How I Spent My Christmas: The Never Ending Story and The Good Samaritan Marine
I have been off the grid for a few days, which is not unusual for bloggers. My absence, however, it a little more, um, detailed. It’s full of good and bad, righteousness and frustration.
It begins with me making a trek to New Jersey the day after Christmas and then heading for my beloved Pinewood, my cabin in the mountains. Except things did not go according to plan.
In what is every parents’ “ugh” story, somewhere on I-78 West in Northeastern Pennsylvania around Hamburg, the dreaded “service engine soon” came on while my Explorer (I should change one letter to make it an “Exploder”) died. On the side of a busy highway. In the middle of nowhere.
About the worst day of the week to have your car break down is Sunday. This was on a Sunday. About the worst time of the year is the week between Christmas and New Year’s. Two for two.
If this has happened to you, you know that with your whole family (and dog) in the car, you need time to think and use the old cell phone to find out about road service, rental cars and hotels. It’s a confusing time, and no less so with two kids in the back who are justified in continually asking what’s going on.
So after about 20 minutes of trying to regroup, I thought I would at least raise the hood of the car as a sort of distress signal; maybe a cop would stop or something. Within 30 seconds, a guy stopped just ahead of me.
Where the Good Comes In
The guy’s name who stopped was Dustin. Dustin is a Marine home from Afghanistan. I grew to learn that Dustin is a Recon Marine, pretty much the toughest of a very tough bunch. With one tour in Iraq and going back for his third in Afghanistan today, he is used to tricky situations. So he took a look at the engine, we got the owner’s manual out, and we tried troubleshooting the car for about 30 minutes (and by the way, on a highway with a blind downhill slope where he told me a friend was killed in the same situation in almost the same spot).
What happened next? After figuring out that we could not fix the car there and coinciding with the arrival of the tow truck, I entrusted my new friend Dustin with taking my family to the next exit/truck stop where we could, in his marine vernacular, “regroup.” My gut gave me no hesitation whatsoever after meeting this guy.
At the truck stop, true to his word, Dustin met me there after delivering my family in a McDonalds — where it was a lot warmer. He texted a friend of his who is a Ford mechanic, explained our troubleshooting and basically told me that his mechanic friend said that we had done everything we could – it was time to turn it over to the professionals. Dustin recommended a Ford dealership (that did not show up on my iPhone, by the way), I called a second tow truck, and me and Prince the Dog stayed behind while I sent my family off in a “taxi” (a Lincoln Town Car was the only transportation for miles around). While I waited an hour and a half in the increasingly dropping temperatures for the second tow truck, Dustin even stopped back to check on me and make sure that everything was ok. Here’s what you need to know about Dustin:
- First, he stopped to help complete strangers on a road where he watched a friend die in a similar situation.
- He is a decorated Marine with tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan; he has been wounded in battle twice. And he is going back.
- Once, shot in the shoulder and femur with no radio, he told me that he walked 30 miles back to base. When I asked him how he could do this, he simply pointed to the picture of his children on his car dashboard.
- Most importantly, every moment with your family is precious when you are home on leave from a combat zone. Dustin spent at least three hours trying to help a complete stranger when he could have been spending that time with his family.
An Incomplete Ending
When we parted ways, I gave Dustin my word that I would keep in touch with him, both via text and email. In my state of confusion, I got BOTH his cell phone and email address wrong. I never even got his last name. I don’t know the name of his platoon. In short, I have little chance of contacting him and I want desperately to keep my promise.
About the only thing that I can think of today is to call the local newspaper, push the “Good Samaritan Marine Helps Family at Christmas” angle in the hopes that they will publish the story and his family or friends will see it, enabling me to get in contact with someone who can get me in contact with him. I hope and this will work – for the first time in my life, I am grateful for having to do all that media pitching when I was a young buck in the agency world.
And the truck? It’s still somewhere in Northeastern Pennsylvania and may or may not be ready before 2014 at a cost of a small used car. But what’s more important is that I can keep my word to a stranger who kept his to me.
P.S. – If any of you have any other ideas on how to locate someone in the military, please comment on this and let me know.
P.P.S. – Could you please use the “Share/Save” icon at the bottom of this page? The more people who see this, the greater chance I have for getting in touch with Dustin.