That's what the old man said. The big man lay on the bed. Tired. His face showed years of living.His Skin was stretched in places wrinkles, age spots littered his body. His hands showed the decades of hard work.
"Here , come look at this," He slowly managed to straighten up on the old bed. The room seemed as old as he was. The pictures on the wall where faded, and a few were torn, and wrinkled. He indicated a picture hanging off to his left. Moving closer to him, I smell him. But it's not the smell of a old man. It's the smell of fear, of time running out. The picture is old. Very old . "Take it down." he instructs. So I gently take the picture from the wall. The wall behind it it is three shades lighter from not being in the sun for decades. I step back a bit.
"What is it?" I inquire tentatively as I try to find good light in the dark room to really look at it. Blowing dust from it, wiping cobwebs from the edges, I finally manage to get a clearer idea of the old picture. By now he had managed to get himself sitting upright on the edge of his bed. Even at his old age, with a world beaten body. Sitting there on the edge, it occurred to me how tall he still was. Several clever remarks ran through my head, But I quickly dismissed them. The picture was big probably two feet square. In a black frame. It was dark red on the top half, the bottom showed a flat landscape. The ground seemed to be in a shadow. Then it seemed familiar. I'd seen the picture before. Then I recognized the cloud centered in the top two thirds of the picture. It was a mushroom cloud . Turning it over Printed on the back in neat handwritten block letters, Hiroshima, August 6, 1945. I glanced back at the old man.
"I was there." He reported, upon seeing I knew what the picture was. "I was there for the death and destruction . I barely missed being killed by the radiation . Look at it son, Look close." He got up with surprising agility Coming over to me. He looked down at me. Even at a hundred plus years, he still towered over everything in the room. "And this," walking past me to the display case. Opening, the glass door. He reaching in he picked up a small jewelry box. He opened it. Inside was a yellow tooth. I walked over to see what he had in the little box. In the light of the display cabinet , I saw the tooth.
He carefully picked it up. He glanced over to the picture still in my hand and back to the old yellow tooth. Looking close at him in the light I could see the years had taken their toll on him. He body was bent, and warped by the years, and arthritis and many aliments I'll never know about.
"They found thousands of them. Teeth, That was all that was left of thousands of people. A few bones, and buildings leveled or close to it." He picked up the old yellow tooth, and looked at in the light, Then put it back in the box.
He turned to me. Looking down on my small frame, he stared for a minute. Finally he spoke. It was low and drawn, as if he'd been considering the words he had to say.
"Son, we're in a hell of a Predicament. If our nation doesn't do what is necessary now, Than in all likelihood the enemy will use everything in their arsenal to destroy us. And Yes, I believe that they have atomic bombs. I have no doubt that they'd hesitate one second to use them on us." He paused for effect.
"Well, Mr. President, What you going to do?"
I turned back to the wall behind his bed. There scattered across it were pictures of the world at war. Images from WWI, WWII. A lot of them. Fewer from Korea, And handful from Vietnam. Turning back to the display cabinet; Medals and ribbons were neatly laid across the top shelf. I noted several large campaign patches and medals . On the lower shelf were at least a half dozen written citations . The bottom shelf held several old gns. One I recognized immediately , a Colt 1911 Pistol. It was old, holster worn from spending many months riding in his holster . The finish was gone in all the places it should be for a service weapon. Somehow it made my brand new 1911 seem like a toy. I knew it would never see the kind of use and live the life hs old pistol had. All of this flashed into mind as I went on to notice the captured German Luger, and several other foreign weapons of war.
I turned back to the old man. He had retreated back to his bed.and now sat on the edge of the bed, sipping on his lukewarm coffee. He looked over at me. Even sitting on his old bed, he could still look me straight in the eyes. Suddenly he seemed old and tired again. His question came back to me again. It echoed in my mind. ”Well, Mr. President, what you gonna do?”
He was right. It was up to me. I had come to him to seek advice about the war that was brewing. My advisors had told me not to bother seeing the senile old man. But I knew better. He had been a friend of the family for many decades. He had served under four presidents, served with Eisenhower, at D-Day. Been with MacArthur in Korea, and countless other wars, and police actions for many decades. The wars and battles he won, were the stuff of legends. And he’d been a friend of mine since I was a kid. I grew up listening to his stories. I was there when he retired as a four star General, decades ago. And Now. And now he was tucked into a dingy little house on the outskirts of Washington. He had served his country for most of his life. And this was how they rewarded him. It made me mad to think about it. I put the anger out of my mind for the moment. It had taken me a long time to find him, after he just dropped out of sight. Now I’d found him. I vowed to myself he wouldn’t be living in this dump anymore. But first things first. Two Secret Service agents waited discreetly outside while I talked to him.
I pulled up the old chair and sat down in front of him. “General. You have any ideas, about what to do with the mess we’re in now ?” I asked quietly and pointedly. It was clear he knew what was going on in the world.
“Son, you must be prepared to act fast and ruthlessly . To take to war to them. Before they’re ready for it. Look at World War II, Take the lessons from the great generals of the time. You must have commanders who will push their men and demand they do more than they ever thought they could. Above all. Son, you must strike first and hard. And decisively . There must be no question about if you will win, but only how you will win. Like D-day, the cost will be great, But you must prevail, or we’ll all be doomed. “
There. He’d said it. Exactly what I was thinking. He had put into words thought and feelings I’d had for the last couple of days.
“Thank you. Thank you General for saying what I was feeling.”
I said my goodbyes. I talked to his nurses aid. I informed him that people would arriving later in the day to help him move into a retirement home for Veterans, and that everything he owned here would be taken with him, from the pictures to the display cabinet, I also told him, There would no problem with his guns and other collectables, I gave him the number to my private secretary. If there was any problems or questions; They were to call and they would be fixed immediately.
I said goodbye to the General one more time.
That evening I went on national TV and declared war.