Today we're excited to have a very special post from author Julie Ann Walker, whose next Black Knights, Inc. release, Rev It Up, will be out tomorrow. At the end of the post, leave a comment to be entered for a chance to win a copy of the book!* Thanks for joining us, Julie Ann!
Let me tell you a little story about a mother, a daughter, and a father who also happens to be a soldier...
Picture this, if you will. Me, sitting at my volunteer desk at the USO on Navy Pier in Chicago, doing my thing, answering the phone and the questions of the service men and women who've stopped by with their families for a day of sun and fun, when a harried-looking mother and a sullen, texting, belly-button-pierced teen come through the door.
“Go stand next to your father so I can take a picture,” the mother says, digging in her purse for a digital camera, sunglasses sliding off the top of her head and clattering to the ground.
I look around the buzzing facility, wondering which of these handsome, uniformed men has the unenviable duty of dealing with a hormonal, pretty, and obviously bad-tempered teenage girl.
”Mom,” the teen complains. “You know I hate having my picture taken.”
“It'll only take a second,” the mother replies, finally locating her camera and bending to retrieve her sunglasses. Straightening, “And you're going to be happy to have these pictures one day.”
”No, I won't,” I hear the girl mutter as she shuffles past my desk.
At this point, color me intrigued. Because I've been volunteering at the USO for a few years now, and I've seen every kind of soldier you can imagine. There's the puffed-up Marine, the shy, retiring Army lieutenant, the big-bellied Coast Guard captain with the infectious grin, and the joke-cracking Navy pilot... And I can't help but speculate which one of these soldiers is her father, and how exactly he's going to handle her attitude. Will he indulge her because she's his little princess? Will he call her on the carpet like so many military dads are known to do?
Curiously, I watch the girl and her mother wind their way through the crowd. But, strangely, they don't stop until they get to the back wall. The Memorial Wall. The one covered with white, ceramic stars carved with the names and ranks of fallen soldiers...
The girl turns. She doesn't smile, but neither does she frown. Now, she just looks sad.
The mother snaps the photo, deposits the camera in her purse, walks to the wall, raises a shaky hand and touches a star. Just for a brief moment. Then she turns to make her way back through the crowd. But, instead of the buzz and chatter of three-dozen voices, the USO is now silent. Hats are doffed in respect as the mother and daughter pass by, handshakes of gratitude are offered. By the time they reach my desk, I'm standing, tears burning the back of my throat.
“Here,” the mother says, handing me a ten dollar bill. “Put this in the donation box, will you? You guys always take such good care of my Charlie. His body was never found, and even though we have a marker at the cemetery, this place always feels more like his true memorial.”
”Thank you for your sacrifice,” I say, my voice hoarse. Then, “If you don't mind me asking, how long has he been gone?”
In answer, the woman digs in her purse, pulling at a photo, handing it to me. In it is a little girl, no more than four or five, her hair in pigtails, what appears to be a chocolate ice-cream stain on her shirt. And she's standing in front of that back wall. In front of all of those white stars.
"She barely remembers him,” the mother says as I delicately pass the photo back to her. “But someday she'd going to want to. She's going to want to know who her father was.”
I nod. That's all I can manage.
The mother turns toward the door where the daughter is waiting, and before they leave, I hear the girl ask hesitantly, “Mom? How did you and dad meet?”
It seems someday really does come more quickly than we ever expect. And right before my eyes, I saw that sullen teenager take her first step into womanhood...
For those of you who don't know, the USO is a nonprofit organization run by donations and staffed by volunteers. It is dedicated to providing a home-away-from home for soldiers and their families, whether it be here in the States or overseas. They provide way-station facilities, care packages, and entertainment... “until they all come home.” To learn more, please visit www.uso.org
*To enter for a chance to win 1 of 2 copies of Julie Ann Walker's Rev It Up, make sure you’re a registered member of the site, and then simply leave a comment about the post below. NO PURCHASE NECESSARY TO ENTER OR WIN. A purchase does not improve your chances of winning. Sweepstakes open to legal residents of fifty (50) United States and the District of Columbia, who are 18 or older. To enter, fill out entry at http://www.heroesandheartbreakers.com/blogs/2012/10/author-julie-ann-walker-on-a-soldier-hero beginning at 2:30 p.m. Eastern Time (ET) October 1, 2012. Sweepstakes ends at 2:29 p.m. ET on October 8, 2012 (the “Promotion Period”). Void outside of the 50 US and DC and where prohibited by law. Please see full details and official rules at http://www.heroesandheartbreakers.com/page/official-rules-julie-ann-walkers-rev-it-up-comment-sweepstakes. Sponsor: Macmillan, 175 Fifth Ave., New York, NY 10010.
Julie Ann Walker is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of the Black Knights Inc. Romantic Suspense Series. Visit her online at www.julieannwalker.com