Highway Poem for Colleen
“Of course I do, silly. Read it!” She smiled and I began.
Highway Poem for Colleen
I crash down Highway 98
Shouting your name
Screaming your praises
Remembering other highways.....
76 Schuylkill Expressway swift
Liberty Bell love long cast
Philadelphia Art Museum strong
Wissahickon Creek Green Valley winding
Delaware River Deep
Billy Penn Principled
St. Peter’s and Paul’s blessed.
I look over to see.....Your face laughing
Your face puzzled
Your face angelic
Your face enveloping
until your hand
Reached across the distance
to take my hand between
Until your hand
Became life itself for me
an anchor in an anonymous
And frightening urban sea.
Where your hand
Provided a warm and loving home
After cruel, unrelenting city storms.
78 Florida fun funny
Gray and pink racing porpoises
Discovering Corinthians wisdom
While exceeding the legal limit
Kaleidoscope of car colors
Exploding in an orange sun
Blue-skied canvas of cars
Cars more numerous than sand.
I looked over to see.....Your face perturbed
Your face petulant
Your face pedantic
Your face prism
Reflecting my soul
Surprised at its power
To love........To hurt
To run.......To return
To take.......To give
To break......To survive.
When your head rested
Flush with sleep and dreams
On my lap as I drove
I would have fought the whole world
Before anyone would have harmed you.
95 Kennedy Space Center potential
Rockets of love launched
Booster rockets in reserve
Space station steady
Stars as loves highlights
Suns burning at night
Whole universes to be explored
Worlds over years to spin lore.
I looked over to see.......Your face bright
Your face light
Your face confused
Your face eternal
Absorbing my soul
So that when I said
I might walk away
And you cried softly
In truth as well could I
Walk from my family
Walk from God’s love
Walk from Heaven’s Angels.
84 Deep South Bible Backbone
Tiny Bible churches of conviction
The Word is The Word is The Word
Trees so big they wore clouds
Sun so brilliant it blinded
Country stores of country caring
Country ways of country sharing
Clay and grace, earth, and rebirth.
The cycle of nature ever present.
I looked over to see.......Your face absent
Your face somewhere
Your face memory
Your face paining
straining my soul
I drove but in a daze
Half expecting you to appear
At each country gas station
But there were only
Shadows of you
And reappeared in mists
and midnight forest
I crash down Highway 98
Shouting your name
Singing your praises
Remembering other highways.....
Remembering there are
Miles of highway
In this land alone
Yet to be explored.
Over the miles of telephone line
I hear your voice.
Over galaxies of futures......
I promise to crash down
Shouting your name
Screaming your praises
Remembering other highways......
Each old star a memory bought
Each new star a memory sought
For you......for you.....for you.....
“Brian it’s beautiful! In fact it’s the best you’ve ever written.” She kissed me on the cheek.
“You’re just saying that because you’re in it.”
“No. It is the best. I’d change one or two things in there but other than that it’s OK.”
“One or two things like what?”
“Well ... the line about the purple prancing .porpoises sounds funny. Then there’s ... ’”
“Leave it till later Colleen. They’ve got an SP car out in the parking lot waiting for me.”
“I was wondering why you were in your uniform.”
“You’ll notice the shoes are brown. I lost my patent leather shoes in the accident. Every NCO who’s passed me by hasn’t let the opportunity to razz a butter bar about it. Eight NCO’ today alone have told me about it.”
“You tell them to stop being compulsive! These military people seem so bossy, sometimes Brian they make me sick.”
“Yeah, well, a bunch of bossy people have my future in their hands right now. Keen me in your prayers, Colleen.
This is going to be on hellacious ordeal.”
“Brian...be careful! Don’t get your back up like you can. stay calm and be reasonable with them. Once they see how much you have to offer they’ll never separate you over something so minor.”
She kissed me full on the lips and hugged me tightly.
“Right. I’d better be going.”
My lawyers name was Colonel St. Marien-Remy. He’d been in the Air Force 27 years defending and prosecuting reprobates. It turns out he’s the descendant of French-Canadians who came here during the Depression trying to feed their children when the English-Canadians decided they were exportable and sent thousands of them to the United states in the Thirties. He was short and stocky and balding--pure peasant stock with a peasant’s shrewdness.
“Your name’s O’Brien. Any relation to the famous James Xavier O’Brien, the Mayor of Boston who fed everyone through the worst of the Depression?”
“He may have been an ancestor or mine but I’m not sure. My family won’t say. Apparently he was in jail twice, too.”
“Augh...he was also reelected from jail twice, which shows you how brilliant a politician he was. Once was for taking the civil service test for a poor Paddy who did not speak English. Imagine if they help politicians to such standards today?
“He was a self-educated man, too. He had a huge library he had to sell off little by little when he was old.”
“He made sure the people of Boston had jobs and food on their table in those times and the old Boston Brahmins hated him for not letting people starve. He was a great man.
But let’s get down to the case of you, the Air Force versus Brian Richard O’Brien. Your case is better than it appears on the surface.”
“So I spend two years in Leavenworth rather than six.”
“Forget Leavenworth. They’re not going to send you to Leavenworth. They don’t have the charges or the evidence to do that. All that happened was that you were AWOL a few days and had a car accident. Worst they can do is slap your wrist.”
“Not according to my commanding officer. To listen to him tell it. I’ve broken every code in the Universal Code of Military Justice except for the ones against drug and alcohol abuse.”
“So who’s your lawyer-him or me? He doesn’t know law from nothing. He’s just out to scare the pants off you.
Don’t listen to a word he says.”
“I’ve made copies of the article you wrote for the Air University Review, “Air Fore Men and Women of Character” and distributed them to the Board. I’ve also given them conies of all your other business and consulting writings.
Why they ever had anyone with your talent slated as an Air Weapons Controller on an AWAC is beyond me, anyway. We will get you out of this jam and then you can go on and become an Air Force Lawyer. How’s that sound.”
“Great. You paying for my education?”
“Better than that. I’ll recommend you for the program and the Air Force will pick up the tab. Now are your former Flight Commander and Chaplin still coming by to present testimony in your favor?”
“They’ll be here at ten like you told me.”
“Good. We’ve got to get in there now. Do you remember everything I told you?”
“Yes.” He’d prepped me on how to be courteous and give the right answers. We had a dry run of what was to transpired today yesterday.
“Good. Let’s go.”
We entered the courtroom, saluted the Board and went to our assigned seats. There was dead silence in the room and the three members of the Board examined me carefully.
I was nervous and sweating and doing everything I could to keep it from showing on my face. The last thing they allow in the military is a display of emotion, and especially not fear. Real men don’t ever fear for their careers, their futures or their lives according the Air Force litany
I’d been fed that from the day I signed on. Today was going to tell how well I’d learned that lesson.
The Board consisted of three Lieutenant Colonel’s.
Two were old fighter jocks from Vietnam and a youngest was a doctor. It was sure to be a verbal fistfight. Fighter jocks thrive on combat, in the sky or on the ground or in the courtroom.
I was not to be disappointed in that belief.
“Let the record reflect that we commenced at 0930.
“This court precedes through the authority vested under Articles 2,3, and 7 of the UCMJ. We will be seeking to prove that you violated Article 79 “Conviction of a Lesser Included Offense” That is, we are going to prosecute for AWOL rather than desertion. Therefore, you have also violated Article 86 “Absent without Leave.”
We are going to drop prosecute of Article 109 “Property Other than Military property of the United States” because the person willfully and wrongfully damaged has refused to press charges. We are going to Prosecute Article 133 “Conduct Unbecoming an Officer and a Gentleman.”
“Does Lieutenant O’Brien have counsel at this time to represent him?”
“Yes. It is I Colonel St. Marien-Remy.”
“How does the defendant plead, counsel?”
“Guilty of AWOL. Not guilty of all other charges. I would also like to correct one thing for the record. The President of the Board said that he was going to prosecute under Article 133. I don’t believe he has enough evidence to do so and recommend that the charges be dropped.”
He looked the Board president square in the eye. The president looked over at the court stenographer, a pretty young blank woman and smiled knowingly.
“Strike counsels remarks from the official transcript.
We have plenty of evidence to prosecute him on and we’ll do so in a moment. Would the Lieutenant like to take the stand?”
My heart leaped into my throat. Never in my wildest nightmares when I’d signed up did I ever expect to be facing a military courts-martial, and yet here I was staring one right in the face. My whole future rested on what I said at
that very moment. It was surreal, a dream from which I was sure to awaken. Here before me sat three men who would determine whether I would split rocks in Leavenworth or go onto a long and brilliant career in the Air Force and then the Aerospace Force in the future.
My legs were like rubber but I tried to disguise it when I took the stand. My hands were dripping sweat when I pinned on the mike. I said a quick Catholic “Glory Be” and sat in the chair stiffly.
Nine feet away sat the Board members about to do battle with me.
It had to be a movie.
It was too unreal.
“Lieutenant you know the charges against you. You can save yourself and us a lot of time and trouble by pleading guilty and trusting in the leniency of the Board.”
St. Marien-Remy was turning red from his seat.
“Counsel wishes to enter into the record that the President is leading the defendant.”
“As you wish Council. I’ll rephrase.”
He looked at the other two members of the board and they both smiled at him.
“We have reams of evidence here to send you up the river for life if we decide to get ornery. All the police records of the accident, the medical reports stating that you put a girl in the hospital with a coma: your commanding officer’s statements confirming that you did not have leave at the time of the accident...I could go on and on.”
“Suffice it to say that we could convict you for a number of charges but that we’ve decided to be lenient on you because this is your first offense. and because those whom you’ve damaged are for some strange reason willing to speak on your behalf. I don’t want to spend all day reading all this evidence into the record so why don’t you just plead the way the evidence points.”
Bamb. Just like that. I looked over at St.Marien-Remy and he shrugged.
The Board was out for blood and they weren’t going to settle for anything less. It was every military trial I’d ever seen on TV and in the movies--guilty just admit lit and we may go easy. My future decided in five minutes. I was sweating and trying to decide what to say when the doctor on the board spoke up.”
“We could get you for what happened to that girl. You would have been charged with manslaughter had she died. If you think this is bad think of what you could have been prosecuted for. Young man, this board has been known to be lenient with first offenders. The choice is yours.”
When he finished something in me snapped. I forgot my fear of who they were and what they represented and decided to speak my piece. They could say all they wanted about me but Colleen was another matter.
“With all due respect, Sir, the truck slammed into me while I was obeying the law and stopped at a complete stop by a railroad crossing. Secondly, part of the reason Colleen is alive today other than the saving grace of God is that I threw my body between she and the dashboard which hardly makes a manslaughter charge credible. Third, the only charge I can see that you have me on is being AWOL for which I’ve seen people get a verbal reprimand, an Article 15, or a pay reduction on little else. So...”
“Lieutenant O’Brien means that he trusts the opinion of the board as to what the charges are...”
St. Marien-Remy was trying to protect me from what was coming without success.
“Lieutenant O’Brien, we could still add a number of Articles to the ones you’ve already violated such as Article 89 “Disrespect toward a Superior Commissioned Officer” and Article 98 “Noncompliance with Procedural Rules.”
“Oh I get if now. You can sit there all day accusing me of these things I don’t get to say anything in my defense against charges that I consider false and then you set whatever punishment you consider justified by your trumped up charges. That’s military justice eh?”
“What Lieutenant O’Brien meant to say was...
It was Colonel St. Marien-Remy trying to save me again.
Before he could get any further the President of the Board launched into a diatribe. He was far over the weight standards that were being promulgated these days, but Air Force standards were applied at different ranks. His fatty jowls were bouncing with a nervous twitch
He was excited. From what St. Marien-Remy told me afterwards they weren’t used to people saying anything back to them and it had riled him.
“Let Lieutenant O’Brien’s disrespectful statements be stuck from the record. So you think that we’re liars...is that right Lieutenant.”
He spit it out. His face was red and purple angry. A vein in his temple swelled.
“The Lieutenant only meant to say that he wasn’t sure of the accuracy of all the charges. But we accomplish nothing with this digression. We should...”
The President’s face went tighter with anger. “No...No...counsel. If the Lieutenant thinks we’re liars I want to hear it from his lips. Give him enough rope.”
I shot a glance at St. Marien-Remy. By the look on his face I was walking on thin ice. No doubt they had another article they could pin on me if I accused them of lying.
From the look on St. Marien-Remy’s face, I had better act fast to cool down the mad President.
“My apologies. Mr. President. I’m a bit confused by all the terms and was seeking clarification. I submit to the wisdom of the board as to the charges and accept whatever decision they reach.”
His face started to return to a more normal color of red. The alcoholic blue-red veins that were threaded throughout his nose began to recede.
“Thank you for your testimony Lieutenant. Counsel will now read his evidence into the record and call his witnesses.”
“Don’t I get a chance to defend myself against the charges?”
St. Marien-Remy’s face drained of blood and he went pale. I had said the wrong thing.
“If the defendant believes he has been misrepresented there are all kinds of channels of or redress he can pursue. Does the defendant believe that is necessary?”
I looked over at St. Marien-Remy. He was shaking his head no.
“No Sir. I’m satisfied with what transpired today and will respect whatever decision the Board reaches.”
“Good. Lieutenant. Good.”
He smiled at the other two.
Well...precede then. Call the first witness.”
The board allowed five minutes for testimony from my former Flight Commander and Chaplain as to my integrity and character. There were two points of drama during this time.
In one, I found out something tragic about my Flight
Commander’s life I’d never known before. The president of
the board asked him at one point, “Have you ever known anyone who committed acts similar to the ones we’re discussing for
Lieutenant O’Brien today.”
“Yes, Sir I have.”
“Who is that?”
“Uh... myself sir.”
“Would you care to elaborate Captain.”
“Well Sir. I lost my first son in an accident similar to the one Brian was in.”
The President rolled right on. “That’s hardly relevant Captain. We’re talking about two different situations here.”
“Not exactly, Sir. You see I was a Marine at the time of the accident ten years ago. One of the reasons I even decided to testify for Lieutenant O’Brien today was besides the fact that he’s such a fine officer that I’d hate to see the Air Force lose him is that I was AWOL at the time of that accident just like Brian. The charges were dropped because they figured losing my son in the accident was enough punishment.”
I was stunned. Until that moment in the courtroom I’d no idea that the Captain even had had another son. in addition to his current three boys. The president dismissed it.
“Again. let the record reflect that what the Captain just stated is extraneous to the facts of the case we are currently discussing.”
The other was after St. Marien-Remy did an excellent job of reading all my credentials into the record. I came off sounding superhuman which is no doubt the way his Gaelic mind wanted it conveyed. Then he decided it was time for some humor. The Chaplain had just completed his statement about what an outstanding young man I was.
This was a difficult task for the Chaplain considering that he’d just had three by pass open heart surgeries four months ago. Complications had forced them to slit open his entire arm to remove some air bubbles that went down there. He’d lost thirty sounds from the ordeal. Moreover his wife was on dialysis and had about another year to live.
But St. Marien-Remy decided to break up the terseness of the preceding.
“Mr. President you should get a kick out of this, Lieutenant what religion are you.”
“Chaplain, what religion are you?”
“I’m United Presbyterian.”
“Does the president see the irony in a Catholic having a Presbyterian Chaplain present testimony in his favor?”
“That will be enough counsel.”
Not even a smile from the President.
The whole time they’d been giving their statements in support of me the three Board members either looked at their watches stared at the ceiling or at the exhibits or looked over at the court reporter.
I knew the decision was going to be bad but St. Marien-Remy kept assuring me that it just might go my way.
“Let the record reflect that we recessed for a decision at 10:15. We’ll adjourn again at 10:30 after we’ve all had time for coffee. Take that coffee part out reporter.”
The’ President looked over and winked at the court reporter who smiled back.
“Are you going to make me coffee? The old court reporter used to make if for me. How about taking up some of her good habits.”
He winked at the court reporter again.
At 10:30 we all filtered back into the courtroom and heard the verdict.
It was short and brutal.
The Board finds Lieutenant O’Brien unfit for worldwide military duty and recommends that he be separated. He will receive a dishonorable discharge and surrender his commission at that time. This board is now adjourned.”
He kept staring down at the paper from which he’d just read. My Flight Commander and the Captain sat there immobile stunned.
St. Marien-Remy shrugged his shoulders bent over and walked out of the room. I kept looking at the President but he wouldn’t look at me.
Finally I stood up, want to the center of the room stood at attention and said “Mr. President?”
He looked up and I saluted him in the sharpest salute I could muster.
He flicked his hand at me.
“Good luck young man.”
When we all went back to St. Marien-Remy’s room it was glum, but the old Frenchman rose to the occasion.
“I’d like to thank you for trying to be part of my Air Force, Brian.
“It’s big and stupid sometimes and it needs men like you but it grinds on and over some people sometimes. You’ll be fulfilling your potential. Have no fear. There are many, many possible paths to take. Look at the great men of history.”
“Some of them were military men true. But most of them weren’t. Those same values and high ideals of yours which you saw reflected in the Air Force code of honor can be found in other places and people, too.”
“You may have to look a little harder at first. That’s all. And other people will always see those values in you and be attracted to you for it. You’re a good man Brian O’Brien.
“We’ll draft a letter of disagreement with the board s findings...that is...if that’s what you want.” He winked at me .
“And we’ll send it to the Secretary of the Air Force. Still I’d be less than honest to tell you that you have any chance of staying in. The best we can hope for is that they’ll change your dishonorable to an honorable and not strip you of your commission. I can’t show you this in a regulation anywhere but the word has come down from above to separate any second Lieutenant who even dares to miff the organization in any way. Two years ago I would have had a chance with you. Today...” he shrugged his shoulders.
“I expected it when the President wouldn’t stare me in the eye any longer. I knew I was dead meat. I just wish they’d maintained the fiction that they were paying attention when I was in there.”
“Well...” The Colonel winced.
“I’m going to register a complaint with the Inspector General. No one should be treated like that.”
It was the Captain.
“Let’s get outta here Brian. I’m buying.”
When we returned from drinking a few beers, the Captain there was a letter from Colleen waiting on the coffee table for me. I’d forgotten that she’d made me give her the address of where I’d be staying the day before I’d left her in the hospital.
I tore it open.
“If all the paperwork looks like it will take a while is there any chance you’ll still be able to take a Space Available flight to Washington for the weekend?
That sure would be nice! We could either toddle around DC visiting all your attaché and consular friends or we could head to the shore for the weekend. That is if you can sneak me past my doting father at some point.
Mary Beth and the baby landed last Thurs. You’ve got to meet my adorable 1 yr. old niece and little goddaughter, Madeline Elizabeth O’Donnell. All prejudices aside, she’s a precious bundle. I’m thoroughly enjoying being a doting aunt. Next weekend we get her all to ourselves while MB goes to -Pittsburgh for a wedding YEAHHH!!! I can’t to bring her in bed with me & read her a story. What do you think---Winnie the Pooh?
Needless to say as ever I miss you completely unreasonably and disproportionately lonely and wish you were hear---here (yeah I went to college). I’m already imagining what a fantastic reunion we’re going to have right? RIGHT!!!
Your Sweet Poteet
I received another letter a few days later. It read:
Of all the flowers I’ve received yours are the most BEE-YOO-TEE-FULL! They must be magic flowers too, because they’re-still just as fresh and lovely as the day they arrived. cross my heart!
The instructions said “water daily” & I’ve been doing just that. I talk to them too when no one’s around. (I think they likes me.) Everyone is very impressed that I got flowers & it wasn’t even my birthday or Valentine’s Day or anything! (“mmmmm maybe she’s not such a dope after all ... “) They’re gorgeous and I love them and you’re dashing and cavalier & gallant to send them to me. Thank you!
By now no doubt they’ve reached a decision. If it went against you as you thought it would don’t fret or do something Irish like get drunk. It is a shame because you worked so hard & gave so much but as your friend Timmy said “Who needs ’em?”
The Air Force needs men like you--creative intelligent hard-working much more than you need them. You’ll rise to the top in whatever area of life you focus your energy. You’ll make an immense contribution where ever you go. I truly believe it’s the Air Force’s loss that they won’t reap the harvest of those contributions.
It was a poor decision on their part one which they’ll probably regret one day. But you certainly won’t be any the worse off because of their short-sightedness outside of a temporary hurt. I know it must hurt a lot too. It always hurts not to be accepted by someone or something you love.
What is the Air Force anyway?
A bunch of infallible military demi-gods? It’s a human institution like all others. Well, not completely like all others---their standards are higher than most. But they’re still humans. There’s honor & decency & esprit de corps. But there’s also hypocrisy, narrow-mindedness bigotry & a fair amount of pure BS. Human. They have no divine mandate.
So don’t worry that you may have in any way missed out on the only road to take. If it’s a sense of honor commitment to a cause, mission & service to others you’re after while at the same time achieving excellence fulfilling your potential have no fear. There are many, many possible paths to take.
Look at the great men of history. Some of them were military men, true. But most of them weren’t. Those same values & high ideals of yours which you saw reflected in the Air Force code of honor can be found in other places & people, too You may have to look a little harder at first. that’s all. And other people will always see those values in you and be attracted to you for it. You’re a good man
Eddie and Peter are coming home from Europe for 2 wks. on July 2nd. Eddie would love to see you and I’m sure Peter and Mary Beth would love to check you out having heard about this mysterious person I’ve been dating through the O’Donnell grapevine.
We’ll probably have a big party for them down the shore will all sorts of cousins in 2 weeks. Sure would be nice if you could make it. (But I’ll understand if you can’t. BOO HOO)
Your Sweet Poteet
I sat down and cried. All the guilt of the accident and how she had almost died made my chest heave and I felt like I had been punched in the solar plexus. The Board’s decision only added to the guilt. Basic Catholic prayers the St. Joseph nuns had drilled into to me came back to me, along with their words that someday I would need the grace of God and the sacrificial love of Christ to get through many curve balls life would throw my way.
I fell to my knees, begged for forgiveness, and said a tearful Act of Contrition.