James Ewell Brown Stuart, commonly known as "Jeb," is often called "the last Cavalier." The West Point graduate was a cavalry general who served under Robert E. Lee during the American Civil War.
Lee called Jeb, my good right arm. Stuart was notorious for the daring recon missions he led, usually conducted far behind enemy lines. In his detailed written accounts of those missions to General Lee, he signed under the closing line, "Yours to count on."
I've had the good fortune to know a few cavaliers in my time, men and women I knew I could always count. My cavaliers include, Lieutenant Bogdue, helicopter pilot, once a Sergeant, then a Warrant Officer, and finally a commissioned officer, thanks to a battlefield commission following his unsupported rescue of a General during the war in Vietnam. And there was Private Castellanous, who defied mortars and rockets to make sure "I was alright." And of course there is always Christina, my good right arm, who always has my back.
Before Bogdue, Castellanous, and Christina, I had another cavalier, Gerald Decker. Prior to Vietnam, I was stationed at Fort Sam Houston (San Antonio). There I worked for Gerald Decker, the smartest man I've ever known. Though he left school when he was 14, Gerald radiated intelligence. He was born and raised in Detroit, where he lived on the street from the time his old man kicked him out of the house at age 15, until a judge gave him a choice of prison or the army.
In less than three years, without serving in Vietnam, Decker rocketed through the ranks, from Private to Staff Sergeant. When he told me of the choices offered by the judge, he added, "I'm not sure I picked the best one."
I had been at Fort Sam about four months, when I was joined by my wife. She tried, but couldn't get a job in San Antonio because soldier's were moved often unexpectedly, and their wives went with them or back home. We lived off-base, on my E-4 salary. To say we were strapped would be an huge understatement. Decker, my section leader, knew our financial situation and asked if I would like to work Friday and Saturday nights, with him, at The Landing. I said "YES!" and became his assistant bartender.
We rode to work together and got to know each other pretty well. He told me about his life on the streets of Detroit, but I had serious problems relating his stories to the soft spoken, straight-arrow, young Staff Sergeant I knew. My skepticism disappeared at 4 AM one Sunday morning.
We were on our way home. I was driving. The streets were empty, or so I thought until a car pulled to a stop beside us at a traffic light. I turned to my left, noting there were two young men in the front seat and three, maybe four more in the back seat. I locked eyes with the passenger, smiled and nodded. He gave me an angry look, then leaned out his open window and aimed a pistol at my face. Before I could move or scream or even think about what was happening, he pulled the trigger. Fire erupted from the muzzle of the gun as the sound filled my head.
I sensed, but could not hear Decker shouting as he leaped from the car. I turned to my right just as he leveled the little automatic pistol I carried in the glove box at the shooter and methodically began firing. I've often thanked God for Decker, and that he was a horrible shot, and that I saw him transform himself from Clark Kent to Superman and, of course, I gave thanks that the kid was firing blanks that night.
Why that story on this day? Because I always like to spend some time, at the beginning of a new year, recalling the cavaliers in my life and giving thanks that they were and are there. Maybe that's something you enjoy also, and who knows, maybe you'll share one of your cavaliers in the comments below.