Robert Haydon Jones
and Tony Anthony

Tony Anthony
Inspiration Piece

Saint Shannon’s Salute
By Robert Haydon Jones


They call me, “Violent Victor.” Behind my back mostly. Sometimes a new guy in the quad – or a client who has gone off his meds and gone back over the edge, says it to my face. I gently tell them not to do it.

“You can call me that all you want when I’m not around,” I say. “But not to my face. Okay?” That’s all it takes – at least so far. The fact is with these men — you never really know.

It is an affectionate tag. I work with men who have been hard hit by violence. Most of my clients are former and active military. All of my clients are still doing unremitting battle with the aftermath of acts of violence – done by them and/or to them.

Most of the back-story the guys have on me is so grotesque and false it’s amusing. Sure, some of the stuff about me they talk about is true but I admit to nothing. Suffice it to say they all know, “I’ve been there and done that.” They know I’ve been just like them – and in spades – and they also know that now I am not just like them. I am in Recovery.

I’m a volunteer. I come in once — sometimes twice a week for a few hours. I talk. I listen. I’m never judgmental – not even in my head. Most of my talk is about mylife now. Like I said, I don’t do “War Stories” or show off my buffaloes.

It’s no big deal. I’m glad to do it. Gertrude Bradley and the other therapists do the heavy lifting day in and day out. I just come in once in a while and show the guys what life looks like on the other side. In case you are wondering, I’ve changed the names of the people and places in this to keep everything confidential.

Gertrude Bradley called me at home for the first time ever on Easter Sunday night. She woke me up at 2AM. She’s very apologetic, talking very, very  softly to me. Am I okay? It’s a unique emergency – Sergeant Thomas T. Thompson has been arrested in Greenwich, a very affluent New York suburb, 14 miles down 95 from me. Some sort of morals charge – a Peeping Tom complaint.

Could I get down there right now? The Police Chief has also just been called. He will meet me at the station.

Well, of course, I said, I would go right away. Sergeant Thomas T. Thompson is a hero to everyone in these here parts. He received the Medal of Honor three years ago – and when you read the action reports – you wonder if maybe they should have given him two.

Gertrude tells me The Police Chief is a former Marine, who says he knows me. I tell her that I do know him. I do not tell her I don’t like the Chief much. Gertrude says the goal is to make the whole thing go away – but there could be a problem with the complainant…the husband or boy friend. He wants to press charges. He’s really pissed.

That’s where I come in. I’m supposed to talk the angry guy down using the PTSD angle. The Chief and his guys will try too – but there’s a limit with them like there isn’t with me.

I get to Greenwich in 12 minutes. The signs in the lot close to the Police station say you can’t park there unless you’re a cop or disabled.  I hardly ever use my HANDICAPPED-Parking placard, but now I do. A cop on his way out gives me a look – hey, I don’t blame him. I’m in damn good shape.

The Chief gave me the sit-rep. At around 10 that night, a cop on routine patrol had seen a man standing in the shadows by a lit window on the side of an otherwise dark ranch style house.  The cop stopped and approached the suspect. As he came closer, the cop could see through the window.  A man and a beautiful woman are on the bed watching TV. The man is wearing jockey shorts. The woman is naked.

The suspect is so engrossed, that when the cop taps him on the shoulder, he shouts, “What the hell, get your hands off me.” Well, the cop asks the suspect to accompany him to the car. And he goes quietly. The cop is in the process of cuffing him, when the husband comes running up and takes a couple of wild swings. The cop pushes the husband away, locks the perp in the squad car and brings him in.

The desk sergeant checks the suspect’s Drivers License, “Thomas T. Thompson,” and is savvy enough to freeze everything right on the spot. There is not a scrap of paperwork on the incident. There have been maybe 20 frantic calls  — but they have all been made on personal cells – and most of the calls from the police station have been made from the parking lot.

Thomas T. Thompson is currently in a holding room. He just had a double quarter- pounder with cheese and a jumbo diet coke. He’s reading a two-month-old copy of Rolling Stone. He has not uttered a word, except to say, “yes”, he understands his Miranda rights.

The complainant is in another holding room with his wife. William Keene and Shannon O’Neil. The husband is more pissed than ever. Why are they being held? What is it…is the creep a cop?

“Wait”, I say, “Shannon O’Neil. A blonde? Girl-next-door face…but a fantastic wet- dream body? Plus naughty, bright green eyes?”

“Jesus, yes”, says the Chief, “no wonder the husband’s all fired up.  You marry a walking fantasy like that, you gotta watch out every day.”

He couldn’t have been more wrong. I knew Shannon well. She was from my hometown. Her first husband, John O’Neil, was a recon marine in my outfit. He was killed by a sniper at Hue.

She mothered the three kids, went back to school and went on to be a fantastic physical therapist at the VA Hospital in West Haven. I mean she was really good. She had helped me regain range of motion in my left arm – after I couldn’t raise it to my shoulder for seven years. A lot of her patients called her, “Saint Shannon.”

She went ten years without a date. Her current husband was a widower. She met him at a grief group at her church.

“Well, Victor,” the Chief said, “don’t take this the wrong way, but that’s a saint even I would be tempted to take a peep at.”

I did take it the wrong way. But then I took it the right way. It turned out to be the way out.

I went in to Holding Room B and talked with Thomas T. Thompson. He greeted me politely by my polite name. I had sat in briefly on two or three groups he attended in the quad while he was still on the mend from his surgeries. I remember being surprised then that he was so young and spindly. He didn’t say much. He seemed to be a real decent kid.

I asked Thomas what the deal was with him out at Shannon’s house and he told me straight out that he loved Shannon. She had worked for two years with him to help him regain some use of his shattered right hand; every bone in it had been broken.

He told me his love was pure – that his wife knew about it. When I asked him if his wife knew that he was looking at Shannon naked, he kept silent. I kept silent too. We sat there for three or four minutes in shared silence.

Then he told me that his love was pure – that it was holy – that seeing her naked and innocent – was a holy thing – that seeing her beautiful breasts and nipples and her belly and her triangle and her absolutely beautiful bare ass — transfused him with grace – and gave him a will to live he had lost.

He asked me if I understood. I told him I did. I told him that a famous old Marine had once told me that the Congressional Medal of Honor is almost always about extraordinary acts by ordinary men. Most often it is given posthumously. When the Recipient is a living person, sometimes the medal imposes a burden of extraordinary expectation that can be impossible to bear.

I put my arm around him. He put his arm around me. We were quiet for a while. Then I told him he had work to do but that I believed he would be okay. As I went out the door, I heard him start to weep.

Then I went to Holding Room A. Shannon came right up to me and gave me a hug. She was a sweet armful all right.

I stepped out of her arms and got right to the point. I told them Thomas was out of his mind. I told them he had PTSD in spades and that no judge or jury would ever convict him.

I told them that we needed to make this go away. That Thomas had agreed to treatment and that I and the Chief and the Prosecutor would guarantee he would never violate their privacy again.

As I expected, the husband wasn’t buying it. “I won’t let this go away,” he bellowed. “That creep has violated us. How long has he been out there?”

“Mr. Keene” I said, “I understand your anger but I’m asking you for mercy here. This man was bad hurt fighting for us. He’s not asking for mercy, I am.  Everyone in the Armed Forces, including the Commander in Chief, is expected to salute a Medal of Honor Recipient. There’s a reason for that.”

“I don’t know,” Keene said. “What do you think Shannon?”

She reached down for his hand and brought it up and kissed it.

“I think Violent Victor is right,” she said with a mischievous grin. “No judge or jury would convict Thomas. And Gertrude and Victor can fix him. What’s more, even though I’m just a physical therapist at a VA hospital, I sort of feel I’m a member of the Armed Forces. So I owe Thomas a salute.”

The husband looked confused. I wasn’t. I knew what was coming. “What do you mean?” he muttered.

“Well, if anyone asks, I will swear that I gave Thomas my permission to look in our bedroom window.”

Well, what could you say? It took quite some time for her to calm the husband down. But she did it. She gave me a thumbs up sign as they left.

I went back and told the Chief and the Prosecutor that there was no more complaint – and that I would take Thomas home and get him in to treatment.

They asked me how I got the husband to drop the charges. I told them about Shannon saying she owed Thomas a salute – but I could tell they didn’t believe me. They probably thought I had threatened to kill Shannon and her husband. Like I said, I do have a bad reputation. There’s a series of photos of a Marine in the Nam assembling an ear necklace that’s still a big deal on the Internet. Well, he does look something like me. But, what the Chief and the Prosecutor were thinking didn’t really matter. It was over.

I wondered how many nights at the window Shannon had given Thomas. She had given me five of the most glorious nights of my life seven summers back. It was a secret, a holy secret, but if I were ever asked by a proper authority, I would solemnly swear those nights had saved my life.  

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  1. Posted March 20, 2010 at 4:08 pm | #

    Outstanding fiction, as always, by Bob Jones. Gripping situations, haunting dialogue (both internal and external), combined with the most sensitive notions about human nature. His work deserves the widest readership.

  2. Posted March 21, 2010 at 8:15 pm | #

    Brisk. No nonsense. Reminds me of a Thom Jones short from Pugilist At Rest. Finding your voice after a long immersion into the depths of the Ad Copy Jungle is a holy secret too.

  3. Posted May 22, 2010 at 2:17 am | #

    Great Stuff by the real deal, RHJ. Like the simultaneous detached and engaged voice..goes with the territory. Everything captured so well. Reality rings off the page. You take the reader into a world few really know; illuming the same exigencies re the healing of warrior souls that have existed from Hue to Baghdad. Needs that are so often not met. Or understood. No one gets it better than Jones. His weary wisdomed battlefield voice in the midst of a suburban world charts new space.

  4. Posted August 4, 2010 at 8:16 pm | #

    A surreal, but vividly real, story about how desperate people can be when they reach out for help and healing, and how desperate people can be when they reach out to help and heal others. Gritty, real, horrific, redeeming, and touching.

  5. Posted August 21, 2010 at 11:32 am | #

    Wonderful insight and imagery from one that has the gift to know all sides of the coin. I felt the need to stare at the Saint!