Author Note: This story takes place outside the MaryAnne series, circa 1985.
US Army Captain Ryan McCree brought down the hood of his car and sighed. The drive from Atlanta under the hot Georgia sun was apparently too much for the government issued sedan and the radiator made how it felt clearly known. The 38-year-old Army officer would have preferred the car to at least make it to town before dying on him. Instead he was in the middle of a dirt country road, in full dress uniform, on what had to be the hottest day of the year, with hardly a sign of civilization around him.
He walked back to the driver’s seat of the car and retrieved his bag, green uniform jacket and crush cap. He remembered passing a farm house about a mile or so back and set out to walking.
Friends and neighbors, finding your way to Hazzard County is easy. It’s what happens when ya get there that can become complicated.
If you’re interested in a little Hazzard County war story and history, then settle yourselfs in for this one. Hazzard has had many war heroes over the years, fighting in every war the US has ever been involved in. Most recent was Luke Duke’s service in the Marines during Vietnam. But before that, in another war over in Asia, another Hazzard County citizen fought for his country. And not many folks know about it either. But they’re soon gonna find out.
At the Duke farm, Daisy Duke came out of the house, wearing a flowered summer dress, carrying a full pitcher of lemonade. As she walked to the picnic table she hollered in the direction of the barn. “Hey fellas! I made some fresh lemonade!”
Daisy’s voice, like the sound of Gabriel’s trumpet, brought Bo and Luke out of the barn, where they had been working in the relative coolness of the building fixing one of the stalls. It was still hot but they weren’t working under the beating sun and they were glad for that. Shrugging into their shirts they walked across the dusty yard to the picnic table where Daisy was pouring two large glasses of lemonade with plenty of ice.
Bo drank back half his glass and then “ahh’d” loudly. “That hits the spot!”
Luke snorted at his cousin and drank his but without as excessive of fanfare. But it was just as cool and delicious.
Daisy giggled. “Bo, I should’ve just given you the whole pitcher instead of that little glass.”
“Why didn’t you?” He grinned.
She laughed and refilled his glass.
Luke looked across the yard past the barn to see a man walking up the drive. “Hey y’all…” he said to his kin. They too looked.
There was no mistaking the dark haired man wore an Army dress uniform and looked practically wilted under the beating sun. Despite that, he smiled as he made eye contact and stepped closer. “Howdy,” he said. “My car broke down about a mile down the road. Would it be possible I could use your phone?”
“Yeah, sure,” the three cousins all replied. “We’ll call Cooter, he can tow it in,” Luke added.
“I appreciate that, thank you,” Captain McCree said.
“Sugar, you look like you’re about to melt away in that uniform,” Daisy said. “C’mon inside, I’ll fix you some lemonade…” She smiled at him, definitely appreciating a man in uniform. She carried the pitcher toward the porch. As the three men followed her, Captain McCreedecided he had stopped at the right place.
“So what brings you to Hazzard? Or are you just passin’ through?” Luke asked as everyone stepped into the kitchen of the Duke farm.
“I’m on my way to Hazzard actually. I’m trying to locate someone.”
“Well, shoot, maybe we can help ya,” Bo said. “We know just about everybody around here.”
“And then some,” Luke added. “By the way, my name’s Luke Duke, this is my cousin Bo….”
“Nice to meet you, Luke….Bo…” Captain McCree said, extending a hand to each cousin. “I’m Captain Ryan McCree.”
“And this is our cousin Daisy.”
“Hi,” Daisy said with a smile and placed a cold glass of lemonade down on the kitchen table. “Nice to meet you. Why don’t you set your things down and make yourself at home?”
“Thank you,” Ryan placed his Army bag down on the floor by one of the chairs at the table and hung his uniform jacket over the back of the chair, hooking his cap to one side. He sat down at the table and took a drink of the lemonade. He then smiled at Daisy. “That’s good, ma’am, thank ya.”
“Oh you’re welcome.”
Bo and Luke exchanged amused glances at their female cousin’s obvious approval of the stranger in uniform. “Well,” Bo said, “let’s see if we can get ol’ Crazy Cooter on the horn here…” He stepped to the CB set and picked up the mike. “Lost Sheep callin’ Crazy C….”
“Breaker one, breaker one, might be crazy but I ain’t dumb, craaaazy Cooter comin’ at ya, what’s happenin’ Lost Sheep?”
Bo chuckled. “Cooter, we need you to pick up a car that’s broke down about a mile from the farm here. It’s uh…” Bo looked at Ryan. “What kind of car is it?”
“He can’t miss it. It’s a Ford Army sedan. Says US Army on the doors.”
Bo relayed the descriptive information to Cooter.
“Uncle Sam Chariot huh? There a driver?”
“Yeah, he’s here at the farm.”
“Ten-four, I’ll be out there in a little bit.”
“Thanks, Cooter.” Bo placed the mike down.
“I really appreciate this,” Ryan said.
“You’d have never made it walkin’ to town in this heat,” Daisy said.
“Well, I might have made it but I wouldn’t have had a nice glass of lemonade waiting for me when I got there,” Ryan replied.
“You said you were headin’ to Hazzard,” Luke said. “Who you lookin’ for?”
“Well, I’m fairly certain he’s here, because he’s the Sheriff. Rosco Coltrane?”
“Rosco?” Luke said. He then laughed. “What’s the US Army want with Rosco?”
“Maybe he’s been drafted,” Bo said.
“Bo…” Daisy said with a snort.
Captain McCree smiled. “No, no. Sheriff Coltrane already served his country, he’s not being called back. But the Army didn’t properly recognize him for something he did over 30 years ago. They’re looking to correct that oversight now.” As he spoke, Ryan noticed his audience’s expression turned stunned.
“Rosco was in the Army?” Luke asked.
“Yes. He served in the Korean Conflict.”
“He served in an actual war?” Bo said.
The Duke cousins all looked at one another. “I never knew Rosco had been in the service,” Daisy said.
“Me either,” Bo said.
“I don’t think anybody did,” Luke said. He looked at Ryan. “You sure you got the right Rosco Coltrane?”
“Oh I’m pretty sure,” Ryan replied. He then reached down to his carry bag and pulled out a file. “Of course I can’t show you everything in this file, but there’s a photograph here. Of course, it’s from over 30 years ago but I figure you should recognize him.” Ryan opened the folder and pulled out an aged black and white 5X7 and showed it to the Dukes, passing it to Bo first.
Bo chuckled with surprise. “Oh wow…”
Recognition was almost instant. There before them was a young Rosco P. Coltrane, in Army uniform with cap, his hair black as night and his eyes a bright light grey in the black and white image. He gave a closed mouth smile, which always seemed typical of military photos. Daisy used to tease Luke because his Marine photos always looked so serious. There supposed to be serious, he would tell her. I’m a Marine!
“Wow, that is Rosco…” Daisy said as she looked over the picture and then handed it to Luke.
The ex-Marine looked at the photo with acute interest. Rosco’s uniform jacket showed a few campaign ribbons, a unit citation, marksman badges for pistol and carbine, and on his sleeve, sergeant stripes. This surprised Luke. “He’s a Sergeant in this picture,” he said, turning it toward Ryan.
Captain McCree nodded. “Yes. That was taken before he was discharged in 1954.” Ryan accepted the photograph back and tucked it into the file. “Anyway, the Army has been trying to get in contact with him for a couple of months but it appears he’s either not receiving the letters or he’s ignoring them. So I was asked to drive here to Hazzard to actually locate him, or next of kin if it turned out he had passed on. Which, I was figuring he was still alive as none of the mail was returned.”
“He’s very much alive,” Bo said with a chuckle. “You’d have probably found him at one of his speed traps the closer you got to town, if ya hadn’ta broke down where ya did.”
“Yeah,” Daisy concurred. “I wonder why Rosco would ignore the letters the Army sent tho’?”
“That’s what I’m hoping to find out,” Captain McCree said.
“What kind of recognition does the Army want to give him?” Luke asked.
“He’s been awarded the Bronze Star.”
For the second time since sitting down at the Dukes kitchen table, Captain Ryan McCree had a stunned audience.
Friends and neighbors, if the Army’s lookin’ to give Rosco the Bronze Star and Rosco’s ignorin’ Uncle Sam…I get the feelin’ that fella’s gonna have his work cut out for ’em.
Sometime later, Cooter arrived at the Duke farm with that Army fellas sedan already hooked up to his tow truck.
“Pretty bad when Uncle Sam can’t give ya good runnin’ car,” Cooter joked to Captain McCree as the two walked across the Duke yard to the tow truck.
McCree smiled. “Yeah, I should’ve known better than to picked the oldest car in the motor pool.”
“Oldest? That car’s only two years old.”
They both climbed into the tow truck and were soon on their way to town. After arriving at Cooter’s garage, the mechanic directed the Army officer to the courthouse, but warned him that Rosco may not be there.
“He’s in and out a lot. Usually at the beck and call of ol’ Boss Hogg.”
“The County Commissioner.”
“Oh, I see.”
“Listen, y’all stop back here later I’ll let you know how this is comin’ along,” Cooter said, gesturing to the sedan.
“Thanks, I appreciate it.”
Captain McCree turned and walked across the street to the courthouse. Before leaving the Duke farm he had managed to cool off and freshen up a bit and he entered the courthouse now with his dress uniform looking more neat and formal. He removed his officer’s cap from his head as he stepped inside the building.
He walked down the hall slowly, looking to the writing on the frosted glass windows of the various doors that he passed. Before too long he found the doors of the booking room clearly marked “Hazzard County Sheriff’s Office.”
He gently pushed his way inside and found the room was empty, except for an officer seated at a desk up on a riser. The young deputy looked up as the Captain approached.
“Howdy,” Ryan greeted. “I hope you can help me.”
“Yes sir!” Deputy Enos Strate scrambled to stand up and offered a salute.
Ryan returned the salute but chuckled. “At ease, Deputy. No need to be formal.”
“Oh…yes sir.” Enos disengaged his salute and smiled sheepishly. “What can I do for ya?”
“Well I was hoping you could tell me where I might find Sheriff Coltrane?”
“I’m sorry, he’s out on a patrol right now. He won’t be back for another hour or so.”
Ryan nodded. “That’s okay. Would be all right if I waited for him? It’s cooler in here than it is out there.”
Enos grinned. “Sure! Make yourself comfortable.”
A few idle minutes later, the booking room doors swung open and Boss Hogg entered, fanning himself with his white Stetson hat, his eyes closed briefly. “Hoo boy, I tell you Enos, it’s a hot one out there today.”
“Yes it is,” Captain McCree answered.
Boss Hogg stopped walking and looked to see who had spoken. “Oh, hello there,” he said. “Umm…you’re not another one of them recruiters looking to set up over at the high school are ya?”
McCree smiled. “No sir. I’m here to see the Sheriff.”
“Oh.” Boss glanced at Enos, who nodded.
“Sheriff Rosco’s on patrol, but he should be back a little bit,” Enos explained.
Boss nodded and looked at Captain McCree again. “Is there something we can help with in the meantime? I’m Jefferson Davis Hogg, County Commissioner.”
Captain McCree stood up and shook hands with Boss. “Pleasure to meet you, Mr. Hogg. I’m Captain Ryan McCree. My business with Sheriff Coltrane isn’t a police matter, unfortunately. It’s Army business.”
“Army business? Rosco’s been out of the Army for 30 years.”
“Yes I know.”
“Sheriff Rosco’s not in any kind of trouble is he?” Enos asked.
Ryan looked at the deputy and smiled. “Nothing of the sort. The Army is looking to recognize Sheriff Coltrane for something he did during his service.”
“You mean he’s getting an award?” Boss asked.
“Yes. He’s being awarded the Bronze Star.”
Captain McCree felt a sense of deja vu as he looked back and forth between the stunned looks on the deputy and county commissioner’s face.
Talk about the news of the century….
“The Bronze Star…” Enos said softly. “Possumonagumbush…”
“That’s what I was about to say,” Boss said, “more ‘r less.” He looked at Captain McCree. “You sure we’re talkin’ about the same Rosco P. Coltrane?”
“Oh I’m sure.”
“Does Rosco know about this?”
“Uh, I think he does. The Army has sent correspondence to him but he has not acknowledged, which is why I’m here. The Army wanted to verify whether he was dead or alive.”
“Well he’s very much alive,” Boss said and chuckled. “I just can’t believe it. Rosco being awarded the Bronze Star….”
“It does seem to be a startling revelation to some folks,” McCree said.
“What exactly do you have to do to get yourself a Bronze Star?” Enos asked.
“Usually it’s awarded for an act of heroism,” Boss said, before Captain McCree could answer. “Saving another soldier’s life directly or doing something that helped save soldier or civilian lives…” Boss suddenly realized the implications as it related to Rosco. “Wait a minute….are you saying Rosco saved somebody’s life?”
“Two lives,” McCree said. “And all while under enemy fire. I can’t remember all the details from the file so unfortunately I can’t tell you much more than that.”
Although Boss and Enos both were interested in hearing more, they accepted they would have to wait.
When Rosco walked through the booking room doors a little while later, he removed his black Stetson hat and was about to say something to Enos at the booking desk when he saw the Army officer sitting just below it.
Captain McCree stood up. “Sheriff Coltrane?”
Rosco sighed. “I wondered how long it would be before they sent somebody.”
“Well sir, you’ve neglected to answer our correspondence.”
“There’s a reason for that.”
Captain McCree sensed he was about to embarked on a delicate subject. He had had this feeling since he took on this assignment. Seeing the former Sergeant Coltrane now and the aloof posture, confirmed it.
“Then perhaps we should discuss this…”
“I don’t think there’s much to discuss. I think you know what my feeling is with all of this and I think you can report that back to your superiors.” Rosco started to walk to his office.
“With all due respect, Sheriff,” Captain McCree said, feeling rather offended now, “you could have saved me a trip down here from Fort McPherson if you had relayed your feelings on the subject through correspondence. But instead you ignored it. What did you think the Army was going to do? Forget about it?”
Rosco stopped at the door of his office and turned to the Army officer. “Well I’m sorry you were inconvenienced. As for the Army forgetting about the whole thing? That would probably be the best thing they could. I’ve been trying to forget about it for over 30 years….” With that, Rosco went into his office and closed the door.
Captain McCree sighed.
“I’m sorry, sir,” Enos said.
“It’s all right, deputy. I can’t say I’m too surprised by that.”
Hmm. I have a feelin’ that boy’s got his work cut out for him…
A few minutes later, Captain McCree walked back to Cooter’s garage.
“Well I got good news and bad news for ya,” Cooter said. “Good news is, I can fix it. Bad news is you need a new radiator and I don’t happen to have one for this model on hand so I had to call up to Hotlanta to order one for ya. Should be here in about a day.”
Captain McCree nodded. “Looks like I’m in town for a couple of days then.”
“Oh? I was gonna say if you need to get back to Fort McPherson I’ve got a loaner you can use.”
“I appreciate that, but no I don’t have to get back right away. If you could point me to the nearest hotel tho’…”
“Sure, it’s right across the square there.” Cooter pointed. “Mrs. Huckabee will take good care of ya.”
Ryan smiled. “Good. Thanks, Cooter.”
Cooter watched the Army officer start across the square, noticing McCree’s posture seemed a little defeated.
*** *** ***
Later at the Boar’s Nest, Bo and Luke met up with Enos, who told them what had happened with Rosco and Captain McCree.
“I just don’t understand it,” Enos said, looking at his glass of buttermilk. “If Sheriff Rosco saved two people’s lives why would he be so set against being awarded the Bronze Star?” He looked up at Bo and Luke.
“Well, it may have been a pretty harrowing experience for him,” Luke said. “Probably something he’d rather not relive and be awarded for.”
“He said he’d been trying to forget it for over 30 years.” Enos just shook his head. “But…he saved two people’s lives. Could it have been that bad?”
Luke gave Enos’s shoulder a pat, knowing the deputy, having not fought in a war, would have a hard time grasping what reasons Rosco may have had for refusing the award. “Enos, it’s quite possible Rosco went through a living hell that day and he wants nothing more than to forget about it.”
“Yeah,” Bo said. “I mean, none of us ever knew he had even been in the Army. He’s never said anything and in all the years I can remember with Memorial Day parades and the 4th of July and Veteran’s Day parades….he was there as Sheriff. He never marched with the VFW or any of that.”
“I don’t even think he’s in the VFW,” Luke said. “At least, I’ve never heard that he is.”
“Kind of strange to think about tho’,” Bo said. “Rosco in the Army? In a war? I mean, nowadays he pulls that gun out of his holster he nearly shoots himself in the foot! I can’t imagine him with a rifle in hand.”
Luke snorted. “I’ll admit the idea takes some getting used to. I still can’t get over that photograph of him in uniform.”
“Yeah that was something,” Bo said. “I wonder why all this came about now, after 30-some-odd years?”
Luke shrugged. “Any number of reasons I suppose. I’ve heard stories of guys from WWII being awarded medals and such all these years later, usually because somebody during the war didn’t make the recommendation, for whatever reason, but information surfaces years later and the recommendation is put in.”
“How could somebody overlook saving two people’s lives?” Enos asked.
“War’s very chaotic, Enos,” Luke explained. “There’s a lot of stuff going on. It’s not that what Rosco did was overlooked, it’s that somebody would have had to go through various communication channels, chains of command, and at any point the ball could’ve been dropped along the way.”
“And from what you told us, it sounds like Rosco would have preferred the ball stay dropped,” Bo said.
Enos nodded. “Sheriff Rosco was not happy at all.” He picked up his glass of buttermilk and took a sip, not seeing the exchange of glances between the Duke cousins.
Now all this talk about Rosco bein’ in the Army, got ol’ Luke thinkin’ about his own time in the service. And although the issue of Rosco and that Bronze Star was just an issue with Rosco, and had nothin’ to do with the Dukes, Luke couldn’t help his curiosity about it all. Ya might say veterans are kindred spirits and combine that with the Duke urge to want to help….well….y’all know that stranger things have happened in Hazzard.
Of course, Luke didn’t know what kind of help exactly he could offer, but the next morning, while Bo was finishin’ up on that stall in the barn, Luke went on an errand run for Jesse….
Flying purposely past Rosco’s favorite speed trap, it wasn’t long before the General Lee had a white Plymouth coming up fast behind it. Luke pulled over to the side of the road and watched in his mirrors as Rosco walked up to the car.
“I gotcha…Khee!” Rosco stood at the window and opened his ticket book. “Awright, Luke Duke, you were speedin’ and don’t try to argue about it.”
“Okay, Rosco,” Luke said with a smile. “Ya got me.”
Rosco’s pen stopped and he looked at Luke. “Yer not gonna argue with me about it?”
“Why should I? I was speedin’. You caught me fair and square. Besides…why should I argue with a guy who was awarded the Bronze Star?”
Rosco narrowed his eyes. “How’d you find out about that? Did Enos tell ya?”
“No. The fella from the Army came to the farm when his car broke down.”
“Figures.” Rosco lowered his hand that held the ticket book and pointed his pen at Luke. “It’s just like you Dukes to bring me trouble.”
“Rosco, we don’t bring you trouble…” Luke grabbed the edge of the roof of the General and pulled himself partway out the window, sitting on the door frame. “None of us ever knew you were even in Army. Accept Jesse, and he admitted he had actually forgotten you had been.”
“It would’ve been nice if the Army itself had forgotten I had.” Rosco turned away from Luke and paced a few steps toward the front of the General.
Luke paused, waiting to see if Rosco was going to say more but the Sheriff remained quiet. “Look, Rosco, I’m not tryin’ to pry or anything but….I served in a war. And it’s hell, I know. There’s a lot of stuff I saw in Vietnam that I wish I could just forget. And I can only imagine what you’re feeling after trying to forget things after thirty years only to have it all be brought back. But Bronze Stars aren’t given out lightly. Whatever it was that you did, somebody felt you deserved recognition for it.”
Rosco stood silent for a long moment. So long in fact, Luke was wondering if he should just leave. Although he couldn’t help but wonder the what and the why of Rosco being awarded a Bronze Star, he realized he was probably treading on some delicate ground.
With a sigh, he shifted his weight to slide back into the car. It was then Rosco turned back to Luke and spoke.
“You wanna know what I did?”
Luke paused. Yes…but… He settled back on the edge of the door but before he could answer, Rosco went ahead with his story.
“When I first went into the Army, I was in a transportation unit.” He chuckled somewhat ruefully. “I drove a truck. Anyway, we were helpin’ transport an infantry unit that was bein’ rotated out from the front for a fresh batch of guys to come in a take their place. I dunno what happened…if we got lost or were diverted on purpose or what but we crossed a bridge and suddenly had North Koreans all over the place. We managed to backtrack and clear off the bridge and take up positions but there were a couple of guys trapped on the bridge. They were wounded but still alive. Goin’ back over the bridge was practically suicide. They waved for the rest of us to just get the hell out of there but…” Rosco shook his head.
“A good soldier never leaves a buddy behind,” Luke said softly.
“Right. So between those of us drivin’ the trucks and those who were the infantry, we secured our position as best we could and then figured how to get those three guys off that bridge before they bled to death. I’d been in the Army just about six months and had been inKorea maybe a month. I hadn’t seen combat up to that point and honestly figured I wouldn’t.” Rosco paused for a long moment, the memories of a young soldier coming back as intensely as the day they were experienced. “I was scared to death….but I couldn’t just stand there. I had to do something. I couldn’t just cower down behind something, shooting at an enemy I couldn’t see and get killed for it. If I was gonna die right then and there….I was gonna die doing something worthwhile.
“Some of the guys near me were talkin’ about sending somebody out onto the bridge to carry the wounded back while everyone provided cover. Before I realized what came out of my mouth I…I had volunteered.”
Rosco paused, swallowing hard. “I thought that a little more cover could be provided if I took one of the trucks back out on the bridge and put it between our guys who were wounded and the North Koreans on the other side of the bridge. I got the truck out there….Korean’s shot it to hell first but I got it out there and I turned it sideways around the three wounded. I picked up the first guy got him over my shoulder and carried him back to the end of the bridge, all the while I had bullets flyin’ around me, comin’ from both directions. I went back for the second guy and got him…..” Rosco paused, his blue eyes distant as he was absorbed into the memory. When he continued speaking his voice was soft. “I never made it back for the third….”
Luke found himself holding his breath. He could picture everything in his mind as Rosco described things, he could even hear the gunfire and the whizzing and pinging of bullets. As Rosco paused, Luke felt a terrible dread. Whatever it was that stopped Rosco from going back out on that bridge was the single most terrible thing Rosco had experienced during that whole ordeal. It was the one thing Rosco wanted more than anything to forget.
It took Rosco a minute to continue. “The North Koreans they….they realized what we were doing….so they targeted the truck…” He stopped again, completely lost in the memory. He was back there, one foot on the bridge and in the sky ahead of him was the smoky streak of the artillery shell slamming directly into the one-ton truck he had parked on the bridge. The force of the explosion had knocked the young Private Coltrane to the ground. Rosco closed his eyes and turned away from Luke.
Luke slid out of the window of the General and stepped up quietly beside Rosco. He didn’t see the bumbling Sheriff at that moment. He saw a veteran like himself, one who had fought proudly for his country and then spent the ensuing years coping with the horrors of war. Maybe it was why Rosco was the bumbling, giggling Sheriff. He had seen so much of the dark that he had made it a point to try with all his might to hang on to the light.
Luke put a hand on Rosco’s shoulder, a gesture of understanding and sympathy spoken beyond words. Rosco opened his eyes and turned his head slightly in Luke’s direction with acknowledgement.
“His name was Aaron Davis,” Rosco continued, when Luke removed his hand. “I didn’t know him, I learned of his name later. He was one of the infantry guys. It’s possible he was already dead when the truck blew. The only thing that’s allowed me to be somewhat at peace with what happened was that he had been terribly wounded and even if I had gotten him off that bridge, he may have not survived. But still…I put that truck there. I felt responsible for a long time. In a way, I still feel responsible.” Rosco snorted softly and shook his head.”Bronze Star. Who the hell thought it would be such a great idea to award me the Bronze Star after all these years and for that?”
“I dunno, Rosco,” Luke said softly. “I reckon Captain McCree would have the answer to that.”
Rosco nodded. “S’pose I can’t blame him. He’s only followin’ his orders. I guess I shouldn’t have been so rude to ’em.”
“According to Cooter, he’s stayin’ in town. Cooter has to fix the radiator on the staff car.”
“He stayin’ at the hotel?”
Rosco sighed. “I ain’t sure I can face all that again….but I suppose I should apologize. The notation’s gonna be part of my Army record whether I want it there or not. But I’d really rather not have any presentation or any of that. They can note my file and just…leave me the hell alone.” Rosco looked at his ticket book and tore off the ticket he had started to write for Luke. He crumpled it up in his hand. “Listen, I’d appreciate if you didn’t tell anyone what I told ya about what happened. I’m sure folks is curious and all but I just don’t need everyone knowin’, ok?”
Luke nodded. “Sure, Rosco. But listen…don’t be so hard on yourself. Every man that puts on a uniform knows the risks he’s taking when he does. You knew. I knew. And Aaron Davis knew. Thing is Rosco, you risked a lot to try to save all of those men and I’m willing to bet that, up there,” Luke briefly looked skyward, “Davis knows that. And he appreciates what you did.”
Rosco didn’t seem all that convinced, but he gave Luke a nod to acknowledge the sentiment. “Maybe,” he said. He then turned and walked back to his patrol car.
*** *** ***
When Rosco got back to town he parked his patrol car and started to walk over to the Hazzard Hotel. It was then he noticed that Captain McCree was sitting on one of the benches in the square with a Styrofoam cup of coffee in hand. He looked a little out of place sitting there, in his green dress uniform. His cap was on the bench beside him and he sipped thoughtfully at his coffee, looking around watching the early morning bustle of the town square.
Rosco debated turning around and going back to the courthouse. But he didn’t and continued on walking in Captain McCree’s direction.
Captain McCree looked over as Rosco approached. His expression stayed neutral but he nodded to Rosco in greeting. “Good morning, Sheriff.”
“Mornin’.” Rosco stopped before the young Captain. “Mind if I join you?”
“Please do.” McCree removed his hat from the bench, placing it on the other side of him. Rosco sat down.
McCree sipped his coffee before speaking. “Right pretty little town you’ve got here.”
“Thanks.” Rosco looked around himself. Hazzard was nice and he wouldn’t trade it for anything. “Listen, uh…I wanna apologize for yesterday. Although I still feel the same way about this Bronze Star, I didn’t need to be so rude to ya.”
McCree nodded. “That’s awright, Sheriff. I was re-reading the file last night. I can understand perhaps the way you feel about this.”
Rosco paused. “That file of yours. Does it say anything about how all this came about after all these years?”
Rosco waited. “Well?”
“Tell ya what, Sheriff. I’ll go get my file and I’ll meet you at your office at the courthouse there.”
Several minutes later, Captain McCree entered Rosco’s office and gently shut the door. Neither Boss nor Enos knew this meeting was taking place, as Boss was over at the bank and Enos was out on patrol. The booking room had been empty when McCree had come in.
He sat down in front of Rosco’s desk and placed his attaché on it. Rosco watched the young officer, thinking how four years of his life was wrapped up in the manila folder Captain McCree pulled out. Four years that had changed him, dramatically. It hadn’t all been bad. He eventually transferred out of the transportation unit after a year and into the military police. A decision that had proved wise and helped him focus on a career path for after the war.
Although the incident on the bridge had been the most profound experience and was a huge influence on Rosco’s decision to make little or no reference to his service record, Rosco really wasn’t all that much different than a lot of Korean War vets. Like the veterans of WWII, the soldiers simply came home and quietly resumed their lives as best they could. Little, if anything, was spoken about their time fighting. But unlike their WWII counterparts, Korean War veterans didn’t come home to a ticker tape parade and celebrations. Koreanever ended in decisive victory or defeat for either side. It ended in an impasse at the 38th parallel. In fact, North and South Korea were still technically in a state of war, but had enjoyed a thirty -plus year cease fire.
There were times when Rosco bemoaned having been too young for WWII. Those guys had won their war, clear and decisively and had received the accolades and gratitude of their country. His war had ended in a stalemate and he often felt a collective disappointment. It seemed as though since the surrender of Japan in August of 1945, the US couldn’t catch a break on winning another war.
Like Vietnam, Rosco thought, thinking of his conversation with Luke that morning. Them boys came home and were spit on! What the heck’s happened to this country?
Before his thoughts on war and history went too far, Rosco saw Captain McCree open the folder. The 5×7 photograph of himself as a Sergeant was paper clipped to the inside front cover. A smile briefly twitched at the corner of Rosco’s mouth. How long had it been since he’d seen that picture?
“Apparently,” McCree began, flipping some pages, “your commanding officer had begun to write up a recommendation for the Bronze Star a couple of weeks after what happened at the bridge. For whatever reason, he never completed it. After a search we found he was transferred to another transportation unit about four months later and unfortunately was killed in combat sometime there after. His write up was in with some personal papers that ended up back with his widow. They were boxed away for all these years until she passed on about a year and half ago. The family found the write up and contacted us, curious to know if their father had had the chance to award the Bronze Star to someone. Regrettably, we had to tell them that he had not.”
McCree glanced up at the Sheriff and Rosco’s face held hardly any expression. The former Army Sergeant just stared at the folder. Part of Rosco wished that paper had never been found.
“You understand, Sheriff, that the Army is not in the business of drudging up bad memories. Since it appeared that that officer was intent on recommending you for the Bronze Star, the Army felt it should look into what happened and complete the recommendation, if possible.”
Rosco nodded. “So that’s it? Some little piece of paper that got tucked away 30 some odd years ago and was found is gonna make y’all award me the Bronze Star now?”
“Well, not exactly. See I thought that too, until I was reading through this last night. I wasn’t the officer in charge of the research on this, that was someone else at McPherson. I was simply assigned to look for you. Anyway, your former commanding officer’s little piece of paper wasn’t the only thing that was tucked away all these years.”
“No.” McCree paused, meeting the blue eyed gaze of the Sheriff straight on. “There were three men on that bridge weren’t there?”
Rosco looked away. “Yeah…”
“I’m sorry, Sheriff. I understand now why this is sensitive for you. You don’t understand how the Army can award you the Bronze Star for saving two soldier’s lives when you weren’t able to help that third soldier.”
“It doesn’t seem fair. I don’t think I deserve any such recognition.”
McCree nodded as he slipped another piece of paper from the folder. “Well not only does the Army think you deserve such recognition, the family of Aaron Davis thought so too…” Captain McCree took the paper and turned it across the desk to Rosco. It was a photocopy of a letter written in February of 1951.
Rosco wasn’t sure he heard McCree right. “What?”
“Aaron Davis’s commanding officer wrote a personal note to Davis’s mother after it was announced he had been killed. In the note, he explained what happened including what you had tried to do. Mrs. Davis wrote a letter back to Colonel Myers.” McCree pointed to the paper on the desk.
Rosco avoided looking at it. There was no way he could look at the words of a grieving mother.
“Please, Sheriff. Read it.”
Rosco refused a moment longer and then finally steeled himself and forced himself to look at the feminine flowing handwriting….
Dear Colonel Myers,
Thank you for your kind letter about Aaron. My son was proud to serve in the Army and during this difficult time I can at least take some comfort in knowing he served with other proud and honorable soldiers such as yourself, and also the young man you wrote about.
It never ceases to amaze me the stories of courage and heroism that come from such terrible matters like war. It was only just a few short years ago when the entire world seemed to be going mad, yet hope shined through in some of the incredible stories I read and heard about. It seems that this hasn’t changed. For that young soldier to risk his life to try to save not just one fellow soldier, but three….I can only hope that somebody somewhere recognizes this young man. If there is any way you can you can let him or his commanding officer know, despite my Aaron not making it, the fact that he tried to save my son is appreciated.
Thank you and God bless,
When he finished he pushed the letter back across the desk at McCree and then leaned back in his chair, running a hand over his face. His eyes were misty as he gazed off to the side. He swallowed back some of his emotion and looked across the desk at the letter that lay there.
“I would have liked to have met her,” he said, his voice choking with emotion.
“I wish you could have at least known of this 30 years ago, Sheriff. It might have eased a little of the burden you’ve been carrying all these years.” McCree picked up the letter and placed it in the folder. He put the folder back in his attaché and then removed a dark blue velvet covered box and a dark blue certificate folder with the US Army emblem on the front of it.
“Sheriff, I understand you don’t want this to be any big to-do, and there doesn’t need to be any fancy ceremony. But I would be honored to present you with the Bronze Star right now.”
Rosco looked at the velvet box and then slowly nodded. He couldn’t change the past and he would always regret what had happened, but somehow now he could accept it and move on. There were a lot of things he wished he had known all those years ago but he knew now that what he had done and tried to do had been a good thing. A grieving mother at the least knew that her son had not been left behind. An effort had been made to try to save his life.
Captain McCree stood up and opened the certificate folder. He read the citation first, a short description of the events for which Rosco P. Coltrane was being recognized for.
“For heroic achievement in combat operations against the enemy…” it began, and described Rosco’s rank and job at the time. It then told of the convoy being diverted and coming under enemy fire at a bridge.
” …despite the enemy fire, Sergeant (then PFC) Coltrane risked his life to return to the middle of the bridge in order to help the wounded soldiers to safety….”
The citation concluded with “…By his courage, resolve and inspiring example under fire, Sergeant Coltrane upheld the highest traditions of the United States Army.”
Captain McCree placed the folder down and picked up the velvet box, opening it. The Bronze Star medal lay inside of it. He held it out to Rosco.
“Sergeant Coltrane….Sheriff Coltrane…I’m honored today to present you the Bronze Star.”
Rosco accepted the box and then Captain McCree shook the Sheriff’s hand.
THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
TO ALL WHO SHALL SEE THESE PRESENTS, GREETING:
THIS IS TO CERTIFY THAT
THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
AUTHORIZED BY EXECUTIVE ORDER, AUGUST 24, 1962
THE BRONZE STAR MEDAL
Sergeant Rosco P. Coltrane, 6545874, Transportation
MERITORIOUS ACHIEVEMENT IN GROUND OPERATIONS AGAINST THE ENEMY
Korea, 4 February 1951 – 15 March 1952
GIVEN UNDER MY HAND IN THE CITY OF WASHINGTON
THIS 23 rd DAY OF July 1985