The circle was complete…
Thomas Calabrese … Lt. Colonel Louis Braddock, United States Marine Corps was stationed at Camp Pendleton from 2003 to 2008, the last three as Battalion Commanding Officer with the Ninth Marines and lived in the San Luis Rey housing area of the base with his wife Ellen, son, Michael and daughter Sarah.
On March 18, 2004, Ellen Braddock’s grandmother passed away and she inherited a gold wedding ring that her grandfather had given her just before he left to fight in the Pacific during World War II. The inscription read; S&T. The S was for Sarah and the T was for Timothy.
It was the fifteen of July, 2004 and Ellen Braddock and her children had gotten up early to get a nice spot at the Del Mar Beach on base; Lt. Colonel Braddock was deployed at the time. Ellen normally didn’t bring anything of value with her, but her grandmother had gotten married on this day so when she saw her jewelry box on the dresser she thought it would be an appropriate way to honor her if she wore the ring today. It was a perfect Southern California day with the temperatures in the mid-eighties and there were the usual festivities happening on the beach as barbecues, volleyball and swimming extended from one end of the recreational area to the other and by late afternoon the exhausted Braddocks were ready to return to their quarters.
Ellen began putting things away when she noticed that the ring was no longer on her finger and felt a sickening feeling in the pit of her stomach and knew at that precise moment that it was a stupid mistake to have brought it to the beach in the first place. She never mentioned to her children about the loss because there was no reason for them to be upset as well, but early the next morning Ellen borrowed a metal detector from a neighbor and spent the entire day going up and down the beach searching for the ring, she found about three dollars in change and some metal cans, but no ring. Ellen felt bad for herself, but even worse for her daughter Sarah, who was next in line to inherit the ring. Several years passed before she even mentioned the loss to her husband.
The ring had slipped off Ellen’s finger when she was playing in the surf with her children and for the next ten years it drifted back and forth with the tide. During that time Lt. Colonel Braddock was transferred to Camp Lejeune in 2008 and the family lived in North Carolina until 2011 when Louis retired from the Corps as a Colonel after being passed over for promotion to General to take a position with Homeland Security in San Diego. The family returned to California and purchased a home in Northern Oceanside.
Michael Braddock was now a junior at the University of California in Davis studying veterinary medicine and Sarah had graduated University of Arizona with a degree in business administration and was working at the Federal Express Distribution center on Avenida Del Oro in Oceanside.
Gunnery Sergeant Tim Hightower had been with First Force Reconnaissance Company for five years and his squad was training at Red Beach on July 15, 2014 by jumping out of a CH-53 helicopter, hovering at fifty feet above the Pacific Ocean then swimming three miles to shore. When he got back to Area 33, Camp Margarita, Gunny Hightower began cleaning his gear and noticed something was stuck inside his fin so he pulled it out and saw an encrusted ring.
Tim took the ring to Bulworth Jewelry on South Coast Highway in downtown Oceanside the next day after he got off duty, “I was wondering if you could clean this for me?”
Warren Bulworth looked at the ring, “It looks like it has seen better days, how old is it?”
“I don’t know,” Tim responded.
“I’ll soak it in a special solution and see what it looks like after that,” Warren Bulworth said, “Come back in a week, I can’t make any promises, but I’ll do my best.”
Warren Bulworth wrote out a receipt and handed it to Tim and on the way out the door he bumped into Sarah Braddock who was texting on her phone. They made eye contact and smiled politely at each other.
“Sorry,” Tim said.
“I should have been looking where I was going,” Sarah replied, ‘Texting and walking is going to be the death of me yet.”
Sarah entered the store and approached Warren Bulworth, a family friend, “Hi Warren”
“Good afternoon Sarah, How are you?”
“Fine, thanks for asking, I hope that you are well. My dad’s birthday is coming up in two weeks and you know how much he likes wristwatches, got anything interesting?”
“Actually I do, I was at an estate sale and found this,” Warren Bulworth pulled out a wristwatch, “It’s a Graham Chronofighter, military vintage,”
Sarah looked at it, “I like it, how much?”
“I paid five hundred; it is yours at the same price on one condition.”
“And that condition is?” Sarah asked.
“You’ll exchange it for something else if your dad doesn’t like it.”
“You got a deal, but my instincts tell me that you are being overly generous,” Sarah said.
“Not really, actually you’ll be doing me a favor by taking it off my hands.”
“I don’t believe that for a moment,” Sarah smiled.
“I haven’t had a chance to check it out, let me make sure that all parts are working properly, I’ll have it ready for you in three days,” Warren suggested
When Sarah got home, her curiosity got the best of her so she went online and found that a similar Graham Chronofighter was selling for forty five hundred dollars. She knew why Mr. Bulworth was so generous. Sergeant James Bulworth, Warren’s son, was leading a patrol that came under intense fire from a vastly superior enemy force and when they radioed for artillery support, command refused their request because it was a clandestine operation and the Marines were not supposed to be in that location. Major Braddock was the communication center officer in charge and knew that Sergeant Bulworth and his men would be killed if they didn’t get help so he falsified a communication from Central Command requesting artillery and air support. Sergeant Bulworth and his men made it out of the deadly ambush, just minutes before being overrun and while there was no conclusive evidence that Major Braddock was involved in the authorization order, the Division General suspected him and voiced it in no uncertain terms that he would have been court martialed except that any official military disciplinary action would bring too much attention to the covert operation. Nine months later, a radio operator who had been at the communication center at the time approached Sergeant Bulworth at the fifty two area mess hall.
“I’ m getting out tomorrow, but I thought you ought to know that it was Major Braddock that falsified the fire control order,” Corporal Shelton said, “ I didn’t want to say anything while I was still in the Corps, but you owe Braddock …big time.”
Sergeant Bulworth was also wise enough not to bring up the issue while he was in the Corps, but he remembered what Corporal Shelton told him so when he was discharged, the first thing he did was find Louis Braddock’s residence address, “I know I wouldn’t be alive today if it wasn’t for you,” James Bulworth said as he stood on the front porch of the Braddock home.
Louis Braddock once again denied any involvement, “I’m glad you are alright, but while I will admit that I was in the command center at the time, I can’t confirm or deny who gave the order.”
Sergeant Bulworth pulled out a small box, “My father worked as a jeweler back in Kansas City, and recently purchased a jewelry store in Oceanside so when I told him about what happened, we got this for you.”
When Louis Braddock opened the box, he saw a watch and the engraving on the back read; Semper Fi’ Second Platoon, Fifth Marines.
“We wanted you to have this too,” Sergeant Bulworth handed Louis Braddock a framed photograph of second platoon.
Louis Braddock had been with Homeland Security three years when he was sent to Manila, Philippines in May 2014 to evaluate evidence in a bombing investigation when he was taken hostage with seven other Americans by the Abu Sayyaf terrorist group and taken to a fortified compound on the outskirts of Quezon City.
Gunnery Sergeant Tim Hightower was part of the Special Operations team sent from Camp Pendleton to rescue the hostages and after a ten hour battle with the Islamic terrorists, the American force secured the compound. Louis Braddock had sustained a knee injury when he was kicked by a terrorist and was having trouble putting any weight on his left leg so he had be carried out and that task fell on Gunny Hightower, who carried the former Marine over a mile to the extraction point.
When he got back to Pendleton Gunny Hightower had to undergo physical therapy for the severely strained muscles in his back and was swimming laps instead of running until he healed. He suddenly remembered the ring as he packed his swim gear and checked the front drawer of his dresser for the receipt.
Louis Braddock was a resilient man and while he had some minor ligament damage to his knee that required orthoscopic surgery, the surgeon said he would be alright in about six weeks and was given permission to begin water therapy so he packed up his swimming gear and headed to the 14 Area pool on base.
Sarah had completely forgotten about the watch for her dad’s birthday because of his prior predicament, but when it crossed her mind, she thought, better late than never. Tim Hightower was unknowingly swimming in the lane next to Louis Braddock at the 14 Area pool and both men were surprised to see each other as they climbed out of the pool, only seconds apart.
“Gunnery Sergeant Hightower! Louis Braddock beamed, “Great to see you!”
“You too, Colonel, how’s the knee?”
“I had to have it scoped, but I’ll be alright.”
“Good to hear,” Tim Hightower smiled.
“I’d like to invite you over for dinner as a token of my appreciation, my wife and daughter would love to meet you.”
“You don’t have to do that,” Tim shrugged, “I was just doing my job.”
“I know that, but I would take it as a personal favor if you would accept.”
“When you put it that way, Sir, I’d be honored to accept your invitation,” Tim smiled.
Before they left the locker room, Louis Braddock gave Tim Hightower, his home address and phone number. It was Wednesday and the dinner invitation was for 1800 hours on Friday.
After leaving the 14 Area pool, Tim drove to the jewelry store and when he entered, Sarah Braddock was already standing at the counter conversing with Warren Bulworth.
“I’m sorry it took so long to get back,” Sarah said.
“No problem, I heard about your father, how is he doing?” Warren Bulworth inquired.
“Good, he’s a tough leatherneck,” Sarah responded, “I’ll tell him you asked about him.”
When Sarah turned around, she ran right into Tim Hightower again and when she stepped to the left so did he and they bumped into each other again and when their eyes met, they couldn’t look away, Sarah finally smiled, “We have to stop meeting like this,” and quickly left the store.
Tim watched Sarah until she reached her car and drove off, then handed the jeweler his receipt without diverting his glance from the departing woman.
“I got good news for you, I was able to get the corrosion off,” Warren Bulworth handed the ring to Tim.
“Thanks, good job.” Tim responded as he barely looked at the ring.
On the way home Sarah found herself thinking about the man at the jewelry store, but all she had was an educated guess that he was a Marine. Tim drove back to Camp Pendleton also thinking about the encounter at the jewelry store.
Back at the Braddock home, “I’m finally looking forward to meeting the man who saved your six,” Ellen teased, “this is going to be a change of pace after all the Marines you’ve helped during your career.”
“It was just luck that I happened to see him at the pool,” Louis replied.
“If you had not seen him there, you would have tracked him down wherever he was,” Ellen knew her husband too well.
Louis and Ellen were interrupted by the sound of the front door opening, “Is that you Sarah?
“No, it’s the neighborhood burglar, I’m just going to get a few things,” Sarah called out.
“The good stuff is upstairs, help yourself to anything in my daughter’s room,” Louis replied.
“Don’t forget that we have the Marine who saved your dad coming over for dinner,” Ellen reminded her daughter
“You can re-phrase that to; the Marine who assisted your father in his daring escape,” Louis smiled.
“Point taken, Colonel,” Ellen kissed her husband.
Tim was punctual, arriving at seventeen hundred and fifty eight minutes at the Braddock home which was located near the back gate of the base. He parked in the circular driveway then walked up the flower lined walkway to the front door where Louis and Ellen Braddock were waiting for him.
“We saw you drive up,” Louis Braddock said,
“Welcome to our home Gunnery Sergeant Hightower,” Ellen beamed.
“Thank you for the invitation and please call me Tim.”
Just as Tim entered the house, Sarah came walking down the stairs and when she saw the man from the jewelry story, she was so surprised that she missed a step and fell forward, but luckily Tim was there to catch her before she hit the floor.
“Didn’t you say that we need to stop meeting this way?” Tim smiled.
Later as they sat at the dining table, Ellen asked with great curiosity, “How exactly did you two meet?”
“We met at Bulworth Jewelers while I was getting this,” Sarah handed her father a small gift wrapped box, “It’s a little late, but I didn’t want you to think that I forgot about your birthday.”
“I knew that would never happen, I’ll open it later,” Louis Braddock said, “Thank you.”
“I was picking up a ring that I found when I was doing a training swim off Red Beach,” Tim reached into his pocket and took out a small box and removed the ring then handed it to Ellen, “it’s pretty old, but still in pretty good shape.”
Ellen stared in disbelief.
“What’s wrong?” Sarah asked.
“This is my grandmother’s ring, the same ring that I lost at Del Mar Beach ten years ago,” Ellen stammered as tears of joy rolled down her cheek, “I never expected to ever see it again.”
“Are you sure that’s it?” Louis asked.
“Absolutely, I can still read the inscription.”
Later as they sat in the living room, Tim noticed a photograph setting on the mantle and got up to take a closer look at it, “that’s me.”
“Excuse me?” Louis asked
Tim pointed to a young Marine standing in the back row of a platoon of Marines in combat gear, “I had only been with my unit a couple weeks when I got wounded on my first mission. I had lost a lot of blood and the Corpsman was doing his best to keep me alive, but couldn’t get a medivac to come.”
“Did you remember who your Platoon Sergeant was?” Louis asked.
“Burleson, something like that,” Tim guessed
“It was Bulworth,” Sarah interjected, “The same name as the jeweler.”
“The jeweler is the father of your former Platoon Sergeant,” Ellen added.
Tim hesitated for a moment then remembered, “Whoa, I heard that some officer got in trouble for ordering air strikes and without that happening, I wouldn’t be alive. Are you that officer?”
Louis Braddock didn’t answer, but when Tim glanced over at Sarah, she nodded.
Tim and Sarah got married on July 15, 2016 at Del Mar Beach on Camp Pendleton on the same day that Sarah’s great grandmother had gotten married ,which was also the same day that the ring was lost and the same day it was found on Red Beach. When Tim slipped the ring on Sarah’s finger, destiny smiled on the couple.
Cynics said that there were far too many coincidences for a story like this to have ever happened, but hopeful romantics were convinced that it had a Ring of Truth to it.