And so, the soldiers, like big brothers of little Milly began their lives in the Rivers’s farm.
They helped around the farm from dusk till dawn. One mended things, another took care of the animals, of the garden, of the electricals, of the heavy work.
Sam built a nice little house for Yo, Dog, while Max and Milly painted it in camouflage green.
They even put a little flag on its roof. According to Milly, it was her own country flag – as she believed she’s her own sovereign state, just like all people should be. Her flag very much reminded everyone of a typical pirate’s flag – skull and bones on a black cloth – but no one wanted to spoil her imagination, so nobody told her anything.
Ollie fixed so many things around the house. He even managed to create a whole watering system for Julian’s garden.
Cassidy suggested that they build a little tree house for Milly. Sam, of course, took the architectural challenge absolutely seriously and like a young Wright (or somewhere there) – along with everyone else’s help – built a tree house with ropes for climbing and swings and a slide for going down from the tree house.
In the evenings, everyone would gather in the kitchen.
Julian would put the radio and everyone would start dancing on a Rolling Stones or a Beatles song. Everybody helped with the cooking. Before dinner one would say a little prayer , while during their meals Roy would tell endless stories about where the five of them have been and what they’ve done. But sometimes, he’d tell Milly and Julian stories about Vietnam.
Once, Roy decided to tell them about how a North Vietnamese girl helped him and his friends.
“I’ll never forget her. Tran Thi Duy. She was only 12. Anyway, my best friend – Mickey – got injured real bad, a shrapnel piece flew into his thigh and some particles – into his eyes, too. We thought he’d resume his sight but it actually turned out he was permanently blinded by the burns. The doc said his eyes looked like potato puree, you know? Poor guy, I miss him”.
“Why, what happened, isn’t he alive?” interrupted Milly.
“Unfortunately, no. He died. Saving us all”, Roy looked at his friends and Max, Sam, Cassidy and Ollie lowered their heads slightly. Sam stood up and started pacing a little nervously. There was much more to the story that these guys carried with them but neither Julian nor little Milly, although just 5, wanted to pry and dig more into it.
“Anyway, Mickey’s leg was getting quite bad. A gangrene picked up. He needed some medicine. He needed stuff to sooth his pain and we had run out of it all. We were stationed in a hiding tunnel for about a week. We had almost nothing at the end, just explosives, ammunition, guns”, Roy stopped a second and lowered his voice, leaning towards Mrs. Rivers, “I’m sorry ma’am, could I say all this in front of Milly?”. Milly didn’t hear because she was concentrating on getting rid of her food – so her mom could allow her to have dessert – and shoving the leftovers under the table where Yo, Dog was waiting patiently.
“She’s fine, dear. She’s heard and seen worse. What happened then, to Mickey and the girl?” Julian said.
“Tran Thi wounded herself. I mean, on purpose. She cut her forearm quite badly and the blood gushed out. She went to the nearby hospital, she knew that they’ll give her medicine and supplies for her cut, I mean, she was one of them, so there was no problem for her. And that’s how she got back with some painkillers and stuff for Mickey. But they found out. The guerrillas found out that she was helping us. One of the nurses suspected Tran Thi because of her little injury and how it happened. She must have betrayed Tran Thi and someone must have followed her. Tran Thi was so scared that she’s exposed us like that. The next day, they ambushed us. They were yelling at Tran Thi that she was a traitor and shot her. They shot her and I saw her and I couldn’t do anything about it. And then…that’s when Mickey went…that’s when Mickey went out there and blew himself up and killed most of them. The guy had grabbed just about any explosive he could find. Before any of us knew what was happening…I still can’t figure out…how he found the strength with his nearly dead leg…unable to see…I don’t…I don’t know ma’am. He was one hell of a guy, Mickey was. That’s why we want to get our medals, because they’re his – they owe him so much for what he’s done and nobody gave a damn for what he’s done. That’s why I want to go to Washington, ma’am. Mickey, Mickey and Tran Thi deserve it, because that war’s ridiculous, like any, so much loss… so much, on both sides.”, Roy stopped. He looked at the other guys. Sam was already outside, smoking, hearing everything. Max stood up from the table and walked outside. Milly followed him.
The silence covered the air like a thick grey smoke. Julian expressed condolences and shared the sadness the way she could, sometimes with words she could put together, sometimes she just respected the silence, but nothing helped elevate the sorrow for awhile.
The soldiers grew to love the place – the little girl and Julian, the animals and the peaceful, simple life, that the farm and the land surrounding it, brought.
Roy was always hysterical with Milly’s quirkiness and love for completely unchildish games, like aiming at targets with knives, carving her own toys out of tree bark by using one of her sharp knives, or hunting for lions or bats or special breed snakes. Of course, he always followed her, like a big, protective and loving brother, although he knew they’d never find any of these animals.
Once, while Milly and Roy were sitting at the porch, eating ripe tomatoes with salt, she turned to him and said, “I think it’s time”.
“Time for what, Mills?” Roy asked still chewing on his tomato.
“It’s time to plan our trip to Washington and how we’ll meet the president and what I’ll say.”
“Have you thought about it?” Roy said.
“Sure I have. In fact, I have the prefect strategy for us.” Milly smiled and wiped her tomatoey mouth in her sleeve.
“You know why we’re doing all this, Mills?” Roy said.
“Of course I do, what do you think I am? We want Mickey’s honour and medals, right?”
“Yep. Yeah, and I want honour and medals for Tran Thi, too. She deserves to be honoured by our president because she helped a great deal.” Roy added.
“Do you want to hear my plan how we’ll get their honour and medals, then?” Milly asked eagerly.
“All ears, Mills“.
As a typical 5-year-old would do, Milly leaned towards Roy and whispered her plan in his ear. He laughed at some places, at others, his eyes went wide open, most of the time he laughed so hard that even the author of this story was super curious to find out what could possibly the plan be.
“That’s awesome, Mills! Mr. Nixon, get your house in order, we’re comin to town! I’m all in. Let’s tell the others!” Said Roy and hi-fived Milly whose face beamed with pride and, somehow, with a slight mischievousness.