The Reincarnation of a Vietnam Veteran

© Mark Rado,

Rado1Octavia our blue bearded collie is dead, felled after a four month struggle with Hemolytic Anemia. This time a disease took her, but this was not the first time our collie has passed away.

We have come to believe that when she came to us, she was into her second or her third reincarnation. This thought is not the wishful thinking of a grieving family who loved her, but rather the conclusion drawn from eight years of carefully watching our soul mate and friend. We think Octavia was once a warrior reincarnated from the Vietnam War era. Somewhere on the wall of the Vietnam War Memorial is her previous name.

Octavia came to us second hand. She was brought back to her breeder in Michigan after being adopted by another family. Although it was never discussed, it was obvious she was a handful of bark, blue fur, and energy. She was a whirling dervish, bouncing off walls and rocketing over furniture. She was not destructive; so much as she was just wild. It was as if she was trying out her new body and couldn’t believe her good fortune. Maybe she was just racing for cover like her life depended on it.

To help control her wild behavior we decided to crate train her. Unlike many pups, she never barked or hesitated to enter her crate, it was as if she welcomed the dark secure environment. Maybe it reminded her of the transition time between earthly experiences or maybe it was as close to a fox hole as she could get. The crate was a comfort to her.

Our home was near the local Air Force and Coast Guard Base. One sunny, crisp autumn afternoon, some months after we got her, Octavia and I were dozing on our patio. After a time, in the distance, the steady thump, thump of three low flying Vietnam era helicopter gun ships approached. Their trajectory was aimed straight over our back yard.

From a snooze position Octavia cocked her ears at the noise. Then as the three wingless craft appeared over a distant tree line, she raised her head and looked up toward the pulsating sound.

The olive drab gun ships hurtled closer and seemingly accelerated their speed. They were like green beads on a string, flying one after the other. The side doors on each ship were open. Leaning out on them were helmeted fatigue covered figures.

Octavia took one look at the sight and her face flashed recognition. She bolted to her feet and shot across the yard looking up barking and barking. She ran in circles staring up. From one of the ships a figure waved at the racing dog, and in the next instant they were gone. Octavia chased after them, her little puppy feet churning up dried leaves until the fence stopped her. From the fence she looked in my direction; she had a pleased look on her face that said, they were coming for me.

Thunder and lightening made her run for cover. To her they were cannons launching shells in her direction. Their claps sent her diving for the basement or jumping in the bathtub, which ever was closer. On the Fourth of July we stuffed her ears with cotton to deaden the sound of the fire works. Each night when we took her out for her evening constitutional, she would purposefully stay out of the flood light rays preferring to blend in with the darkness.

Octavia was always on guard and took advantage of the prevailing foliage to keep watch on the goings on in our back yard. From her vantage point under a honey suckle bush she could see squirrels scampering through the yard. To her they were brown cats with fluffy tails and they needed to be rounded up and cared for.

Somehow Octavia knew the difference between military and civilian aircraft. If a passenger jet flew by, she would ignore it. If it was military aircraft, she came to attention. Late one summer the Blue Angels performed during a Labor Day celebration at the air force base. Octavia was in the living room snoozing next to her favorite cat. The neighborhood was quiet. Then for no apparent reason, she jumped out of the couch barking and running to the back doorway. She was frantic, her barking was urgent. She seemed to shout, “I have to get out… NOW!”

We raced to throw open the door. Seconds later she was out in the yard looking toward the clear blue sky. At that moment four jets from the Blue Angel Squadron, flying five hundred feet high smashed past and went into a power climb right over Octavia’s head. She was so excited she bounced off the chain link fence and fell over on her back, all the time looking up. The jets glinted into the sun and vanished.

Octavia sat in the middle of the yard staring at where she last saw them. She sat for ten minutes and was rewarded with their return — again at five hundred feet. We thought she was going to faint dead away from excitement. For the rest of the morning she was rooted in the middle of the yard looking up. We finally had to collect her and bring her inside. The rest of the day she kept watch out the back window.

Rado3She seemed to bond with all kinds of helicopters. Over the years she developed a relationship with a pilot of a small bubble helicopter. Every evening during the week, at about five-thirty, this small two person craft would fly from the city straight over our house. Octavia always knew when it was time for the craft to zip by. She would bark and pace and ask to be let outside. When the craft came by she would run in circles, looking up. After some days of this jumping about she was noticed by the pilot. After that, he would wiggle the craft’s tail section as he passed. This greeting went on for years during days of good flying weather.

Then Octavia became ill. Purple blotches developed on her back and were discovered by her groomer. Her gums started to bleed and the battle to save her life began. For four months she was cared for night and day by her mistress who was guided by our veterinarian. Some days she rallied; others she crashed. Never in the fight did she give up and for one week during this time she seemed to actually be getting better.

jets1During those four months of her illness the military aircraft changed their flight path and were not seen. It was as if they had abandoned their comrade during her time of need. Maybe they knew she needed her rest or maybe they were waiting for her to signal to them to come and get her.

They must have gotten the signal on the last day of her life. She spent that day in a prone position, so weak she was unable to raise her head or lick her favorite gray cat. By her side was the family who loved her. As the time drew closer for her last appointment with our vet, the jets returned. They started with the usual distant roar and soon grew louder and closer. Then, they were low overhead. The whole house shook with the roar of their after-burners. As weak as Octavia was she got half way to her feet and stared out of the window after them. They came back at a higher altitude and gave her one last salute. They had come for our big girl. That afternoon at 1550 hours she joined them.