2. Orientation

“BYE, GRANDPA, Grandmaman. See you soon!” After closing the door, Joe stood back. He waved, then watched as Brigadier General Matthew J. Ardwood, US Army (retired), backed the car out and drove up the alley to McCormick Road.

The silhouettes of his grandparents reminded him of how his parents would have looked: he, erect, his short grey hair almost brushing the roof, and she only a little shorter, her hair elegantly coiffed in a practical style, her frame slender and athletic. For a moment, he missed his mother. Then he sighed, and hoisted his duffel bag to his shoulder.

The complex of dormitories spread away from the historic Academical Village of the University of Virginia like a sprawling suburb. Built in the early fifties to accommodate the massive influx of veterans using their GI Bill of Rights benefits, it typified American college residential construction of the era: big blocks of brick buildings, with long corridors that held two- and four-man rooms, and common showers and bathrooms at either end. At UVA, however, the brick matched the 19th-Century bricks originally used by Thomas Jefferson: true dimensions (2X4X6 inches) and baked from clay available only in Central and Southern Virginia.

The magnolias, oaks and poplars growing among the structures made Joe feel like he was in a park instead of a college campus. Call it the Grounds here, he reminded himself, not the campus. Taking a big breath of clean air, he shouldered the bag, and climbed to his room on the second floor of McCormick Hall.

As he walked into his room, he saw that someone had added to the pile of personal effects. There were four beds, and Joe had put his suitcase, typewriter, and his box of office supplies on one of the two nearest the window. Someone else had begun covering the opposite lower bed.

“Early check-in, too?” a very lightly accented voice said from behind him. The vowels were clean, without the diphthongs typical of middle American speech. Joe turned to see a student with coal-black eyes and bronze skin standing in the doorway. His black hair was shiny, the curliness carefully controlled and combed back. Only a little shorter than Joe, with a sharp nose and high cheekbones. The eyes reflected the smile. Joe grinned too.

“Yeah. We get to pick the best beds.” He stuck out his hand. “Joe Lockhart.”

“Diego de la Torre.” The handshake was firm, confident.

Encantado.” Pleased to meet you.

“¿Habla español?” Diego’s eyes widened with delight.

“Just a few courteous phrases. Where are you from?”

“Central Valley California. You?”

“Rome, but my grandparents live in Richmond, so I’m claiming Virginia as my residence.”

Diego stood back to appraise his new roommate.

“You don’t look heavy enough for football.”

“NROTC Special Orientation.” Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps.

“Me, too.” The Californian gave him a friendly slap on the upper arm. “Contract or regular?”

Joe smiled. “Contract. I didn’t find out about the regular option until it was too late to apply.”

“That may be good. Give you a chance to see if you like it, even though you must pay your tuition this year. You can convert in June, I think.”

“Are you a regular?”

“Yes. There was no way I was going to the Naval Academy. My congressman makes political appointments, and my senators have their quotas filled. I applied for next year, so I may still go, if I don’t decide to stay here.”

They unpacked their gear in companionable silence. Both men had less stuff than the dressers and closets would hold, so it did not take long.

Diego slammed the last drawer shut on his side. “You know where Maury Hall is?”

“Grandpa showed me, coming here. Down that way and a right turn after the Lawn.” Going to the window, he pointed to the left up the street toward the original part of the university.

“We got two hours. You want some supper?”

“Sure. Let’s check out the cafeteria next door, so we can figure out how the meal plan works.” They headed downstairs.

The heat of the day radiated from the bricks of their building as the shadows began to lengthen. The tops of the trees rippled in an evening breeze that the buildings blocked at ground level.

In the dining rooms next to McCormick Hall, they found more choices than they had experienced in their high school cafeterias. Joe took the spaghetti and some roast chicken, while Diego chose steak and fries. The pasta was overcooked to Joe’s taste, but he was hungry and not inclined to criticize anything on his first day.

They capped off supper with vanilla ice cream cones, which they ate before the treat could melt. At McCormick Road, they turned left.

“Isn’t this fantastic?” said Diego, sweeping a hand across the view.

They stood at the south side of the Lawn, opposite the imposing Palladian structure called the Rotunda. Wide stairs led up to a classical portico and a broad façade. From either side of the Rotunda, ten facing residences, the Pavilions, bracketed the Lawn. A portico of arches and columns covered the walkways in front of the ten Pavilions and the ground-level student apartments connecting them. A row of similar apartments, called the West and East Ranges, ran behind the pavilions, with private gardens in the space between. Fourth-year undergraduates occupied the Lawn rooms; graduate students lived in the ranges.

“Think we’ll live on the Lawn some day?”

“It’s supposed to be an honor,” said Joe. “I don’t know how honorable it will feel in the winter, with the only bathroom at the end of the walkway and no heat.”

“No heat?”

“Nope. My grandfather said that the University keeps the Academical Village exactly as it was in 1826. Each apartment has only a fireplace in it. Yet it takes a high grade point average and all sorts of endorsements to be selected to live here for your fourth year.”

“Well, we won’t have to worry about that for a while. Did your grandfather go to UVA?”

“No, VMI, the Virginia Military Institute in Lexington. But the family is from Richmond, and between friends and relatives, they came here often. After he retired, he taught in the Government Department for a while. The Army ROTC unit invites him to give a guest lecture each year.”

Located between the East Range and the Hospital, Maury Hall was not nearly as imposing as the other buildings. Erected during the Second World War, the cube of plastered concrete sported modest decoration and large windows. A pair of seven-foot-tall anchors flanking the steps to the main entrance proudly shouted the building’s purpose to the world. Lights were coming on inside as they pushed open the front door.

🙐🙐🙐

“Reveille, amigo. All hands on deck!”

With a groan, Joe pushed his head under his pillow. His classmate shook his shoulders.

“Oh God, Diego. It’s still dark.”

“Of course. The run starts at dawn. You gonna sleep in for your last day of NSO?”

“No.” He sighed. “That’s a thought worth waking up for. Everything has ached for two weeks, man.”

“Maybe cut back the late-night phone calls to Sandra.” Diego lifted the coffeemaker from the hotplate on his side of the room. “¿Café?”

Sì, gracias.”

Joe heaved himself out of bed and turned to make it. Donning his bathrobe, he trotted down to the bathroom. When he returned, Diego handed him a mug of hot black coffee. Dark and strong, like the Italian espresso he grew up with.

“I gotta send your mother something for Christmas. Where does she find this coffee?”

“A torrefacción in Salinas. We’ve had a coffee roaster on that corner for two hundred and fifty years.”

After some stretching, Joe donned his running gear: Navy-issue blue shorts and a gray tee-shirt. They would come back to change before the first naval science class.

They jogged to Maury Hall because the midshipmen needed to warm up before the run. At exactly five forty-five, they fell into formation in front of the building. The drill sergeant, a Marine named Henry, barked them to attention, then ordered a double-time march, running to the Lawn and along the length of the Academical Village. The Army ROTC unit came up behind them, followed by the Air Force. Each unit was singing its own chant at a volume designed to wake up any students in their little rooms.

“I love doing that,” said Diego. An angry fourth-year flipped them the finger as he staggered blearily to the toilets.

“Me, too.” Joe was taking more breaths than his friend. “I’ll bet they’re glad this is the last day, too.”

The three services split up as they ran past Rotunda. The Navy group turned left down McCormick Road and picked up speed. As they started the climb up Observatory Hill, sweat poured from half the faces in the formation, including Joe’s.

“Didn’t you run in high school?” asked Diego.

“Four-forty and four-forty hurdles. Only two meets in the spring. Not much of a sports program.”

“That’s just a long sprint. No wonder this wears you out.”

“I’ll get used to it, but I wish we had had cross-country. That would have been more useful.”

Diego put his hand on Joe’s back. “Imagine lengthening your stride and breathe at some interval that matches the pace, even if you pant on every step.”

Joe focused on his pace and his breathing. The rhythm of the forced march fell somewhere between sixty and ninety steps per minute. He had been falling behind and catching up, wearing himself out. He nodded as he found a spot where he exhaled every third step. By the time they turned back downhill, he was exhaling every fourth step, and going into the last mile, he could talk almost normally.

Gracias, amigo.”

De nada. We’ll make a runner of you yet.”

“I miss my bike. Riding that scooter got me out of shape last year.”

“There’s a shop on Elliewood Avenue.”

“Do you want one, too?”

“Sure. Then maybe we could see something besides the Corner after class.”

“Cut the grab-ass, girls!” Sergeant Henry shouted. “Peterson!”

Peterson called out in his booming bass “I once knew a girl in Kalamazoo…” The men matched the beat of the lusty limerick, calling out “Whon, too, thuree, fower!” between irreverent or raunchy verses. As they approached the central Grounds, Peterson switched to the more acceptable lyrics about the lineage of students from Virginia Tech, VMI, North Carolina, and other rival sports teams. Some of the other early check-ins, mostly football players and graduate students, cheered and waved as the middies ran by.

They had a half hour to run back to McCormick Hall, shower, don their “white works” uniforms and report back to Maury Hall. It seemed that they had been running or trotting everywhere. The shapeless, white cotton imitation of a sailor’s uniform looked terrible even clean, but it was comfortable in the summer.

“At least no O-course today,” said Joe as they jogged past Old Cabell Hall at the end of the Lawn. They had run the Obstacle Course every other day, and needed the day in between to recover.

“And from now on, we’ll only do this every weekend.”

“I was thinking of Sandra while we were running.”

“So, Peterson’s limericks make you think of her?” Diego smiled and wiggled his eyebrows.

“No, dummy; what she would think of it.”

“Probably take offense and dump you.”

“Not so sure. As far as I can tell she’s tougher than most of us.”

“How so?”

“She grew up on a farm with four brothers. Lived alone in Rome for more than a year. She’s the only woman at the FBI Academy.”

“The FBI doesn’t have female agents.”

“Not yet, but the Equal Employment Opportunity Act will pass eventually, and it will change all that. The Bureau is training some non-traditional agents, and Sandra is in the first cohort.

“The drill instructor is Force Recon like Henry. I bet she can sing dirtier than Peterson.” Force Reconnaissance is the Marine Corps’ Special Forces.

“I gotta meet this woman. She sounds amazing.”

“I can agree with you on that.”

The morning consisted of three classes. Another uniform change at lunch, this time into Service Dress White the uniform for more formal occasions. Today was their last day, and their swearing-in. About three-quarters of the men had family close enough to come for the event, and the upperclassmen would be back for it. The only upperclassmen that they knew were Peterson and three other rising third-year midshipmen who had helped run NSO.

Before the assembly in the small auditorium of Maury Hall, the new ROTC midshipmen lined up to sign the papers committing them to service. The regulars, like Diego, received a “full ride,” meaning tuition, fees, room and board paid by the US Navy, plus a small stipend that barely covered their uniforms. In return, they would owe the Country five years as commissioned officers. If they left the program before two years, they would have to complete a two-year obligation as enlisted men. Contract midshipmen such as Joe were only obligated to finish the year. The government only paid for their uniforms.

“How do you feel about it?” he asked, as Diego signed.

“Same terms as the Naval Academy. Annapolis and a career are still my plan, remember.”

Upperclassmen and enlisted staff escorted the parents to their seats. The front rows were roped off for the new candidates.

After they settled in, Sergeant Henry called out “Attention on deck!”

Every man jumped to his feet and stood at attention. Joe thought, Why does he always wait until we sit down before he does that? From his position in the center of the room, Joe saw Henry standing tight-lipped at the foot of the steps. The drill sergeant’s eyes did not match the rest of his expression. He enjoys this.

Behind him, he heard some parents and other civilians sitting down irregularly. Henry’s show had made them forget that they did not have to stand. Some remained standing with the midshipmen.

Captain Norwood and his two assistants walked to the stage. The captain wore five rows of ribbons on his chest and the crossed swords of the brand-new Surface Warfare Officer device above them. Lieutenant-Commander Mills boasted two rows and pilot’s wings. Major Jackson wore three rows, plus marksman medals. He had commanded the same Force Recon unit in which Sergeant Henry had served.

Looking at his commanding officer, Joe could not imagine living through World War II, Korea and Vietnam. Then he realized that his father had also spent almost his entire adult life at war, patching up Norwood’s shipmates and countless others. Joe’s paternal grandparents had died while the naval surgeon was in North Africa, and his older brother had sold the house in Ilion, New York. Returning homeless from the war, the Yankee doctor had answered an ad to work at the Medical College of Virginia in Richmond. There, he met the brilliant doctor who became his wife and Joe’s mother.

To Joe, Jason Joseph Lockhart was mainly a surgeon, working at Saint Mary’s Hospital. A tall man, who could carry his son and a suitcase as easily as two bags of groceries. He was also an amazing tennis player, the only one who could keep up with his partner, former national champion Nancy Ardwood.

Until today, Joe had understood war the way he understood his lessons. He had studied history in some detail, but the reality had hovered in the distance. He vaguely remembered his father in uniform coming home from Korea, but reading Captain Norwood’s biography had made the Korean War come alive.

Now he was about to become a member of this group of men, and he felt a choking sensation in his throat. He imagined his father in the operating room of the hospital ship USS Haven (AH-12), blood up to his elbows as the corpsmen wheeled the most desperate marines and sailors from triage to his table. Captain Norwood earned the star on his Purple Heart (second award) when a shell hit his ship off Inchon. The first Purple Heart was for something in World War II, but the citation was still classified.

The Commanding Officer went to the lectern.

“At ease, men. Ladies and gentlemen, please be seated.”

The midshipmen sat with a single whoosh. Joe felt a jab in his ribs.

“You okay?” Diego whispered. Feeling his eyes well, Joe avoided blinking to keep tears from falling. Slowly, he regained control.

“Yeah. What we’re doing just hit me.”

“Just now?”

“Tell you later.”

Captain Norwood made a short speech about duty and priorities. Joe snuck a look around. His classmates stared at the man speaking, specifically at his chest, a map of the military history of the United States in the 20th century. Not just men, Joe thought, heroes. Who the hell do I think I am?

Though he hardly listened as the captain administered the Oath of Office, Joe would never forget the paragraph that he had signed earlier, and he repeated them with the others:

“Having been appointed a Midshipman in the United States Naval Reserve, I solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter, so help me God.”

“Welcome aboard, midshipmen. Tomorrow is Move-in Day, but you have already moved in. Now you are more than university students. You are officers and gentlemen in the United States Navy. Do us proud, on Grounds and everywhere you go. Any questions?”

Silence. They knew that they could ask the officers and men anything, anytime.

“Attention on deck!” The midshipmen shot to their feet as the official party left the stage and departed the auditorium. Sergeant Henry smiled. “Congratulations, gentlemen. Dismissed!”

Joe caught Diego’s arm as they eased out of their chairs to the aisle.

“Got anywhere to go, amigo?”

“No, why?”

“Come meet my grandparents.”

“They’re the ones from Richmond?”

“Only grandparents I have.”

“If you’re sure.” Diego looked hesitant.

“Relax, man. He’s career Army. He was stationed at Fort Ord, so he even knows your neck of the woods better than I.”

“Fort Ord? Neat-o.” Diego lengthened his stride.

“Over there.” It was hard to miss Matthew Ardwood’s silver hair above the crowd.

After hugging his grandparents, Joe turned to his friend. “General Ardwood, Midshipman Diego de la Torre.”

The general gave him a warm, strong grip. “Encantado. ¿Esta su padre Don Carlos de Salinas?”

Diego’s jaw dropped, but he pulled it back up. “Sí, señor general, y soy muy honorado. I’m surprised that you know my father.”

“Your family’s reputation for the finest produce and beef is well-known. Fort Ord buys direct, you know.” He nodded to the door, and they joined the flow out the door.

“I’m stunned, sir.”

“Join us for dinner, and we can surprise you some more.”

“Grandpa, should we risk spilling something on our whites? I only have the one set.”

“I’ll have them bring an extra big napkin for you. You’re not ashamed, are you?”

“No, sir!” they said together.

“Good. I booked a table at the Clifton Inn. It’s not an undergraduate hangout, but the diners there would be delighted to have two new officers in their midst.”

Dinner in the 1799 restaurant was not quite the Ostaria dell’Orso in Rome, but it was the best food that Joe had eaten since arriving in America.

“Thanks, Grandpa. This is almost as good as home.”

“Thank your grandmother for the idea. She remembered the places you and Nancy took us to, and figured that you were either starving or dying of culture shock by now.”

Merci, Grandmaman.” Annabelle Ardwood reached next to her and gave her grandson a hug.

After a pleasant silence enjoying the moment, her husband turned to Diego.

“Please let us be your East Coast base. For example, stay with us for the short holidays, like Thanksgiving and fall break.”

“That would be wonderful, sir, but I’m almost a stranger.”

“Not hardly. Don Carlos is more than a farmer in Salinas, and I have followed you since you were born.”

Diego stared, then dropped his gaze. “I don’t understand, sir.”

“Carlos de la Torre and I go back farther than Fort Ord. I pinned his second lieutenant bars on him at Guadalcanal.”

“Omigod! I never knew. Papa would never talk about the war. He just said he enlisted and served in the Pacific. He wouldn’t even tell me his unit. I didn’t know he was an officer.”

General Ardwood considered the young Californian in silence, then said, “I hope you are not disappointed. Many of us who fought in that war won’t talk about it. Talking brings back the terror. Some are ashamed of what they had to do, but most are still trying to deal with the horrors. I’ll call him and ask permission to share more with you. He is a friend, and he might let me tell you more. It might help him, too, to open up with you. You’re a serving officer yourself now.”

Diego was mostly silent and thoughtful as they drove back to McCormick Hall. After hugs and handshakes, the Ardwoods drove to Richmond, while the two friends walked up to their room. Diego still deep in thought.

“Hey, roomie, if you’re going to sit in a trance like that, maybe you should get undressed and go to bed. Then you can pretend to sleep, too.”

“I just can’t understand it.” Diego seemed to be talking to himself.

Joe removed the buttons from his Service Dress White blouse, putting them and his shoulder boards in a small box. He took off the white shoes and trousers.

“Don’t make yourself have to launder the uniform already.”

Diego looked up at him blankly, then began the same routine. They applied white polish to their shoes, and stretched out the cotton trousers on hangars. Laundering the uniforms involved very hot water, bleach, starch, and ironing, so they tried to wear them twice between each wash if possible.

After their showers, brushing and flossing, Diego sat on the bed and stared again.

“Talk to me, amigo.”

Diego looked up sadly. “I never knew. He was so upset whenever I talked about wanting to join the service. I think that I wanted this career partly to get back at him. Most of the time, he would just storm out and stew in silence for a long time.”

Joe sat on his bed. He looked across at his friend.

“What if you could find out more? This is a major research university, after all.”

“Where would we start?”

“You may be the cross-country jock, but I’m the bookworm. For starters, we know his unit, and we know he was at Guadalcanal.”

Diego looked blank. “Unit?”

“If Colonel Ardwood gave him his commission, he had to be in the 27th Regiment of the 25th Infantry Division. Anyone earning a battlefield commission probably earned a medal or two. Let’s look in the Army war records.”

“They have that stuff here?”

“Alderman is a Federal Depository. It has copies of everything in the Library of Congress.”

Diego face began to lighten up. “Have you been there?”

“Once, to find the card catalogues and the periodicals. They have phone directories and hometown newspapers. I was looking up people I knew around the country.”

“You think they’d have the Salinas Californian?”

“Maybe, we can check it out if you like.”

“And look up the 25th Division.”

“That, too.” Joe met Diego’s smile with his own. “You know about bands of brothers being created in war.”

“Yes?”

“If my grandfather is a friend of your papa after all this time, we might be some kind of cousins!”

“Weird thought, but fun.”

“What time does Move-In start here?”

“Eight-thirty.”

“Grandpapa said it’s a zoo, and the families will be lining up at dawn, trying to park by the curb. Let’s get up early.”

“I don’t have problem with that. You’re the sleepyhead.”

Diego laughed as Joe’s pillow slammed into the wall over his bunk.

© 2021 JT Hine 

Enemies, the second book in the Lockhart series, is available for pre-order at Smashwords and other retailers. The release date is 21 January 2022.

The second Emily & Hilda book, Rule Number One, is available in print and electronic form worldwide.

Click here for more information and links to retailers.

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