But The Third Time Is The Charm
Thomas Calabrese – Mike Hogan was born on Camp Pendleton Marine Corps base. He was the youngest child of Colonel Steve and Emily Hogan. His sister Claire was three years older than him and Katie was sixteen months his senior. Because they were so close in age and were very athletic they often played sports together. The family lived in military housing at Camp Del Mar and the back of their government quarters offered a panoramic view of the beach so they could see when the waves were good or when people were playing volleyball. Mike often teamed up with one of his sisters and they would take on all comers and win a lot more games than they would lose.
An atmospheric river was drenching the entire state and there was a high surf advisory. Waves were reaching a height of 15 feet along some of the beaches. Mike was standing in the backyard watching the ocean unleash its fury on the shore so he asked his sisters, “What you say that we catch a few waves?”
Claire and Emily came outside and took a look and Claire commented, “Looks a little too rough for me. I’ll pass.”
“Count me out,” Katie said.
The waves continued to get bigger as the day progressed and Mike couldn’t resist the temptation to try his luck. Without telling his parents or his sisters, he got his surfboard, strapped it to a two wheel cart, connected it to his bicycle and headed down to the Oceanside Pier. Dodge Nexworth was standing on the sand and looking out to sea when Mike walked up. Dodge was South African, 38 years of age and had surfed all the world so when he spoke about waves, everybody listened because he was speaking from years of experience. Dodge liked the young boy who was always courteous and inquisitive.
“How is it looking?” Mike asked.
Dodge responded with precise details, “We’re experiencing a South swell and the conditions have changed a lot in the last six hours. There have been a lot of rescues on the North beaches because that’s where all the action is. It’s super consistent and the sets are coming in every 15 minutes. That kind of consistency puts inexperienced surfers at risk and some of them are coming dangerously close to the pier. A few are getting sucked out to sea and the lifeguards are having to rescue them. There’s a lot of brown choppy water which means strong riptides.”
“Thanks, appreciate the info,” Mike said.
Mike started to enter the water and Dodge offered, “I’ll go with you.”
“Haven’t you been out?” Mike asked.
“I caught a few earlier this morning, but since you’re here, I figured to catch a couple more,” Dodge would have probably would have called it a day, but he didn’t want Mike to go out by himself.
They paddled out and sat in the take-off zone and waited for a good wave. When one came, “It’s all yours,” Dodge said.
Mike caught the wave and another surfer cut him off. While both men were in the barrel, the other surfer wiped out and his board was propelled with such force that it hit Mike and knocked him off his surfboard. He was ‘ragdolled’ and pummeled by the massive wave and swept into the pier where he crashed into one of the wooden pilings.
Dodge knew it was a serious situation when he didn’t see Mike come up. He caught the next wave and surfed toward the pier and dived off his board to search for Mike. While Mike’s lungs struggled for air and everything turned black and silent his spirit floated out of his body and hovered over the crashing waves. Dodge dived down and searched the area, came up gulped some air and went down again. He did this three times as he fought the waves. Exhausted, he swam to shore and collapsed on the beach as lifeguards rushed out on jet skis to aid in the search. All this time, Mike’s spirit was floating above it all.
Somebody yelled, “He’s over here!”
Mike had been washed ashore and wasn’t breathing. Dodge rushed over and immediately began giving him CPR as a small group of people gathered around. A few of the onlookers had their cellphones out and were recording the situation. Mike looked down at his body from his elevated vantage point as the lifeguards frantically worked on him. Dodge encouraged, “C’mon Mike, you can do it…breath….c’mon, breath.”
Just when everybody had given up hope, Mike’s spirit re-entered his body and he opened his eyes and sat up. People were dumfounded and elated at the same time. Dodge placed his hand on Mike’s shoulder and sighed in relief, “I thought we lost you.”
“I’m fine,” Mike replied.
Lifeguard Chad McDougal commented, “We called for an ambulance.”
“That’s not necessary,” Mike protested.
“Its standard procedure that anytime we give CPR, you have to go to the hospital,” Chad said.
“Don’t argue,” Dodge said.
Since Camp Pendleton Hospital was closer than Tri City Medical Center and Mike was a military dependent that is where he was taken. He was only 14 years of age so his family was notified. They were naturally concerned, but Doctor Bill Donahue reassured them, “I did a thorough examination and Mike appears to be fine. If anything seems out of the ordinary then don’t hesitate to bring him back in.”
When Mike’s family entered the treatment room, the first thing he did was apologize for the inconvenience, “Sorry to bother you.”
His mother asked, “What happened?”
“I got hit by another dude’s board…no big deal. I told the lifeguard I was fine, but he sent me here anyway.”
Katie pulled out her cellphone and showed the video of the lifeguards performing CPR on her brother and commented, “Looks like kind of a big deal to me. They don’t usually do CPR unless it’s a big deal.”
Colonel Hogan felt that this was not the right time to scold his son because he was too relieved to find out that he was alright, “Let’s go home, son. We’ll talk about this later.”
“Yes sir,” Mike responded.
Mike never told his parents about his out of body experience for two reasons; he wouldn’t know how to explain it even if he tried and it was such an intensely emotional experience that he wanted to keep it private. His parents disciplined him by not allowing him to go surfing or go to the beach for 30 days.
At first, Mike didn’t see the connection between his newfound appreciation for things that he used to take for granted and his near death experience on the beach. He wasn’t stupid so eventually he came to realize what was happening to him and embraced the transformation. For lack of a better explanation, he ‘went with the flow’. His family noticed the difference in his behavior and discussed it among themselves when Mike wasn’t home.
Claire asked, “Am I the only one that sees a change in Mike?”
“Remember how he used to eat really fast and now he’s the last one done,” Katie said.
“He also seems a lot more focused and positive,” Emily added, “His school counselor called to tell me how well he was doing. She asked what had changed with his own home environment and I couldn’t give her an answer.
“The other morning I was up at 0400 hours and Mike was in the backyard doing yoga,” Colonel Hogan said, “I never knew that he wasn’t interested in yoga, he never mentioned it to me. I didn’t turn on the light and watched him for a few minutes from the kitchen window. Mike had his back turned and there was no way he could have seen me, then all of a sudden he calls out, “Good morning, Dad. Tell me how that is even possible.”
There were no answers forthcoming from any members of the Hogan family. They didn’t know what was going on, but since Mike was doing well and seemed happy, Colonel Hogan surmised, “Maybe it’s just a phase he’s going through.”
“Let’s hope it’s long one,” Emily said, “I like it.”
I don’t think that it would be presumptuous to say that almost everybody in this world has special memories that they treasure and default to them at various times of our life. We call upon them to ease our sadness, clear up confusion or even when just when we’re just feeling sentimental.
For Mike Hogan, his favorite recollection was when he was dead for over a minute and his spirit was unrestrained by the restrictions of the body and was halfway between heaven and earth. That incident was forever ingrained into his heart, soul and mind. Besides giving him a sense of serenity and tranquility, it also gave Mike a keen insight on how to deal with difficult and complex issues, whether they were of the heart or mind.
Over the next three years, Colonel Hogan had two unaccompanied deployments before receiving word that he was recommended for the rank of Brigadier General. The promotion would require a change of duty stations so the Hogans had a family meeting.
“I have two options; retire or take the take the promotion and leave the area. I don’t want to make the decision without getting your input,” Colonel Hogan said.
Claire said, “I’m in school so I’d like to stay and finish my degree then move and start over someplace new. Since you’re not sure where you’ll be going, there might not even be a school that offers the courses I need.”
“That’s a reasonable and logical decision, I can respect that,” Colonel Hogan said, “What about you, Katie, what’s your vote?”
Katie responded, “I fully support your decision to continue with your career if that’s what you want. The country and the Marine Corps need men like you, but I don’t want to move either, I’ll stay with Claire until I know what I want to do.”
“Two for staying so far,” Colonel Hogan said, “What about you, son…what’s your assessment of the situation?”
“You raised us to be self-sufficient and that is what we are,” Mike replied, “We’ll always be family and distance won’t ever change that. You should go because what’s best for you is what’s best for us. You wouldn’t be asking us what we thought if you weren’t prepared to accept our answer.”
“Another astute observation,” Colonel Hogan complimented his son.
Emily said, “We spoke to Christine Marshall, a friend of a mine from the fitness center. She’s a realtor and I told her that we were looking for an investment opportunity and if the right property came up for the right price, we might be interested. She called me a week ago and said she found a place. Your father and I looked at it.”
“We put in an offer and they accepted it,” Colonel Hogan said, “It’s in escrow, but we can always pull out.”
“If we decide to purchase it, you’ll be able to live there,” Emily said.
“Sounds good to me.” Claire said enthusiastically.
“Be careful what you wish for,” Colonel Hogan warned his children.
“What you do mean?” Katie asked.
Mike said, “Dad means that we’ll have to commit to doing our part before they close the deal.”
“Exactly,” Colonel Hogan said.
The four bedroom home was located in Sycamore Hills in Northern Oceanside, less than a mile from the backgate of Camp Pendleton. It was next door to retired Sergeant Major Robert Wolf’s residence.
Colonel Hogan discussed the financial aspects of the situation with is children, “We’ll put down a large enough down payment to keep the mortgage payments affordable. Your mother and I figured that if you paid $1500 and the utilities then that would be sufficient. It wouldn’t put too much financial burden on either one of us that way.”
Emily emphasized, “Of course, you’ll have to take care of the place, inside and out. Can you do it?”
“We can!” Claire said.
Two years passed and Claire had her degree in speech therapy and had a well paying job with the Carlsbad school district as a speech therapist. Katie was attending Palomar College and working part time as a waitress at the Officer’s Club on Camp Pendleton. To earn his share of the expenses, Mike got a job on the janitorial crew at the Home Depot located on Highway 76 between Oceanside and Vista and worked 30 hours a week. Steve Hogan asked Bob Wolf to look out for his children and the former Marine agreed with hesitation. Bob, not only looked for the three military dependents, he became good friends with them. They eventually came to the conclusion that they could always go to Bob with any problem and he would do his best to help them
Brigadier General Steve Hogan was currently stationed at Cherry Point, North Carolina and while he didn’t tell his children, he often call Bob Wolf to get a status report on how his children were doing. He always ended his conversation with a sincere thank you and Bob Wolf would sign off with, “Ooorahhh.”
When Mike voiced interest about joining the Marines, Bob suggested, “Have you talked to your father yet?”
Mike answered, “Not yet, I’d like to be a Recon Marine and I wanted to get your opinion first.”
“What about being an officer?” Bob asked.
“I don’t feel like going to college…at least not right now.”
Bob said, “You talk to your father first, after that I’ll help you anyway that I can.”
Mike was the son of a General and a friend of a Sergeant Major and to somebody else that might have put too much pressure on them, but Mike wasn’t just a normal young man. He had a dream about that fateful day and when he awakened, he knew what he had to do. He told his sisters about his decision then called his parents to let them know.
Bob told Mike, “We’ll have plenty of time to discuss Recon after you finish boot camp.”
Mike remained laser focused during basic training and took out an allotment to have six hundred dollars a month taken out of his pay and had it sent to his sisters after arriving at Pendleton to start Advanced Infantry Training. When Mike got weekend leave, he preferred to go home and spend time with his sisters and Bob then go out drinking and partying with his fellow Marines.
On one particular late Saturday afternoon, Bob was barbecuing and he looked over and saw that the setting sun had engulfed Mike in an orange and yellow hue as he sat in a lounge chair. At first, Bob was mesmerized by the sight then he was filled with a sense of contentment and nostalgia as his mind drifted back to a time when he was a young child growing on his grandparents’ farm in Nebraska. Bob commented, “When I just looked at you just a few minutes ago, it reminded me of a special time in my life. I’m a pretty good judge of character and the best way I explain it is that you have the maturity of someone much older than your nineteen years of age.”
“That’s because I’m working on my second lifetime,” Mike proceeded to explain about how he died on the beach and was resuscitated.
There was one weekend when Mike was home on leave and Bob yelled over the fence, “Hey Mike, I need you to come over and see something.”
When Mike arrived, Bob was standing in the backyard with a young woman about the same age as Mike.
“What’s going on?” Mike asked.
“I’m thinking about getting a dog. This is Haley, she works at the base shelter.”
Haley explained, “We found this puppy walking along Vandergrift Blvd. Nobody has come in to claim him so we’re putting him up for adoption. Bob was first on the list to get him.”
“What do you think?” Bob asked.
Mike asked, “What’s the breed?”
“He’s a Pitador, half Lab and half Pit,” Haley said, “We call him Spencer.”
The young dog was sitting under the picnic table, afraid to come out and Bob said, “I’m having a little trouble.”
“He might have been mistreated, it seems that he’s more afraid of men than women,” Haley said.
“Let me try,” Mike got down on his knees and made eye contact with the nervous animal and within a couple seconds, Spencer rushed out and jumped into Mike’s arms. Bob and Haley stood silently and watched Mike playing with the dog.
Bob commented, “How did he do that?”
“I wish I knew,” Haley smiled, “He’s got a gift…plain and simple.”
Mike succeeded in his goal of becoming a 0321, the military occupational specialty for Reconnaissance Marine. Luckily, he was assigned to 1st Recon Battalion on Camp Pendleton and got to stay close to home. He began volunteering at the shelter when he wasn’t on duty and that evolved into a more social interaction with Haley. Before long they were dating and they came to realize they had a lot in more in common than just Haley’s father being former Marine and their love of animals. She was currently studying to become a veterinarian and Mike liked to help with her academic assignments.
By the time, Mike reached the rank of Sergeant, his father received his second star and was given command of the 1st Marine Division on Camp Pendleton. Since they was some entertaining involved with this command assignment as well as security issues involved, Major General Hogan thought it was safer to accept quarters in San Luis Rey base housing instead of moving into the family home in Sycamore Hills. The Hogans alternated Sunday dinners between both residences since they were only a few miles apart.
Mike’s unit was assigned to a six month deployment in the country of Yemen. While on patrol, he came across an injured dog. Mike brought the black stray back to base camp and nursed her back to health. They immediately bonded and he named her Molly after his favorite aunt. Despite her lack of training, Molly quickly became a valuable asset to the special operator, detecting booby traps and alerting Marines of potential ambushes.
It was early morning and Sergeant Hogan and Molly were in the lead. The dog stopped and her ears went up. This was all the signal that Mike needed, he signaled to his fellow Marines to take cover with a wave of his hand. When a rocket propelled grenade hit nearby, Mike was wounded by shrapnel, but he managed to return fire as he called Molly to his side… “C’mon girl!”
Mike found cover behind a rock and alternated between firing his weapon and keeping pressure on his upper chest wound which was bleeding profusely. When he peered over the rock and he saw a group of enemy fighters getting ready to flank his buddies, he hugged Molly and said, “Like Sergeant Daly said, “C’mon, do you want to live forever!”
Using all his strength, he came up behind the enemy fighters as they unleashed their firepower on the Marines. Mike began taking them out one by one while exposing himself to deadly incoming rounds. Realizing what was happening, the enemy turned around and attacked Mike’s position. By this time, Mike was barely conscious and Molly barked to keep him focused. One of the enemy fighters made it to Mike’s position and jumped on him. Molly bit him on the shoulder. Just like years before on the Oceanside beach, Mike’s spirit floated overhead as the enemy was viciously beating him. When the man turned his wrath on Molly who was biting him, he attempted to stab her. Mike looked to his left and saw a vision in the clouds and pleaded, “I’ve got to go back, I can’t let her die.”
The next thing Mike knew, he was back in his body. He pulled out his knife and stabbed the enemy fighter in the throat then passed out. The Corpsman arrived and immediately began performing CPR.
Mike spent three weeks in intensive care at Landstuhl Medical Center, Germany. His father and mother came to visit him during that time. When he was well enough to travel, he was transferred to Balboa Naval Hospital in San Diego for two additional surgeries. His father contacted Guardians of Rescue and had Molly shipped back to the states. While rehabilitating from his wounds, Mike was assigned to the Wounded Warrior Barracks on Camp Pendleton while Molly stayed with his parents.
General Hogan informed his son, “Your command recommended you for the Medal of Honor.”
“I didn’t do anything, Molly should get the credit.” Mike said.
Mike declined to go to the White House, fabricating an excuse that he couldn’t travel and the event was transferred to Camp Pendleton. General Steve Hogan had the privilege of placing the Medal of Honor around his son’s neck at a ceremony in front of 1st Marine Division Headquarters. Mike saluted his father then embrace him.
Sitting in the front row were Mike’s Family, Bob Wolf and his dog Spencer, Haley was also there with Molly. They were all beaming with pride.
After an emotional speech where Mike expressed his profound gratitude to his family, friends, fellow Marines, Molly and for the honor and privilege of serving his country, he took a few moments to compose himself. He looked to the heavens and gave a silent thank you to the man above as he saw his spirit floating above him. Haley unleashed Molly and the dog raced off, leaped on stage and jumped into Mike’s arms.
During Sunday dinner that included Bob and Haley, Mike stood up and said, “I’ve never told anybody about this, but I feel that now is the right time to do so. From my perspective, you only live twice, but the third time is the charm,” then proceeded to explain how his out of body experiences had changed him.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, business, events and incidents are the products of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.
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