What is the value of one man's dreams? I studied him carefully from the corner of the room. His body was weak and frail. The man before me, breathing with the assistance of an oxygen concentrator, was no longer the man that most people would stop and admire. I am sure he would be passed over as just another old man with little value to the world. His eyes were mere faded slits, no longer the piercing blue of his youth. His legs were skinny and white. Bones could easily be seen through the paper-like skin that surrounded them.
He had not always been like this. In his youth, he had stood proud and tall in his Air Force uniform. Six-foot-three he stood, with broad shoulders and a narrow waist. He had an easy smile that was appealing to many women. From the photos he had kept, I knew that he was a very handsome man. Most of his military background had been secret to us because of an oath he had taken to protect the Union. His duties had just recently been declassified and he now was able to talk about his service.
I wondered how many men like him had gone to their graves without telling anyone about their sacrifice. I imagined how they must have yearned to tell their loved ones what they had done in service to their country. Instead, they were destined to return home to walk down the streets like any other man. They might have found a job working next to men who had stayed stateside, working in a shop or factory during the war. No one would ever suspect the incredible things they had done.
But these were men of honor. They had taken an oath of silence and they would remain true to their word. Untold acts of bravery and history-changing missions have been lost forever. Valiant men, who had served unselfishly, have gone to their graves without anyone knowing their true story. At their funeral, some folks might recall that they had served in a war, but in the same breath, they would say that it was many years ago.
But that was not the case with this old soldier. He had flown in the Peacemaker, an intercontinental bomber. We had learned that he had the responsibility for arming the atomic bomb, should it ever need to be used during the Cold War. The crew had little doubt that they could complete their mission. It was after the bomb was released that the questions arose. Because of the relatively slow speed of the massive B-36, many were concerned it would be unable to clear the blast zone in time save the crew from destruction.
He had flown many missions in the cramped plane, sometimes for up to forty hours. He had circled the globe. He told us that he had passed over many of the world's major cities. The plane had achieved such a high elevation, that they had been able to watch as Russian jets flamed out as they attempted to reach the enormous plane.
He wore his hat and jacket with pride. Across the back was a large emblem which proudly proclaimed, "United States Air Force." It was plain to see how his face would come to life when someone would ask him about the old days. Stories long forgotten could now be shared with others.
I did not really know him well. On occasion he would ask me to go for a walk when he would visit my house. I thought it might be an indication that he somehow enjoyed my company. Once we were some distance away, he would light up a cigarette. It was then that I knew that his real reason was to have an excuse to get away and smoke. On many occasions he would say things to provoke an argument, or comment that all public workers were lazy, or ridicule my beliefs. I had come to realize, only recently, that he might have some excuse for his bitterness.
His mother had put him in an orphanage as a young boy. She claimed that she could no longer provide for him or his sister. During the Great Depression, her husband had died from Tuberculosis. When she had later come to reclaim him, she had married a man who would be nothing but a terror to the young man and his mother. The few toys that he did possess had been taken from him and distributed to the other kids in the orphanage. He had been separated from his sister for years. I believe that a sense of abandonment, both by his mother, and the early passing of his father, had created a void in his heart during his formative years.
I looked at him now. I knew that there was one dream that he had just given up on. We all knew that his time was short. I watched as he slowly walked around the room. The oxygen tube dragged behind wherever he went. He had been a man of many dreams. Some of those dreams had been accomplished, while others had been forgotten. He had owned one of the first Jaguars in the country. He had owned a petting zoo. He had been on the bottom rung of a company that would rise to prominence in the world of computers. He had left that position to find his own way. He had tried to pursue his own path. He did not have much, but unlike most men, he had always followed his dreams.
I knew that I had the ability to make his last dream come true. I was in no way obligated to take on this mission. As I have already stated, he was never overly kind to me. But somehow, deep inside, I knew it was the right thing to do.
He had always loved trains. Family members had built a ledge around his entire living room. On this platform, the three O-gauge trains could circle the entire room. All the equipment and supplies had been purchased, but he was no longer able to do the work. He had spent many hours on-line, ordering trains and equipment, but now he had given up on seeing the project through to its completion.
His family had grown weary of the project. He was not always the most pleasant person with whom to work. Time was running out. The family members had kids that needed to get to their various activities, and so the enthusiasm had gradually turned to frustration.
Would it be possible to make one old veteran's final dream come true? Could a smile once more light up the old man's face? I imagined the project might even give him enough of a sense of purpose that he might be motivated to live just a little longer.
After deciding that I just had to make it happen, I called his wife to set up a time to get the project started. Because of my own busy schedule, I knew it would need to be after work.
That day, as my workday was coming to a close, I initially regretted my decision. It had been a long day and I was tired. I would need to drive for an hour to get to their place. It would be around seven in the evening when I would arrive. I thought briefly about canceling my appointment.
Dinner was ready when I arrived at their house. We had a nice meal together and then I prepared to get to work. The plan was to lay down about 100 feet of track on a ledge about eight feet above the floor. I didn't even know if the transformer would allow the current to be carried that far. Each piece of track would need to be attached to the plywood platform. It seemed like an insurmountable task, but I prepared to get started.
I immediately sensed a change in the demeanor of the old man. The hope of seeing his dream come true had been resurrected. There was now a renewed sense of hope and a reinforced desire to see the mission through to the end.