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One Thing In Common – Thomas Calabrese

By   /  May 25, 2019  /  20 Comments

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One Thing In Common

 Happy Memorial Day 2019

Thomas Calabrese — ‘In the end, we will not remember the threats of our enemies, but the silence of our fallen comrades’

‘Memorial Day isn’t just about honoring veterans; it is about honoring those who lost their lives’

‘America without its military is like God without his angels’

‘While mourning the brave who have died, we should

also thank God that such people have lived’

All gave some, some gave all

 On May, 1868, General John A. Logan, commander-in-chief of the Grand Army of the Republic, an organization of former Union Civil War veterans issued a proclamation calling for ‘Decoration Day’ to be observed annually and nationwide and May 30th was chosen. There are two different explanations on why this date was chosen; one it was not the anniversary of any particular battle or it was the optimal date for flowers to be in bloom in the North. It was originally meant to honor those lost in the Civil War, but in the aftermath of World War I, the holiday evolved to commemorate fallen personnel in all wars. Memorial Day did not become the more commonly used name until after World War II, and it was not declared the official name until federal law was passed in 1967. On June 28, 1968 Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, which moved Memorial Day to the last Monday in May. That is where we stand right now.

John Reeves Malloy liked Memorial Day for two reasons; it meant the beginning of summer and that school was almost over. It wasn’t that he didn’t know that it had something to do with veterans; it was that he didn’t really care. Growing up in Carlsbad and only a few miles from Camp Pendleton he often saw young Marines at the beach or at the mall, but the military had no interest to him. He was a self- absorbed teenager and was focused on his own friends, sports and just having fun.

It was Memorial weekend 2008 and John drove to Del Mar Beach to meet some of his friends and as the evening progressed they began playing drinking games.  When John woke up at one o’clock in the morning, he was lying face down in the sand and nobody was around. He struggled to his feet and stumbled down the beach while looking for his friends, but eventually gave up and called his parents. John garbled out a few words, “I think I drank too much.”

James Malloy knew that this was not the time to scold his son about excessive drinking. He was just glad that he called and didn’t try to make it home in his inebriated state, “I’ll come and get you, just tell me where you are.”

John rubbed the sand out of his eyes and was able to distinguish a neon sign in the distance, “It looks like I’m behind the Poseidon Restaurant.”

                     “Stay right where you are,” James ordered his son.”

                     “That’s no problem.” John collapsed back on the sand.

When James started to get dressed, his wife Diane rolled over in bed and asked, “Where are you going?”

                     “Johnny drank too much and I’m going to pick him up,” James answered.

                     “I’ll go with you.”

                     “You go back to sleep, I’ll be back within the hour,” James suggested.

                     “I’m up now and I won’t be able to go to sleep until you get home so I might as well go with you,” Diane said.

                     “Okay.”

While driving down Highway 5 a semi-truck blew a front tire and jack-knifed right in front of the Malloy’s Toyota Camry. James tried to stop, but he did not have enough time and ended up crashing right into the left fuel tank, puncturing it.

Two active duty Navy Seals were driving north on the freeway from Coronado to Camp Pendleton for an event at 0500 hours that morning when they saw the collision. Master Chief Rob Hayes instinctively pulled over to the shoulder and with Lieutenant Oscar Feliz ran across the freeway, jumped over the median divider and rushed over to the Malloy vehicle, “Are you alright?” Rob Hayes asked.

James hesitated then replied, “I think so then asked his wife, “Are you hurt?

Diane grimaced, “I hit my knee pretty hard.”   

Master Chief Rob Hayes tapped his comrade on the shoulder and pointed to the fuel that was accumulating around the car, but instead of running for safety, the two brave men stood their ground and tried to extract the trapped couple. A spark ignited the fuel and the car exploded killing the Malloys and the Navy Seals.

When John awakened at first light, he had a sickening feeling in the pit of his stomach that something was terribly wrong. After the funeral of his parents, John contacted the families of the two Navy Seals to offer his condolences and to thank them for their efforts in trying to save his parents. With the help of the family lawyer, the local church and several neighbors, John moved all of the family’s mementos and photos into a storage facility. The church found a needy family who was willing to take care of the Malloy house for a discount in rent and a property management company was contracted to collect the rent, pay taxes and handle any emergencies.

Being an only child with no close relatives, John had nothing to keep him in Carlsbad so he enlisted in the Navy with the intent of becoming a Navy Seal. In a matter of weeks he had gone from being an irresponsible young boy to a man who was dealing with loss and came to realize what self-sacrifice was all about. John was also consumed with guilt because he knew if it wasn’t for his irresponsible behavior, his parents wouldn’t have been on the road that morning and the Navy Seals wouldn’t have tried to save them. The loss of those four lives rested solely on his shoulders and while he couldn’t bring them back, he could at least do something to honor their memory. John knew that no matter what he did, it would never balance the scales. Once he was in the military, he dropped his first name and went by his mother’s maiden name, Reeves.

With every day and every mission, Chief Petty Officer Reeves Malloy dedicated his efforts to his family and the Navy Seals who died on that Southern California Highway. Some of his team members thought he had a death wish and he was often reminded by his superiors to not be so reckless. Chief Petty Officer never offered an excuse, he just said that he would be more careful in the future, but the truth was that he valued the lives of others much more than his own.

During his first five years as a top tier operator, Reeves was awarded two Bronze Stars, one Silver Star and was wounded twice. In April 2016, special operations forces confronted al-Qaeda insurgents in the Shahi-Kot Valley and Arma Mountains. Reeves was in the second of three helicopters that landed 500 meters from the Takur Ghar mountaintop. All three aircraft were greeted by direct assaults by al-Qaeda forces that were repelled by the Navy Seals. The special operators split up to fulfill their designated mission and Reeves’ team began moving up the 45-70 degree slope. It was a physically demanding 2-hour effort under heavy mortar fire and thin mountain air that was made even more difficult by the fact The Navy Seals were weighted down by their weapons, body armor and equipment.

A helicopter circled overhead and began taking fire from rocket propelled grenades and small arms fire and the right door min-gunner was killed. An RPG then hit it and destroyed the right engine forcing it to crash land. The badly injured crew took cover in a ravine and were immediately surrounded by al-Qaeda forces. They had only minutes before being overrun so Reeves turned to his fellow Seals, “Cover me!” then sprinted through heavy enemy fire to reach his fellow Americans, while killing twelve enemy fighters along the way and getting shot twice. Afterward he held off several assaults until his team could fight their way to his position. Moments later an RPG hit nearby and Reeves suffered a traumatic brain injury, but continued to fight until the enemy had been defeated.  

It took Reeves two months to recover from his wounds, but his military career was over. He was medically discharged and returned home to Southern California. His parents’ three bedroom home was too big for him and he also didn’t want to evict the family that was currently residing there so he found a small room to rent near the Home Depot on East Vista Way. Reeves was still experiencing headaches from the explosion and had chronic pain from his bullet wounds so he went to the Veterans Administration Clinic on Rancho Del Oro in Oceanside to see a doctor to discuss his symptoms and course of treatment.

                     “I could prescribe some medication for you,” Doctor Henley offered.

                     “I don’t drink, I don’t smoke and I don’t like drugs,” Reeves responded, “Twenty-two veteran suicides a day and opioid addiction scares the hell out me. Got anything else?”

                     “There’s a book called Invisible Scars by Bart Billings,” Doctor Henley commented, “Why don’t you read it and see if there’s anything you might be interested in then come see me and we’ll go from there.”

Reeves picked up a copy of the book at Barnes and Noble and read it over a two night period then set up another appointment with Doctor Henley to ask particular questions and when he was done, Doctor Henley suggested, “There is a test group looking for volunteers to explore these alternative treatments and I think you would be a good subject. Do you want me to submit your name?”

                     “Absolutely, thank you sir, Reeves responded.

A one million dollar grant was allotted to explore alternative therapy and the organization conducting the study was using the Veterans Center of North County in Oceanside. Reeves went through the orientation with 15 others veterans of various military branches with an open mind and had no pre-conceived expectations. As a former top tier operator, he knew the value of training and once he started, he put 100 per cent effort into each program that included eye movement dissemination, acupuncture, craniosacral therapy and trauma sensitive yoga. There was also a veterans writing group to allow traumatized individuals the opportunity to express their experiences and feelings in words.

An art studio was set up with the necessary supplies and equipment to do paintings, sculptures and pottery. Mona Marshall was a former art teacher with a degree in psychology and she was in charge of the program. Reeves didn’t really have an interest in art when he was in high school, but somewhere along the way or maybe it was the therapy that he was undergoing that unleashed his hidden passion for painting.  Reeves had an endless supply of images swirling around in his mind and transitioning each one to paper seemed as natural as breathing to the former Navy Seal. Reeves had an instinctive way of painting that could not be taught; it was strong, poignant, clear, distinctive and most of all, each painting was thought provoking, extremely moving and in some cases mesmerizing.

Mona Marshall knew that this young man had a special talent so she stood back in amazement and watched Reeves turn a blank sheet of paper into something memorable in a matter of hours. Once he created something, Reeves lost interest in it and moved on to his next project. Mona stored the paintings then contacted Jason Greene, a noted art critic who lived in La Jolla.

The lights were off when they entered the room and Mona turned on the light exposing 25 paintings lined up next to one another. Jason stared for a moment then moved in for closer examination. Ever so slowly he evaluated each painting in detail before moving on to the next one. Mona quietly sat in the corner until Jason finished thirty minutes later.

                     “This may be the finest collection of military art that I have ever seen,” Jason smiled.

                     “You really think so?” Mona asked.

Jason walked over to a painting of a Navy Seal on a jungle mountaintop, “Take this one for example, a great combination of colors, shadows and light. What is truly exceptional is the expression on the man’s face; fear, triumph, relief and sorrow.

 Each time you look at it, you see something different and if you are slightly standing off to the side, you get an entirely different impression than when you are looking at it straight on.”

                     “That’s exactly how I feel,” Mona seconded.

                     “Who is this artist?”

                     “One of the veterans in my art therapy class,” Mona answered.

                     “Have you talked to him about his ability?”

                     “Not yet, I didn’t want to put any pressure on him or interrupt his creative flow,” Mona responded.

                     “Good idea,” Jason agreed, “Can I take one of these paintings to show to a couple of gallery owners?”

                     “Of course, just be careful with it,” Mona warned.

                     “I’ll guard it with my life,” Jason promised, “Keep him painting.”

                     “I don’t think I could stop him if I tried,” Mona smiled.

Reeves enrolled at Mira Costa Junior College in Oceanside with no long range plan in mind. He thought that maybe a few classes might give him some clues on what direction he wanted to go in his life. Since he enlisted in the Navy right out of high school, Reeves had no college credits. He signed up for the fall quarters and started off with three lower level classes, English 101, European History and American History. Reeves stayed to himself and it was not unusual for him to go an entire day at Mira Costa without saying a word to his fellow students or teachers.

One young woman caught his eye, not just because she was attractive and athletic looking, but because she never came to class without wearing or carrying something patriotic or military. She had a decal on her backpack with the Marine Corps emblem and a sweatshirt with the words, I support our military. One of her jackets had the American flag on it with the inscription, Our military dies for this flag, don’t disrespect it. Reeves was sitting in the back of the class when she got into a heated argument with another student about our military intrusions around the world. Losing her temper she snapped back, “Instead of criticizing our military personnel for following orders and going into harm’s way to protect you and your family, why don’t you condemn the stupid and self-serving politicians who put their own welfare above the country’s interests!” 

On the way out of class, she glared at Reeves, “How do you feel about it?”

                     “You made some good points,” Reeves answered, “the other guy did too.”

                     “I asked you what you felt, not what I did,” The woman grumbled, “That’s the kind of answer I’d expect from a snowflake. Grow a backbone and take a stand!” then stormed out.

Mona Marshall informed Reeves that a gallery owner wanted to do a showing of his paintings and meet some art patrons. Reeves politely declined, “I appreciate the offer, but I’m not that sociable of a person.”

Mona explained the situation more clearly, “These kinds of events are for people who want to buy your paintings, but want to meet you first.”

                     “I really don’t need the money,” Reeves responded.

                     “You’re not going to make this easy are you? There are a lot of military charities that you can donate to and they can definitely use it. Does that change your mind?”

At his first showing, Reeves sold 75,000 dollars worth of his paintings and divided the money equally between the Navy Seal Foundation, Tunnel 2 Towers and The American Healing Arts Foundation.

As the school year progressed, Reeves found out the name of the strong willed woman. It was Holly Garner and even though they never spoke again after that day in class, it did not stop him from being ready to offer his assistance just in case she got into a confrontation that she couldn’t handle.  There were times when an individual or a group would get in her face and rant and rave about her patriotic views.  Holly would just stand there patiently and let them exercise their first amendment rights, but always let them know in no uncertain terms, “Say whatever you want, but do not touch me or my property.”

Two male students mistakenly assumed her warning was false bravado, grabbed her backpack with the American flag on it, threw it to the ground, then stomped and spit on it. Holly leaped up from the bench and kicked one student in the knee then punched the other one in the nose, breaking it. Holly flipped both men to the ground with an expert judo maneuver and stomped on their stomachs with the heel of her boot. She saw Reeves sitting a few feet away and when they made eye contact he walked away.

In early April, an emergency announcement reverberated through the buildings of Mira Costa Junior College that two active shooters were on site and to evacuate as quickly as possible. Reeves was in the student union at the time, but instead of leaving the building he remained in place until everyone had left. He got up from his seat and walked over to the corner where a push broom was leaning against the wall. He snapped the wooden handle over his knee twice so that he had two pieces of wood that were 18 inches in length. When the two shooters entered through the double door, they were carrying semi-automatic weapons. Reeves hit the first man at least 50 times with the two sticks starting with his knees and finishing with his head so quickly that it was difficult to see his hands move.

The man was not only badly bruised but knocked out from serious head trauma. Reeves grabbed the barrel of the other man’s rifle turned it upward just as the shooter pulled the trigger and a blast went through the ceiling. Reeves yanked the weapon away and smashed the rifle butt into the man’s face and he crumpled to the floor. Reeves pulled out his cellphone and dialed 911.

While standing in the parking lot, Holly saw Reeves shake hands with members of the SWAT team as the two shooters were carried out on stretchers. Reeves respectfully requested that the authorities not use his name in any public releases of information. They were hesitant to do so until he identified himself as a former Navy Seal. When Holly read the newspaper article about the incident the following morning there was no mention of Reeves Malloy in it.

In late May Holly set up a table on the courtyard of Mira Costa requesting volunteers to place and remove flags on the graves of veterans for Memorial Day. Reeves walked over and signed up. “We’ll be leaving here by carpool at 7am on Saturday for Miramar National Cemetery,” Holly said.

                     “I know where it’s at, I’ll meet you there,” Reeves smiled.

While placing flags on gravesites, Holly saw Reeves hesitate at one gravesite, kneel down and touch the marker before moving on. It was obvious that he knew the deceased individual. After Reeves left, she walked over and saw the date of death, April 5, 2016. After completing their task, Holly offered, “We’re going to lunch, care to join us?”

                     “Thanks anyway, I’ll see you on Tuesday to remove the flags,” Reeves responded.

On Memorial Day, Holly Garner went with her father, retired Marine Corps First Sergeant Ray Douglas to the gravesite of her husband,  Captain Edward Garner, who was buried at Eternal Hills Cemetery. She placed flowers next to the headstone and sat quietly on the grass. Two weeks later, Holly was reading the San Diego Union Tribune when she saw an article that Reeves Malloy would be receiving the Congressional Medal of Honor for his actions on Takur Ghar Mountain. She immediately noticed that the date of his heroic act was the same as the one on the grave marker at Miramar. There was also a history of Reeves’ awards and decorations as a Navy Seal listed in the column. 

Reeves was sitting in his room when his landlady knocked on his door, “There’s someone here to see you.”

When he got to the front door, he saw Holly standing there with the newspaper in her hand. It was obvious that she was agitated, “Don’t even ask me how I found out where you live.”

                     “What are you doing here?”

                     “I read about you being a hero?” Holly answered.

                     “You read it wrong,” Reeves disagreed.

                     “No I don’t think so.”

                     “Then the paper got it wrong, fake news is all over the place,” Reeves shrugged.

                     “What it is about some people in the military who hate talking about themselves? My father is the same way and so was my late husband.”

                     “I can’t speak for them, but in my case we were trained not to talk about ourselves or our missions.  Besides most of what I did doesn’t translate well into words. A different lifetime ago I knew what my job was and who I was. Nowadays I don’t know either.”

                     “May I buy you lunch?” Holly asked.

                     “Why?” Reeves asked.

                     “Because I think I like you and I need to find out for sure.” It was obvious that Holly wasn’t going to take no for an answer

Over the next year, Holly accompanied Reeves to the White House for his Medal of Honor ceremony and attended two of his art shows. They weren’t exactly soulmates; they were more like lost soulmates on a broken road, taking it one step at a time. When Holly was with Reeves, she felt no obligation to be confrontative and combative at every perceived insult against her husband’s service and sacrifice. The former Navy Seal was finally able to set down his burden of guilt and accept the fact that maybe he was worthy of love and happiness. Most people would say that their relationship was doomed to fail, entirely too much baggage between them. There was one thing that could not be overlooked or undervalued; Reeves and Holly were warriors at heart and their first and strongest instinct was to stay and fight for what they cared about and each other. On Memorial Day Weekend 2019, the couple went back to Miramar military cemetery to place flags on the gravesites. By this time Reeves had enough trust in Holly to show her where some of his teammates were buried and give her a short and emotional description of the situations that led to their ultimate sacrifice. On Monday, they went to Eternal Hills Cemetery and paid their respects to Captain Edward Garner.

Epilogue

Medal of Honor recipient Sergeant Alvin York was originally a conscientious objector, but when he saw his fellow soldiers being killed on a battlefield in France during World War I, he rushed into harm’s way to save them. A frail and skinny Texas boy lied about his age then went off to serve his country and became the most decorated soldier of World War II, that boy was Audie Murphy. John Basilone won the Medal of Honor on Guadalcanal and could have stayed safe at home, but chose to return to combat and gave his life on the island of Iwo Jima. Actor James Stewart left glamorous Hollywood to fly bombing missions in the skies over Europe. Reeves Malloy was a guilt ridden and troubled youth who left a seaside town in Southern California and became a hero on a mountaintop in Afghanistan. All these men were different, but they had one thing in common. To paraphrase President John Kennedy, ‘They asked not what their country could do for them, but what they could do for their country.’

Happy Memorial Day 2019!

Aspiring Writers Join us on the 3rd Saturday of each month between 11:00 am and 2:00 pm Veterans Writing Group of North County (non veterans are welcome) 1617 Mission Avenue , Oceanside,Ca. 92054
(619)  991-8790 www.veteranswriting group.org – www.facebook.com/VMGSDCounty

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  • Published: 4 months ago on May 25, 2019
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  • Last Modified: May 24, 2019 @ 7:51 am
  • Filed Under: The Back Page

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20 Comments

  1. Jeremy says:

    Great story…I was really touched. Thanks for writing this story

  2. Ronald B Pickett says:

    Great story Tom – Thanks for all you do!

  3. Cary says:

    This is one of your better military stories…showed the emotion behind the action…great time to have it. Happy Memorial Weekend

  4. John Michels says:

    Tom nice tribute before the story and a very inspiring memorial day story

  5. wolf says:

    Tom did it again. Perfect story for Memorial Day. Thank god for our military and veterans. They are the core that keeps our country great.

  6. Clyde says:

    This is another one of Tom’s stories that I wish couldn’t have gone on a lot longer. I sure wanted a happy ending for Reeves and Holly

  7. Larry says:

    I very much enjoyed reading this story…touched on so many things

  8. Steve says:

    Very enjoyable, dramatic in all the right places.

  9. Pat says:

    Great story Tom.

  10. Janet says:

    Happy Memorial Day Tom! story was awesome

  11. Mike says:

    Honor our heroes with a great story. Thanks

  12. Josh says:

    Thanks for another good story. Very Patriotic

  13. Tamara says:

    I was very moved by this story. the main character was well developed.

  14. Tanya says:

    Thank you very much for a wonderful Memorial Day story

  15. Mona says:

    I loved this story ! Perfect for Memorial Day… the characters were well developed and there was action as well as some romance. My kind of story!

  16. Guy says:

    I really enjoyed the story.great tribute

  17. Tony says:

    What a befitting story to honor our Honorable Hero’s that paid the supreme sacrifice for America’s freedom. Mr. Calabrese’s Sunday story sends chills up my spine about our military that place themselves in harms way. It is a true tribute to our fallen warriors.
    I wish each and everyone a safe and Peaceful Memorial Day.
    God Bless America.

  18. Marsha says:

    Thanks for another good story. Happy Memorial Day to all veterans

  19. Kyle says:

    Very interesting… I know that Reeves and Holly will prevail.

  20. Stephanie Boren says:

    Fantastic story to support and cherish Memorial Day and all it means.
    Thanks

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