This story is by LaurelGrube and was part of our 2017 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the Summer Writing Contest stories here.
The Long Roll
David gripped the drumsticks in his fingers, holding tight lest he drop them while sweat ran down his entire body. It was a hot July day and he was marching in the face of the enemy. Confederate canisters exploded around him, the acrid smell of saltpeter filled the air. David saw men fall but he marched on giving the drum command of a long roll as ordered, Berrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrum, attack. He heard the shouts and cries of men charging forward.
David’s best friend Jeremiah marched in front of him carrying their regimental flag. The enemy continued their aim at the flag bearer, a target with a prize flag to capture. Another canister exploded, mini balls flew. David coughed, eyes blurred from the smoke but he saw Jeremiah. He ran to him, his drum banging hard against his leg, fear raced through his heart. He saw blood, flesh and bone exposed from his friend’s lifeless body.
Rage screamed from David’s soul, he grabbed the flag, ran toward the enemy holding it high. The regiment followed. The enemy aimed at the new flag bearer, but David and the Union charged on to victory.
At the end of the war, David received the newly established Medal of Honor for bravery displayed in taking up the flag and leading a victory with service beyond that expected of a drummer boy.
David was a hero but he did not feel like one. His best friend, Jeremiah was dead. What would become of his young widow and new baby? David was underage to fight but he was determined to join the glory of defending Pennsylvania and the Union. He quickly mastered the 26 rudiments of a drummer. Jeremiah was older and perhaps wiser, but he joined because that’s what he needed to do.
It has been more than 17 years since the war. When sober, David works on the family farm, but grief over Jeremiah consumes his mind, so to drown it, he walks into a tavern.
“More drink you worthless drummer?” a young man says and pushes David down.
Pennies clink the floor. “Give us a drum call,” another torments him.
They know not of his bravery during the war. The young men only see David as someone to ridicule.
“I deserve this,” David tells himself. “I should have died, not Jeremiah, soon though perhaps.”
David pulls out his drumsticks from his back pocket, “Berrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrum,” upon a nearby wooden stool he plays the attack call. He shakes his head wishing, if only.
“Clink,” another penny tossed at him. “Berrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrum.”
A man in the back room looks up from reading when he hears the familiar long roll.
Someone brings a tankard of beer toward David and he reaches for it but instead feels wetness run down his face and back of neck. The men laugh.
“Stop this,” a man’s voice shouts and sweeps his walking stick across a table crashing glassware to the floor. “Leave him alone or I will send you all to hell!”
David instinctively cringes and shields his head. The man bends down and puts out a hand to help him.
“Here my good man let me assist you. Where did you learn that drum call?”
Their eyes meet, they stare.
“David?” the man asks.
David stands, brushes off his ragged cloths, smoothes the straggly wet hair from his eyes and face and looks harder in disbelief.
“Oh my God! Jeremiah? You’re dead!” He grabs Jeremiah around the shoulder, the lost friends embrace. Jeremiah wobbles on his wooden leg, tears run down their faces.
“Come to my table, let’s have a toast.” Jeremiah says. Then he recounts how a surgeon removed his leg and saved his life.
“I saw you dead. My life has been miserable; guilty over convincing you to join up with me.”
“No, don’t feel guilty; it was the right thing to do. When my leg healed, we moved to Chicago to be near family. I lost track of you as well.” Their hands grip in friendship as they raise their glasses. “I’m glad we’re found.”
The next night Jeremiah dines with David and his parents. David’s mother is grateful to hear laughter from her son once again.
“Now David, seriously, let me implore you to join me in a cause close to my heart”, says Jeremiah. “I need you, a Medal of Honor recipient, to help support the mission of the GAR, the Grand Army of the Republic.”
“I don’t understand what I could do. I have no substantial financial means.”
“David, the GAR promotes fraternity, charity and loyalty. We raise funds for needy veterans, pay medical bills, and give aid to families. They helped me,” Jeremiah stands and stomps his wooden leg upon the floor. “I can walk!”
“We establish homes for veterans and teach the young the significance and sacrifices of uniting a nation so a division will never happen again.”
“It sounds like a worthy organization, but what can a worthless man like I do?” asks David.
“You are a hero, whether you like it or not. I am sure courage still lies within your heart.” Jeremiah pats David on the shoulder. “Come with me next week on May 30th when members of the GAR decorate the gravesites of veterans.”
David agrees to go and while placing the flowers and flags upon the graves of his comrades he tastes salty tears and feels proud for the first time that he is a veteran. He joins the GAR and speaks at the local chapter meetings with enthusiasm for the establishment of a local veteran’s home.
Outside the tavern, David still beats his sticks for money. Proudly now upon his old drum, Berrrumm bum tum, Berrrumm bum tum. David calls, “Charity for men who fought in war, charity for their widows and orphans.”
“Clink, clink.” coins fill the tin as people unite in this worthy cause.