Will their paths cross often enough for love to flourish?
eBook ISBN 978-1-60174-063-8
Hand in hand they strolled to the World War II Memorial. She couldn't remember a time a date had done something as corny as holding her hand. Old-fashioned as it was, she liked it. He didn't let go until they walked through the arch commemorating action in the Pacific theater. All those old war movies she'd seen flashed through her mind. The Longest Day, Tora! Tora! Tora!, Saving Private Ryan. So much death. The staggering losses… So sad.
They wandered around the edifice, and stopped to read the plaques. At the wall covered with gold stars representing those who died in battle, Megan expected a strong emotional response. It didn't happen.
"This whole monument is lovely. But... I'm not touched by the stars like I was by all the names at the Vietnam Wall," she said.
"Names are individual. I read each of these stars represents 1000 people. The stars are anonymous," Duncan replied. "There's a big difference in the representation."
"You're right. I suppose this place was intended to honor more than heal."
Duncan again took her hand, engulfing her with a sense of belonging. They ambled through the Atlantic arch and headed back down the other side of the Mall. "I think you'll like the Korean War Memorial better."
"Wait 'til you see it."
The wind kicked up. Megan noticed a bank of black clouds off in the distance. "Looks like a storm's coming in." She dropped his hand and stepped off the sidewalk jammed with Cherry Blossom Festival tourists. "Race you," she called over her shoulder, as she took off running.
Duncan outdistanced her before she'd gone five steps. By the time she reached the memorial grounds, he stood there, hands planted on his hips, not even breathing hard.
He grinned. "What took you so long?"
"I won't do that again." She shook her head. "You're in better shape than I am, that's for sure."
"Megan, I'm an active duty soldier. I darned well better be in shape."
The reality of his statement hit her hard. If he had to fight, he had to be able to run fast. His life could depend on it. "You work out regularly don't you?"
"Every day if possible."
He clasped her arm. Suddenly, her breath caught, the same as it had on the day they'd met. Whatever this electricity was between them, it was powerful. She wondered if he felt it too. He seemed perfectly at ease. She hoped she seemed as relaxed, the operative word being seemed.
They walked to a group of statues that represented a combat patrol. Each soldier wore a helmet and poncho and carried a huge pack on his back. They were exhausted, yet they trudged on. She noticed their faces. Weary faces. Careworn faces. Old-before-their-time faces. Their fatigue was palpable.
Pressing her fingers to her lips, she blinked back another onslaught of tears. This memorial was by far the most personal.
She read the inscription carved in stone: "Our nation honors their sons and daughters who answered the call to defend a country they never knew and a people they never met. 1950 Korea 1953"
"That's just as true today." she said, her throat tight.
Duncan moved beside her and slid his arm around her shoulders. "Yes."
She caught something she couldn't quite name in his voice. Patriotism, duty, whatever it was, she knew Duncan Fraser believed in the cause for which he had fought and would fight again.
He turned and pointed to the wall behind him. The words were simple. FREEDOM IS NOT FREE.
Megan stood in silence for a full minute. Finally she drew a deep breath. "That sums up everything we've seen today, doesn't it?"
He nodded, his body ramrod straight, as if standing at attention. The way he stood, she half expected a sharp salute. "I think so. No, I know it. Too many friends have paid the price of life or limb for the sake of freedom. Sorry, I didn't mean to get on my soapbox. It's just that civilians don't get it, at least many don't."