the CAP concept underwent some changes. Due to factors such as a high number of attacks and casualties among the static CAPS, the “roving CAP was started. Roving CAPs had no fixed village – they rotated among two or more villages, and often spent the night in the field. They were very mobile, as opposed to the original concept, and thus kept the enemy guessing as to where they would be on any given night.

While out in the field, the Viet Cong attacked one of the villages that Hank’s team was assigned to protect and when the Marines returned, they found that dozens of villagers had been tortured and killed. Corporal Lee was enraged by the brutality of the attack and knew that the Viet Cong were sending a message that to help the Americans would mean they would be killed.

Corporal Lee fell in love with a beautiful young Vietnamese girl named Ha’ ng (meaning angel in the full moon). Her father and brothers were killed by the Viet Cong, but she still continued to help the Marines. When Hank was wounded, Ha’ng helped the CAP Corpsman stop the bleeding until a medivac chopper arrived. Her efforts helped save his life.

The military made it very difficult for Marines to marry a Vietnamese woman. It was strongly discouraged as a matter of policy. Vietnam, like every other country, had its share of beautiful and intelligent women and Ha’ng was one of them. She attended a catholic school operated by French nuns and spoke English, French and Vietnamese and was well educated. Despite the obstacles, Hank Lee would not be deterred. He jumped through all the hoops, crossed every T and dotted every I and married the beautiful Asian woman in a ceremony conducted by the battalion chaplain.  Hank wrote a letter to his parents to notify them of his nuptials and his wife left Vietnam for her new life on the Lee ranch. 

Things changed shortly after Ha’ng’s departure. Enemy activities increased dramatically throughout I Corps and Sergeant Lee and his CAG unit were sent to a different location. His wife still had relatives in the village and Hank realized that they remained in danger. As much as he wanted to return to the states, he chose to extend for six more months. Usually a Marine would rate 20 days leave or an additional R&R for staying in Vietnam. Hank chose to spend his time at his wife’s village.

He used his connections with the armorer to get an M-60 machine gun and a dozen M18 Claymore anti-personnel mines. With the help of the villagers that he worked with before, they set up an ambush for the Viet Cong on the trail that they were known to use. The mines were set on both sides of the path. It was almost 2100 hours when a patrol of 23 Viet Cong guerillas approached.  Hank opened fire on the front of the column with the M-60, forcing the enemy to retreat into a hail of mini steel ball bearings propelled by the exploding mines.

Not knowing if the Marines were back in the area, the Viet Cong found a different route to transport weapons and food. The village never was attacked again during Hank’s remaining time in country. The Marine knew that he couldn’t stay forever, but still felt a sense of sadness leaving Vietnam. There was still a lot of work to be done, but somebody else would have to do it.

After being discharged from the Marines, Hank went back to Texas. Like his father, he didn’t talk much about his combat experiences and went back to work on the ranch. Ha’ng changed her name to Angel, which was the American translation and went back to school and became a teacher. She accepted a position at Dumas High School, teaching languages and world history.

Hank and Angel had three children. Lily, became a horse veterinarian, Simone majored in animal science and business and took over duties as ranch manager and oversaw the production and care of the livestock.

Hank watched Rawhide on television when he was a youngster and was a big fan of Clint Eastwood and his character, Rowdy Yates. When his son was born, he was named Clint Rowdy Lee. Like his grandfather and father, the young boy started working as soon as he could handle any chore.

Clint played football and baseball in high school and made all state as a running back. He also learned to speak Vietnamese and French fluently from his mother and Spanish from being around the numerous Hispanic workers on the ranch. Clint received numerous offers to play college ball and his family thought for sure he would accept one of them.

Hank and Virgil were watching a hired hand work a new horse by walking him around the corral Virgil called out instructions, “Take it easy with him.”

The nervous horse reared up and knocked the cowboy to the ground. The angry man got up and hit the horse across the face with the handle of a rake. This enraged the patriarch of the Lee clan. Despite his age, Virgil rushed into the corral and pushed the cowboy aside, “Damn you! There is no excuse to be cruel when breaking a horse, they react to what we as humans do to them!”         

The cowboy quickly apologized, “I’m sorry sir…I lost my temper.”

            “Get out of my sight…I’ll talk to you later.”

The cowboy slinked off, knowing now was not the time to ask for a second chance. Virgil called to another ranch hand, “Give this horse a good rubdown and make sure he’s calmed down before putting him in his stall.”

            “Yes sir.”

Clint approached his father and grandfather and asked, “I want to talk with you when you got the time.”

            “Both of us?” Hank asked.

            “Yes sir,” Clint answered.

            “Let’s talk in my office.” Virgil suggested

Virgil’s office was attached to the main barn with a panoramic view of the pasture.

 “What’s on your mind, son?”  Hank asked.

            “You already made up your mind on what college you want to go to?” Virgil added.

            “That’s just it, I don’t want to go college. I want to join the military. You both served so I wanted to tell you first to see what you thought.”

Hank was both surprised and proud, “You know what your grandfather said to me when I told him I wanted to join the Marines?”

            “What?” Clint asked.

Virgil answered, “It’s been a while but I think I said serving in the military is both a privilege and a sacrifice. This country is your home and we always defend our home… or something like that.”

In San Francisco, an ultra-wealthy family and card-carrying members of the political elite class, lived in luxury and had a totally different philosophy on life than the Lee family. The McSwine clan believed that anything they could steal, embezzle or manipulate was theirs in the first place.

Gavin McSwine served as governor of California before Ronald Reagan and literally put the state into financial crisis by selling or bargaining away anything that wasn’t nailed down. He had two sons, Burke and Gerard, who became power players in the state pension program. They made tens of millions from their illicit dealings.

Burke McSwine had three children. His two daughters, Destiny and Deidre, were powerful lobbyists representing Silicon Valley and the pharmaceutical industry. The money continued to roll in for the family and a large share went to the ‘Big Guy’ as Burke was called by his cronies.

What does a person do when he has all the money he could ever use in ten lifetimes? He thirsts for power, unlimited and far reaching power. Burke had high hopes for his son, so much that he named him, George Banner. When asked, he quickly boasted, “The McSwine family are American patriots! My son is named after George Washington and the Star Spangled Banner.”

Growing up, George was a boy of inferior intelligence. He was a troublemaker with a mean streak and a sense of entitlement. His father gave hundreds of thousands of dollars to a private elementary school to keep him from being expelled for his bad grades and cruel pranks. In high school, it was much of the same thing, only more severe in nature. George physically assaulted three young girls while on dates with them.  Burke gave the families six-figure settlements in return for signing non-disclosure agreements.

To build his son’s resume, Burke donated several million dollars to various charities including veterans, animal rescue and women’s empowerment organizations. In return, the charities allowed George to volunteer. By volunteering, it just meant that the lazy boy would stop by for an hour or so every couple of months and flirt with the staff, then drive off in his Ferrari 488 Pista Spider to get drunk or do drugs.

Burke became so concerned about his son’s ever-increasing erratic behavior that he had no other choice but to hire bodyguards to shadow him 24 hours a day. He also rigged a fake rescue of a family whose vehicle caught fire on the side of a road in the hills of Malibu.

George supposedly rushed into certain danger to save them. Several paid bystanders were strategically placed around the area with their cellphone cameras to video the heroic act from every angle.  The entire incident was actually planned by a special effects coordinator from a Hollywood Studio.  George and the family were played by actors and stuntmen. The video got several million hits on social media with the caption, ‘Hero Risks Life to Save Family.’

Everything was going according to Burke’s devious plan to make his son the next President of the United States. George felt that anything he wanted was there for the taking and anybody who didn’t like it could be bought off or threatened. He was incapable, untrustworthy and a total disgrace. But this was politics, and as long as the uninformed and easily manipulated American voters didn’t know the truth, perception would reign supreme and reality wasn’t even in the game.  Once George was firmly entrenched in the White House, he could let his staff handle everything under Burke’s shrewd oversight. Nothing would stand in the way of the McSwine dynasty and juggernaut.

To any other father, knowing that his son was a despicable deviant and a predator might alarm them, but not to Burke McSwine, who only considered it a minor character flaw. He introduced George to a secret society of politicians, entertainment celebrities and high-powered business executives that included Jeffrey Epstein, who were as equally depraved as his son was. Burke wasn’t concerned about stopping George or even getting him professional help, he just wanted his son to learn from the best on how to hide his perversions from the public.

It was sadly ironic when George Banner McSwine was appointed the Attorney General of California, the top law enforcement official in the state. Ironic was too mild a word considering he was an incorrigible criminal and solitary confinement in San Quentin would have been too good for him. 

Clint Rowdy Lee joined the Marine Corps and after completing regular infantry training, he qualified and was accepted into Force Recon. After two deployments to Afghanistan, Clint volunteered to join a special unit comprised of special operatives and foreign allies. Their primary mission was to protect persecuted Christians in the Middle East. After another tour on this noble mission, the Pentagon abruptly pulled the plug and disbanded the force. It was just another example of political mismanagement interfering with military strategy.

Six years in the Corps and Clint was back in Dumas. Three months later, retired Colonel Ernest T. Best, Delta Force, and grandson of Richard H. Best, former Navy bomber pilot who scored hits on two of four Japanese aircraft carriers during the critical Battle of Midway, came calling at the ranch. He was invited to stay for dinner by Virgil.

While eating grass fed steaks, Colonel Best complimented the hosts, “This is the best steak I’ve ever tasted.”

Hank responded, “We put a lot of work into making sure that our cattle are properly cared for. Nothing chemical goes into them. They are naturally raised and humanely treated. My daughter Simone makes sure of that.”

            “It’s a team effort,” Simone responded modestly.

Angel was an astute woman, “Colonel, you were in the Army, my son was in the Marines. You’re not friends, so I know that this is not a social call. What exactly is it?”

Colonel Best set his fork down after finishing the last bite of his steak, “Well Mrs. Lee, while we were in different branches, our mission was the same. We were in the same area of operation and took out some really bad actors while saving a lot of innocent people.  Clint, I believe that you would agree with the last part of my statement.”

            “I would, sir,” Clint replied without hesitation.

            “I have been offered the opportunity to put together my own team. It will be funded by some wealthy benefactors, but the mission remains the same. The big difference is there will no political oversight and nobody to leave us hanging in mid-mission.”

Virgil interjected, “Are you asking my grandson to be a mercenary?”

            “I call it a private security force, but I guess mercenary works too.”

Clint was interested but didn’t want to make a rash decision, “I believed in the mission at the time, but as far as going back…that’s something else.”

            “You’re right, I’m only interested in men that are 100 per cent sure. I’ve got six more weeks to put together my team, then I’m heading back over. I have a few more stops in Texas, then I’m going to New Mexico and Oklahoma.” Colonel Best handed Clint his business card, “Talk to your family and think about it. If you’re interested, then call me and I’ll give you the details on the pay and benefits. I’d appreciate it if you’d let me know within three weeks. That will give me enough time to fill your slot.”

            “Copy that, sir.” Clint replied.

Two weeks passed and Clint had not discussed the issue of leaving with anyone. Virgil rode up on his horse as Clint sat on his own on the North Ridge, “The barbecue is on Saturday afternoon. If you want to invite any of your friends, then you better call them.”

            “What’s the occasion?” Clint asked.

            “It’s your going away party.”

Clint was confused, “I never told you I was leaving.”

Virgil said.  “You didn’t have to…we all know the kind of man that you are. Somebody tells you that there’s an unfinished job or that there’s people in trouble, you’re gonna’ go.”

            “Am I that predictable?” Clint asked.

            “It’s called reliable, dependable and answering the call of duty,” Virgil said, “I’ve always been proud to call your father my son. I’m equally as proud to call you my grandson.”

            “That means a lot coming from you, sir.” Clint said.

The plane landed at Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv, Israel. A man was holding a placard with Clint’s name on it.

Fifty elite warriors from the Navy Seals, Air Force Pararescue, Marines, Delta Force and Army Rangers met in the conference room of the Carlton Tel Aviv. Colonel Best addressed the group, “I handpicked each and every one of you…which means that I trust you with my life. Everything is comped so enjoy yourselves and get to know one another. We start training on Monday and we’ll be moving at hyper-speed. Be ready…every day that we’re not engaging the terrorists, people are being killed.”

The Americans met Captain Gina Rizzoli of the Israeli Army’s 33rd Caracal Battalion, of which 70% is female, at a training site outside the city. Captain Rizzoli’s father was Italian and her mother was Israeli. She was raised Catholic and had been in the Israeli military for eight years. “Gentlemen, I look forward to working with you. I will be your liaison between our three intelligence agencies; Aman, military intelligence, Shin Bet, internal security and Mossad, counter terrorism and covert operations.”

On a need to know basis, Clint never found out who was funding the special unit but he really didn’t care. They were based in Israel and the Americans lived among the population until called upon for training or a mission. The former Marine used his experience growing up on a ranch to volunteer at the Freedom Farm Animal Sanctuary during his down time.

While he was working at the sanctuary one day, Gina Rizzoli, who also volunteered, showed up and was surprised to see the former Marine helping with the animals and called to him, “Clint Lee.”

Clint turned around and saw the dark-haired woman smiling at him, “Captain Rizzoli.”

            “We’re off duty, call me Gina.”

Over the next few months, they developed a friendship that was turning into something stronger. When they weren’t tracking down terrorists around the region, they could usually be found socializing or at the sanctuary.

Gina affectionately nicknamed the former Marine, ‘Sergeant Wonderful’, because of the way Clint interacted with the various animals and how they related to him, “You’ve got a gift.”

Clint modestly deflected the praise, “You don’t grow up on a ranch in Texas and not appreciate animals. You should see how the rest of my family relates to them …they are truly amazing.”

            “Is that an invitation?” Gina asked.

Clint said, “Excuse me?”

            “It sounded like you were inviting me to Texas.”

Five years later, Clint and Gina were alternating their time between Israel and Texas and their relationship was still going strong. Colonel Best turned over command of the special unit to Navy Seal Commander, Tony Mordente.

He accepted one of the leadership roles in the Patriot Party, a new political movement. He was elected to Congress from Nevada’s 2nd Congressional District, which included Reno, his hometown.

The Patriot Party continued to grow in strength and popularity as more Americans became disillusioned with the two established parties. They quickly garnished the support of the middle-class, military and law enforcement, as well as the people who still wanted to believe that their government represented them and was not just bad political theater.

Several years passed and Clint watched with great interest as his former commander continued to make a name for himself in American politics, much to the displeasure of career bureaucrats in the other two political parties.

Once again, Clint was caught off guard when Colonel Best showed up at the ranch unannounced, “Don’t you ever call in advance, Colonel?”

Ernest T. Best said, “I guess I’m just used to surprise attacks.”

            “Don’t tell me you’re starting up another unit?”

            “In a way…I’m going to run for President,” Ernest T. Best said, as if it was just another mission.

Clint smiled, “If I didn’t know you so well, I’d think you were kidding. You got my vote.”

            “I need something else.”

            “If I can,” Clint offered.

Ernest T. Best said, “I need you to be my Vice-President.”

Clint burst out laughing, “Yeah right, a Texas cowboy who spends half his time chasing terrorists. I don’t think you could have made a worse choice.”

            “I’ve vetted everyone that I know and nobody rates higher than you. Everything about you and your family represents the best of America. It would be my honor to have you be my running mate.”

Clint shook his head in resignation and sighed, “I can’t think of anything that I would want to do less than be in politics…except maybe be captured and tortured by the enemy…even then it would be a close call.”

            “We all have to make sacrifices for the country we love,” Ernest T. Best said.

Burke McSwine had set up everything for a smooth campaign run for his son. Social Media would squelch any unfavorable stories and the political pundits were on his side. Various polls had George McSwine winning in a close race, but close was too much of a chance for Burke to take.

When he found out that Ernest T. Best and Clint Lee were running on the Patriot Party ticket, Burke ordered his investigators to dig up dirt on the two men. What he got did not please him at all.

 “These guys come from families whose histories of military service goes back to World War II.  Their exploits read like a John Wayne war movie script…only more exciting and heroic,” Clinton Barnes stated, “We got nothing.”

Burke reviewed the dossier and knew he was going to need a contingency plan. No matter what it took, his son George was going to be President and they weren’t going to wait four more years. It was now or never! He contacted his connections in the Chinese Communist Party and explained what was at stake. China did not to wait either, too many multi-billion dollar deals hinged on George becoming President of the United States.

Gina contacted Clint while he was on the campaign trail, “How are you doing?”

            “Answering the same questions over and over is not my idea of fun,” Clint replied, “I miss you.”

Gina responded, “I miss you too. Mossad’s cyber-terrorism section has contacted me. They picked up internet communications about the voting machines being hacked.”

Clint was surprised, “They can do that?”

            “Yes indeed, been done all over the world in a lot of elections…getting more sophisticated with their backdoor programming,” Gina stated.

            “I’ll pass the word to Ernest T. and find how he wants to handle it.”

After informing Colonel Best, the Presidential candidate responded simply, “Not surprising.”

            “I’ve got an idea…if we know that they are going to illegally change the results of the election, why don’t we cheat in our favor?” Clint suggested.

            “That would be the smart thing…not the right thing, but the smart thing.”

Clint knew what Ernest T. was thinking, “Or I could ask if Gina’s people have the capabilities to make sure that every vote is counted accurately. We’ll either win or lose honestly.”

Ernest T. smiled mischievously, “Why didn’t I think of that.”

            “Yeah right…I’m sure that it never crossed your mind.”

Election Day came and Burke McSwine rented the Staple Center in Los Angeles for the celebration. Thousands of people were partying as music played and food and drink was plentiful. As the hours passed and the results of the election started coming in from the East Coast, the mood became less festive.

Burke became increasingly angry as each state started going against his son. When the results were known, Burke smashed everything in the dressing room, then called his contact in the Chinese Communist Party.

By Mid-December, George had already forgotten about the election and was back to his usual self-indulgent lifestyle, but Burke remained obsessed and could not let it go. He wanted revenge. The Speaker of the House would be next in line if something happened to President-Elect, Ernest T. Best and Vice-President Clint Lee. Since she was a member of the same party that would be some consolation. Four years was a long time away, but there was a slim chance he could keep his son from self-destructing in that time frame. There were no other options.

The Chinese assassins were given their assignment. Eliminate the newly elected President and Vice-President, who were staying at the Lee Ranch in Texas, in preparation for their inauguration. They were also instructed to leave no witnesses.

A Mexican cartel helped the heavily armed 30 person Chinese strike team sneak across the border from Juarez, Mexico into Texas.  From there they were driven 455 miles from El Paso to Dumas in a large tour bus.

They came across the open pasture at ten minutes after midnight. In the distance was the ranch house, barn and bunkhouse. The leader of the Chinese instructed his men to spread out when they got within two hundred yards of their target. They had only taken several steps when spotlights from both sides illuminated their position.

The Chinese opened fire but they were caught in a deadly ambush and had no chance. They were not going to give up, regardless of the situation and continued fighting to the last man. Virgil, Hank, Clint, Gina and members of the special force team slowly approached with their weapons in the ready position, from their concealed positions when the firing stopped.

Virgil looked down at the dead bodies and commented, “This country is our home and we defend it against all enemies, foreign and domestic.”

Several months later, George Banner McSwine was in a serious car accident when he crashed his Ferrari into a tree racing around a corner. While in the intensive care unit, he knew that he was going to die and wanted to clear his conscience. He called several television stations after his family left the hospital and made a deathbed confession to a lifetime of criminal behavior and implicated his father in the process.  George succumbed to his injuries three hours later.

When the story aired on all the major news networks, Burke McSwine knew the political charade was over. He sighed in relief, took a dozen sleeping pills, slit his wrists, sat down in the bathtub and slowly faded away. He was buried next to his son in Forrest Lawn, Cemetery, in Los Angeles.

A new legacy of honor and patriotism in America began with the election of Sergeant Wonderful and Ernest T. Best. They Had Skills.

The End


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  1. Robert says:

    Very good story and liked how you named your characters.

  2. John michels says:

    Great Story Tom one of the top 5 I have read

  3. Tony says:

    If I did not know better I would think Mr. Calabrese as switched gears from writing fiction to reporting the truth. Wow, great story and certainly hits home. This story reeks of people that love America and served to defend it as it was in the beginning and should be to the end. Continue to write Mr. Calabrese, you provide hope for our country.

  4. Clyde says:

    I listen to the news then read Tom’s stories and its hard to tell which one is fiction. God Bless America.

  5. Skip says:

    Another great comeuppance story! Semper Fidelis!

  6. Mona says:

    Excellent story. I enjoyed all the characters and plot. Nice ending too.

  7. Dan says:

    GOOD story again Tom !!!!

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