Jingle Dog Rock: My Christmas Hero
Post date: Dec 24, 2019 6:33:42 PM
It’s strange how things work out in life. Sergeant Roy Hammond couldn’t help but dwell on that thought as he drove along Vandergrift Boulevard on Camp Pendleton on the way to his barracks. The news from Navy Doctor Wallace Jensen was disturbing to say the least and caught him completely by surprise: “I’m sorry to have to tell you this, but you have, Lamington Syndrome.”
Roy had been feeling weak and with occasional bouts of nausea for the past two weeks, and when he didn’t get any better, he reluctantly went to see the company corpsman. He was referred to the battalion aid station for a physical then sent to the base hospital for a series of tests.
“I’m sorry sir, I don’t know what that is,” Roy replied.
“It is a fast-acting disease that viciously attacks the respiratory system.”
“What’s the course of treatment?”
“There isn’t any,” Doctor Jensen responded as he kept his eyes focused on the medical report, while avoiding eye contact with the young Marine.
“Sounds like bad news? Two questions: how fast and what should I expect?”
“There are a lot a variables in a prognosis like this, so it’s hard to be precise. It could be several weeks or a few months. As time progresses it will get increasingly more difficult to breathe and at the very end, you’ll suffocate to death.”
“For telling it to me straight.”
“I read your record. I figured that a Marine like you could handle the truth. Once again, I’m sorry.”
“It’s not your fault. Will it a problem getting on a plane? I was going with my girlfriend to visit her family over the holidays.”
“No flying, the air pressure could be dangerous.”
“Could I get a doctor’s note? I don’t want her to know just how serious it is and I’m going to need a good excuse for not going.”
“I’ll write down that you have a respiratory infection.”
* * *
Roy had served three combat tours in Afghanistan, first as a rifleman, then as a squad leader, and finally as a platoon sergeant with the Marine Corps infantry. He escaped death on numerous occasions while being stationed in the most dangerous areas of the country. Eight years had passed since he arrived at the San Diego Recruit Depot and looking back, it didn’t even seem possible that he was the baby-faced, naïve kid from Sedalia, Missouri. He made the transition from a wide-eyed, innocent, and clueless youth to an American warrior that served his country with honor and integrity. He received two Purple Hearts for wounds suffered in combat and a Silver Star for running into enemy fire to bring back a wounded Marine.
At one time Roy seriously thought about re-enlisting, especially after the Corps offered him a generous incentive to stay in, but decided it was time to move on. He wasn’t sure what path he wanted to take, but a career in law enforcement was on his list to consider. He had already signed up for classes at MiraCosta junior college and would start with getting his prerequisites out of the way. Roy submitted the appropriate paperwork through the Veterans Center on campus for educational benefits and everything was on schedule for when he got out of the Corps on the 7th of January.
Roy still couldn’t believe how lucky he was to have his girlfriend, Christy Devlin in his life. He met her before his last deployment and after he left Camp Pendleton with his unit, she continued to stay in touch with emails and letters. At any given time, Roy expected this beautiful, intelligent woman to wise up and notify him that it was over, but that didn’t happen. After his return to the states, things were even better than ever, and he fell in love for the first time in his life.
The Grim Reaper must have a twisted sense of humor to let him survive through his combat deployments, then give him a taste of true happiness and contentment, only to take it away. Roy could cry and whine about his bad break, but that wasn’t his style. He needed to do the right thing for those he cared about. His parents, younger brother, and sister had enough going on in their lives right now and he didn’t want them worrying about him or having to plan his funeral. After the holidays, Roy decided to break up with Christy. That would probably be the hardest thing he ever had to do in his life, but it had to be done. In fact, he’d rather be outnumbered by the Taliban a hundred to one on the battlefield, than look Christy in those beautiful eyes of hers and recite a well-rehearsed lie.
When Roy told Christy that he would not be able to travel, her first reaction was deep disappointment, but she offered an alternative, “If you can’t go then I’ll stay here.”
Christy was in her second year of the nursing program at Cal State San Marcos and also working part-time at a local chiropractor’s office. It had been a busy year and she desperately needed some time off. She had been planning this trip for months, but she was the type of woman that would cancel it in an instant to be with Roy.
One of the reasons Roy loved Christy so much was her kind heart and how she always placed the welfare of others above her own. Roy couldn’t let her cancel, so he did his best to convince her to go.
“Your family is expecting you. I’ll stay and watch the dogs. That way you won’t have to board them. I’ve already got the time off. This is the best option.”
It was breaking his heart, not to tell Christy why he couldn’t go or ask her to stay.
Roy did his best to keep the mood lighthearted as he drove Christy to the San Diego Airport with her two dogs, Bo and Benji in the back seat.
“I looked at the weather report. It looks like it will be clear and calm all the way to Dallas.”
Christy was staring out the window, “I really don’t want to go without you.”
“I know you don’t and I’m grateful that you want to stay, but sometimes at Christmas, it’s about doing for others. There is no better gift you can give your parents than you being there. You would regret it if you didn’t go.”
“I wanted them to meet you.”
“Tell them how sorry I am that I couldn’t make it. I’m sure they’ll understand when you tell them it’s a medical issue.”
“Maybe over the spring break, you can come down?”
“Sure thing, we can do that,” Roy lied.
After dropping Christy off at the airport, he started driving back to Oceanside and began talking to the dogs.
“I know what you’re thinking, I should have told her, but what would have been the point? Think about it, it ruins her holiday and her family’s because she feels bad and they feel bad for her. I feel worse than I already do and it becomes a big vicious cycle of depression and sadness. We need some yuletide cheer.”
Bo and Benji began barking.
“I knew you’d agree once I explained it in those terms. We both love her and that’s not in dispute, so if it’s alright with you we won’t bring this subject up again. Now let’s enjoy the holidays because it’s going be our last one together.”
* * *
Two other Marines came into the Naval Hospital with the same symptoms as Roy and went through the same tests and received the same results. This would have alerted Doctor Jensen’s attention since he was head of Internal Medicine, but he had taken a few days off to be with his family for the holidays and was not notified.
* * *
Once Roy arrived back in Oceanside, he went directly to the dog park instead of Christy’s apartment. He found a bench on the backside of the property and sat by himself while the dogs played in the grass. How could he have so much on his mind? He should be downsizing in frivolous thoughts and enjoying what little time he had left, but he couldn’t do it. He was a fighter and surrendering to anything, including death, wasn’t in his DNA.
After returning to Christy’s apartment, Roy fed Bo and Benji when all of a sudden he got sick to his stomach and went in the bathroom to throw up. Afterward he lay down on the couch and waited for the room to stop spinning. When he awakened several hours later, after his dreams mixing with cherished memories, he had a complete change of heart. Roy looked down at the two dogs, who were staring up at him from the floor.
“If I’m leaving this world then I’m going out on my terms and with a smile on my face.”
It was Christmas Eve and Christy called from her parents’ home in Texas, “I just called to tell you that I was thinking about you. What are you doing?”
“Not much, just sitting here with the dogs.”
“What are your plans for today?”
“I’m still not feeling well, so I’ll probably just take it easy.”
“I wish I could do something for you.”
“You can…have a good time and don’t worry about me. I’ll be fine.”
“Love you too.”
Roy knew that most places would be closing early on Christmas Eve so he decided to do some shopping and get gas before it got too late. He stopped off at Trader Joe’s on West Vista Way and purchased some chips and snacks. It was getting dark so Roy stopped off at the Circle K gas station and food mart on College Avenue to get 20 dollars in gas. Bo and Benji were sitting patiently in the backseat, “Hang in there, we’re still going to the park, I haven’t forgotten.”
There were several cars parked at the other pumps, but nobody was around. Roy thought to himself that there must be a long line inside. When he entered the building, Roy didn’t see anybody at first until an unshaven man in a hoodie walked out of the back room.
“What do you need?”
“How about 20 dollars on pump five.”
Roy saw the reflection of a man approaching from the rear of the store in the mirror on the wall before him. He was also wearing a hoodie and had his right hand behind his back. Roy caught a brief glimpse of a gun the man behind the counter had hidden behind a candy display. Roy hesitated for a second.
“Anything else?” The man grumbled.
Even though he didn’t smoke, Roy needed to buy himself some valuable time.
“I almost forgot, how about a pack of Marlboro lights.”
When the man turned around to get the cigarettes, Roy noticed a third man watching him from the direction of the soda and beer cooler. The man walking up the aisle was now directly behind him. Roy could sense the pistol being aimed at his back and smell of the man’s bad breath. As soon as the man behind the counter walked over with the pack of cigarettes, Roy kicked backward with all his strength and his boot caught the man in the knee and he screamed out in pain. A microsecond later, he grabbed the man standing before him by his long hair and slammed his head down against the metal counter so hard that he was knocked unconscious. The man on the floor moaned in pain while holding his broken leg.
Roy picked up his gun and crouched down. The man by the cooler fired two rounds that shattered the glass door next to him. Roy dropped to his stomach, crawling toward the back of the store. When he looked under the product shelves, Roy could only see the shooter’s lower legs, so he took careful aim and put a round through the man’s right ankle. When he fell to the floor, Roy shot him in the forehead.
* * *
Later, the Oceanside Police were on site. Captain Gibbs walked over to where Roy was standing next to his car and petting Bo and Benji.
“How you doing, do the paramedics need to look at you?
“Those three men have been on a crime spree throughout the state, starting at the Oregon border,” Captain Gibbs sighed in disgust as he watched the robbers being rolled out on stretchers. “There was a good probability that if you hadn’t come along, those hostages would not be spending Christmas with their families. These were bloodthirsty killers who have never left anybody alive at their other crime sites.”
“I was glad to help out.”
Two of the women hostages, still emotionally distraught from their harrowing experience, rushed over to Roy and embraced him in an expression of heartfelt gratitude.
“Thank you…thank you …thank you so much,” they repeated as tears of relief rolled down their faces. Roy shrugged.
“No problem, I didn’t do anything that any other man wouldn have done in the same situation.”
Captain Gibbs quickly disagreed.
“One unarmed man against three killers? I don’t think too many men would do what you did. One Marine against three killers, now that is entirely easier for me to believe.”
It took about 30 minutes of interviewing before Detective Chad Helton told Roy, “I guess that’s all I need for right now. Where can I reach you if I have any other questions?”
“I’m staying at my girlfriend’s place, watching her dogs. I can give you the address and my cellphone number.”
After returning to Christy’s apartment, Roy watched movies on the Hallmark Channel until about 11:30 pm when he got restless and turned to Bo and Benji, “Let’s go the park.”
After arriving at Palisades Dog Park, Roy took out the illuminating dog collars and put them on Bo and Benji. He put a large bottle of water and bowl, dog snacks, a small lantern, and two more illuminating collars into a gym bag and walked to the table on the west side of the park.
In the background were a row of houses that were decorated with Christmas lights shining brightly into the park. Roy took out his cellphone and began to play holiday songs.
It was a clear, star-filled sky that night. The dogs chased a laser that Roy moved along the ground. At midnight Roy took two more illuminating dog collars and held them in each hand. He played with the dogs in the grass while singing along with the songs playing on his phone.
A young boy from the adjoining neighborhood who had received a drone with a camera for Christmas couldn’t wait to try it out, so with his brother and father, they rushed over to the dog park. When they saw Roy and the dogs playing on the other side of the grassy area, they guided the drone to fly above them with the video and audio recorder on. It was definitely a memorable sight to behold with Christmas decorations in the background, lighted collars spinning and twirling in the dark, dogs barking and Roy doing his own dance routine while substituting the word dog for bell in the classic song Jingle Bell Rock. “Jingle dog, jingle dog, jingle dog rock. Dancin’ and prancin’ in Jingle Dog Square. Giddy-up jingle dogs. Jingle around the clock.
Roy was caught up in the moment and definitely would not have behaved in such a free –spirited and joyful manner if he knew he was being recorded for prosperity.
* * *
Christy’s niece was using her tablet to access the internet on Christmas morning.
“Aunt Christy, take a look at this video. They just posted it and it’s already got 600,000 views.”
As soon as Christy saw it, she quickly recognized the park, her dogs and Roy. Tears came to her eyes each of the dozen times she watched throughout Christmas Day.
* * *
Doctor Jensen was watching the news when he saw the story about Sergeant Roy Hammond’s heroism and told his family that he knew the Marine. On December 26, he returned to work at the Camp Pendleton base hospital. When he saw the report that two other Marines had been diagnosed with the same rare ailment as Roy, Doctor Jensen suspected something was not right. He called his secretary in the outer office.
“Bridgett, I need something done immediately. Call the lab, I need to talk with them.”
* * *
Landing right on time in San Diego, Christy called Roy as the plane taxied to the terminal.
“We’re on our way,” Roy responded and pulled out of the cellphone parking lot. While driving to Terminal One, he looked back at Bo and Benji. “You have my word I’ll tell her.”
The two dogs jumped back and forth from the front seat to the back seat in uncontrolled excitement when they saw their owner exit the baggage claim area. Entering the car, Christy gave her three favorite males a nice big kiss and hug.
Back at Christy’s and after a nice home-cooked meal, the two were sitting on the couch. Roy thought this was as good a time as any to tell Christy about his medical condition. But before he could begin, there was a knock at the door. Christy got up to look out the window and saw two law enforcement officers.
“It’s the police.”
Opening the door, she asked, “May I help you?”
“We’re looking for Sergeant Roy Hammond.”
Getting up from the couch and walking to the door, Roy said, “I’m Roy Hammond.”
The police officer handed Roy a large gift basket filled with fruits, nuts, and imported cheeses.
“The people at the Circle K chipped in to get you this. They asked us to deliver it.”
Christy took the card from the basket and read it aloud, “Thank you for saving our lives, we are eternally grateful.” Christy looked at Roy, “What’s this all about?”
Before Roy could answer, Navy Doctor Wallace Jensen walked up.
“I hope I’m not intruding, but I have some information that couldn’t wait. The Oceanside Police told me where I could find you. Can we talk in private?”
“Yes sir,” Roy answered without hesitation. He turned to Christy, “I’ll be right back.”
Walking out to the sidewalk, Roy and Doctor Jensen found a spot where they could not be overheard.
“There was an error with your test results. We had just received a new computerized blood analysis machine and apparently it had some software issues. You do not have Lamington Syndrome, you have Lippington’s virus, an inflammation of the intestines caused by contaminated vegetables. It is completely curable. The problem was tracked down to the mess hall where you’ve been eating and a defective thermostat in the cooler.”
Doctor Jensen reached into his pocket and pulled out a small bottle.
“These are antibiotics, take one in the morning and one at dinnertime with food. I want to see you in my office after the first of the year to re-check your blood.”
“Yes sir, thank you for coming out to give me the good news. Your timing could not have been better, sir.”
Doctor Jensen started to walk back to his car then turned back around, “Good job at that gas station on Christmas Eve, Marine.”
When Roy got back to the front door, Christy had a devious smile on her face, “I guess a lot happened while I was away?”
“I was just getting ready to tell you all about it.”
“I’m a ready and willing audience.”
Roy explained everything in detail then sighed in relief, “That’s it.”
“Really? Are you absolutely positive you didn’t leave anything out?
Christy got up from the couch, “I’ll get us some hot apple cider.”
A couple of minutes passed.
“Do you need some help?” asked Roy.
The lights went off, leaving the apartment pitch black. Christy came walking out of the kitchen with an illuminating dog collar around her neck and a computer tablet in her hand. Bo and Benji had their flashing collars on as well.
“There is one other minor incident you forgot to mention. You’ve got seven million hits so far, my Christmas hero.”
Christy turned on the video and began dancing to the tune. Jingle dog, jingle dog, jingle dog rock. Dancin’ and prancin’ in Jingle Dog Square. Giddy-up jingle dogs. Jingle Dog Rock.
Read this story and many more from Thomas Calabrese at The Vista Press