Life and Death

Well, I’m happy to be alive and able to write this newsletter to you this month.  My husband and I went away for a two-day ski trip to West Virginia, and just got home this afternoon.  Unfortunately, it wasn’t such a great weekend.  We had a car accident on the way up—on the mountain road right before the turn-off to Snowshoe Ski Resort.  We’re okay, thank God, but the car is a bit damaged.  We hit some ice and had a horrible skid—ended up hitting the guard rail head-on, and I thought for sure we’d go through it and off the mountain.  I thought we were goners.  But thank God it held us, and thank God, too, that the air bags didn’t deploy.  We were able to drive the rest of the way to the resort and then back home today, so the only real damage is to the bumper, one fog light and a crack in the windshield.  That, and the damage to our psychological health. It was really a scary situation, and I felt really fragile while skiing, and never did get into the groove of it.   I’m just grateful the guard rail was there because when we drove back the same way this morning, I saw that there were places where there wasn’t a guard rail, and if we’d gone off there, we would’ve been killed for sure.  So, I’m saying a lot of prayers of thanksgiving right now.   

Thinking back through my life, I think there was only one other time I might’ve been close to death—and that was when I was about nine years old, and a tornado came through my small town in Indiana.  We heard the sound of it (yes, just like a freight train) as we hurried down into the basement.  I remember being frightened—but not nearly as frightened as I was in that car, watching us heading toward that guard rail.  All I could think was: We’re going off the mountain!  We’re going to die!  And let me tell you, that messes with your head.  And I think that’s why I never really had a good time skiing this weekend.  I just kept thinking about the accidentand what if? 

I was all set to write about something else in this newsletter this month.  But when you’re faced with your own mortality, it kind of drives everything else out of your mind.  So I just had to tell y’all what happened. Okayso let’s move on.  I’ve started working on a new novel titled INCENSE & PEPPERMINTS.  It’s a novel about a Vietnam nurse, covering the years from 1966-1971.  While doing research for this novel, I came across a picture from one of my old photo albums of a pen-pal—a blond-haired soldier in Vietnam.  I was a sophomore in high school in Indiana when I began writing Danny.  I can’t quite remember how I started writing him, but I think my best friend knew him somehow, and had given me his address over there.  I also don’t remember how long we wrote to each other, but I do remember when he sent me this picture.  Being a boy-crazy girl at the time, I thought he was “soooooo cute!!!”  He even kind of reminded me of Gary Baldauf, a senior in my school whom I was madly in love with (and who barely knew I existed.)  I don’t know how long Danny and I wrote to each other; I’m ashamed to say that I don’t remember if I was concerned when I quit hearing from him.  As most 15-year-old girls tend to be, I was flighty and self-centered and totally oblivious to what was going on half a world away.   I guess I never spared another thought for Dannynot until a few weeks ago when I found his picture in my photo album. I decided to do an internet search on him, hoping that he was alive and well, living somewhere in America with a wife, children and a pack of grandchildren.  I turned over the photo and saw that a portion of it had been cut off.  But written on the back in ink were these words:ny Bruce                                                                

Nam, 1969 The one thing I did remember was that his first name was “Danny.”  I also was pretty sure he was from Indiana.  So I did a search, and found his name on a list of Vietnam casualties.  It listed his name as Private First Class Daniel Dean Bruce from Beverly Shores, Indiana.  He died on March 1st, 1969.  When I read that, my heart kind of dropped.  I brought up his picture on the website.  And my heart sunk lower.  It looked like him.  Same face, same eyes, same expression around the lips.  Of course, in the website photo, he was in his dress blues with his cap, so you couldn’t really see his hair, but it looked blondish to me.  I showed both pictures to my husband, and he thought they looked like the same person.  My son said the same thing.  (He was the one who pointed out the slightly pursed lips in both my picture and the official one.)  I really felt in my gut that this boy who died on March 1st was my Danny Bruce.  And it shook me to the core.  Especially when I read the following on the website: 

Citation:  For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while serving as a mortar man with Headquarters and Service Company, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines, against the enemy.  Early in the morning, Pfc. Bruce was on watch in his night defensive position at Fire Support Base Tomahawk when he heard movements ahead of him.  An enemy explosive charge was thrown toward his position and he reacted instantly, catching the device and shouting to alert his companions.  Realizing the danger to the adjacent position with its two occupants, Pfc. Bruce held the device to his body and attempted to carry it from the vicinity of the entrenched Marines.  As he moved away, the charge detonated and he absorbed the full force of the explosion.  Pfc. Bruce’s indomitable courage, inspiring valor and selfless devotion to duty saved the lives of three of his fellow Marines and upheld the highest traditions of the Marine Corps and the U.S. Naval Service.  He gallantly gave his life for his country. It’s hard for me to describe how I felt after reading that.  A myriad of emotions went through me—sadness at his death, shame that I’d blithely gone on with my life, not even questioning why I never heard from him again, despair at the waste of the lives of so many of our young men over there, the fact that he left behind a young wife and a newborn baby—and more despair at the waste of lives of all the young people in Iraq today.  But most of all, I felt pride that Danny Bruce—and I’m 99% certain he was my Danny Bruce—died a hero.  I’m happy to have known him, however briefly, and however cavalier I’d been about him being in Vietnam in the first place.  I wish I could go back and be a different person at that time—someone who really gave a damn.  But I’ll try to forgive the fifteen-year-old naïve girl I was back then.  Maybe I can make amends by writing this book and giving the brave nurses who answered the call of duty the tribute they deserve.  That’s what I’m going to try to do.   

On a lighter note, my new book, TANGO’S EDGE, will be released in e-book format on Valentine’s Day by Cerridwen Press.  Order your copy at their website: www.Cerridwenpress.com.  In celebration of my new release, I’m attaching the prologue and first chapter of TANGO’S EDGE exclusively for my newsletter group.  (If you’d like to join my newsletter group, e-mail me at Carole@BellaceraIf you’d like to win a copy of TANGO’S EDGE, go to my website and enter my January contest: www.CaroleBellacera.com.  I hope all of you will have a blessed February! Blessings, Carole  

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