CPT Dugan was tired. He had spent the rest of the night gathering whoever was left, organizing casualty care, redistributing his remaining men, and tending to his own wounds. Now, he was scanning across the field where the Chinese had been. The militia medics had retrieved two of their soldiers that had been too badly injured to move, and took them to a place where they could be cared for and contained. Dugan watched as the Lakotas that had arrived the night before, walked among the corpses collecting up weapons and equipment. He had no doubt that some of the stuff would go to decorate their VFW Post, and that the rest, namely the weapons, would be secreted somewhere until needed again.

He felt a tap on the shoulder and turned to see Don and Earl, now cleaned up and bandaged, each holding a Chinese battle rifle, Don held his out, "You ready for this shit sir? These rifles were all 5.56!"


"No shit, the Chinks must have figured that they could use our ammo when they took this place."

"I don’t think they wanted this place; I think they wanted Ellsworth. They might have gotten lost or sidetracked. Heck, this is still a civilian airport. Ellsworth is where all of the important stuff is."

"Well, let’s hope they don’t want it anymore."


1530, The Next Day

The meeting room at the airport was small, made more so by the crowded conditions created by the presence of all of the Platoon Leaders, Platoon Sergeants, Dugan, several representatives of the Lakotas, and several Air Force officers. All came to attention as Colonel Martin Weaver, Commander of the Militia entered the room and walked to the podium, "As you were. The results of last night’s actions were favorable. The Chinese attack was broken, and their troops were forced to flee. Unfortunately, they fled in the direction of Rapid City where they are currently being engaged by other elements, specifically the National Guard and law enforcement. They will remain so engaged until other forces can be brought to bear. Our mission remains the same; secure this airport for the foreseeable future. This task is made more difficult because of the heavy casualties we suffered, that being forty percent of our personnel killed or wounded. There have, however, been some new developments on the front. Here, to give you that information is Major General Thomas Sykes, Base Commander at Ellsworth."

General Sykes, a tall man with the look of a marathon runner, took the podium, "First of all, I’d like to thank you for the incredible thing you and your men accomplished last night. I must confess that, when I heard that this post was to be guarded by militia, I was skeptical. To be blunt, I had mentally written you all off as expendable, useful only to deplete enemy resources as they killed you. Last night proved just how wrong I could be. Intel informed us that last night’s attackers were a battalion from the Chinese 15th Airborne Corps’ 43rd Division. These are elite troops that are analogous to our own 82nd Airborne; light infantry tasked with going behind enemy lines and securing an area until the conventional forces can break through to them. Their mission was to take Ellsworth or, failing that, destroy as much materiel, aircraft, and personnel as possible, in the hopes of diminishing or destroying our strategic bombing capabilities. They failed. They failed because you people, a collection of what has been derisively called ‘relics’, ‘fossils’, and ‘geezers’, held the line.

Had their commander not erred in his navigation, the brunt of that attack would have fallen on the shoulders of our own Air Base Ground Defense. And, while I have no doubt that they would have done as well as you did, I don’t believe that they could have done better.

With that in mind, I have gotten permission, from no less than the Secretary of Defense, to provide this unit with a full complement of weapons and equipment. Should the enemy make a second effort at taking this installation, they will not find you equipped with antique rifles and commercial camping gear. Rather, they will find a unit every bit as well equipped as any in our current forces."

This gained nods and murmurs of approval.

"Also, as an aside, you will be interested to learn that, while we had had the People’s Liberation Army stalemated at the Rocky Mountains, our counteroffensive has pushed them almost all the way back into Mexico. This along with the combined efforts of our Naval Forces, and those of our allies all but eliminating their supply line, has served to bring representatives of the Chinese government to the negotiating table. I have it on good authority that nothing other than the complete withdrawal of Chinese Forces to pre-war boundaries will be tolerated or accepted."

With that, there were cheers and smiles. The General motioned for them to calm down and continued, "We still have a long way to go before we can again feel safe. The fighting isn’t over by a long shot, but there is light at the end of the tunnel. Again, I thank you for your incredible achievement last night."

At this last, there was suddenly the tone of a wristwatch alarm, at which everyone in the room turned to look at who had been so rude as to not turn off their electrical devices. Dugan inwardly shrunk as he looked to see Don and Earl, who had apparently slipped in unnoticed. Earl, completely unruffled by his breach of protocol, simply looked at his watch and said, "Time!"

Immediately, all of the militiamen present, and a significant number of the Lakotas, pulled out various and sundry pill bottles, and began shaking out their daily meds.

December 25,2033

The entire Dugan family had put all plans on hold so that they could all be together on Christmas. All had suffered through the war, with several of their number having paid the ultimate price. Their pictures sat on the mantelpiece above all of the now-empty stockings. The Living Room looked like a war zone itself with the detritus of that morning’s gift-giving strewn about. In the kitchen, several of the men had taken it upon themselves to clean the breakfast dishes while the women sat and drank coffee at the dining room table. The children were outside, playing in the snow, throwing snowballs and building various structures that would remain until the Spring thawed them into oblivion.

All but one.

Sean Dugan was a little sad. He enjoyed Christmas very much, and he loved being around his uncles, aunts, and cousins, but he missed his father. He had barely got to know him when he was killed by a Chinese rocket during the war. Still, he cherished every moment they spent together, and he worked hard to make sure that his father would be proud of him. He got good grades in school, and he was kind to his sister and mother. He did his best to be the boy that he thought his father would want. But sometimes, like now, not having his father around made him sad.

When that happened, he would go somewhere by himself and sit for a while, and try to think of something that made him happy. It didn’t always work, and then he would just cry. He always tried to hide when that happened because he didn’t think boys should cry, but he couldn’t help himself. That’s why he was down in the basement in Grandpa’s reloading room; so that he could cry and get it over with.

"Are you okay?"

Sean jumped, startled by the voice of his grandfather. He quickly wiped his eyes and turned around, "Yeah. I was just looking."

Tim Dugan looked at is grandson and smiled; he looked so much like Mark. He knew what Sean had been doing, so he walked over, knelt down, and hugged him, "I miss him, too."

At this, Sean began sobbing. He did so for a while, and he noticed the tears in Grandpa’s eyes, but he didn’t say anything because he didn’t want to embarrass him. When they both composed themselves, Tim looked at his grandson and said, "I like to remember the good times we had with your dad."

"Me too."

"You too? What’s your favorite memory?"

Sean looked thoughtful for a moment, then he looked at Tim, "I think that my favorite was the time we went out, just him and me, and he taught me how to shoot a rifle. He set up a bunch of tin cans, and he taught me how to use the sights, and he taught me how to use a sling just like in the Marines. I was only Nine, but he explained stuff to me like he would a grown-up. He even used the ‘F’-word once. I think he forgot that I wasn’t a Marine."

"I remember that. You’re dad said that you had real talent. That you listened real well, and that you picked it up fast."

"Yeah, I loved it. I wish I could do it again. But, Dad’s gone, and Mom doesn’t really care for guns. She says that she had enough of guns during the war."

Tim looked at him for a minute, thinking. Then he stood and said, "Wait here."

He went upstairs and found Lisa at the table with his wife and sister-in-law, "Mind if I join you for a minute?"

His wife motioned to a chair, "Sure. What’s up?"

Tim turned to Lisa, "I have something to give to Sean, but I need your permission."

"What is it?"

As succinctly as he could, he told her the story of the rifle that his own grandfather had brought home from Europe. He described every person who inherited it, and what was done with it. He told of his own experiences with it, and of how he had used it defending the airport. In conclusion, he told her, "It was always my intent to give it to Mark; he was the real shooting enthusiast of the two boys. Joe enjoys it, and we go hunting every year, but he’s got other interests. Mark? Mark would rather go shooting than anything else."

"Don’t I know it. I still have a box full of his shooting ribbons and trophies. I didn’t even know Sean cared about shooting."

"He just told me that his favorite memory of his was when Mark taught him to shoot a rifle."

Lisa looked at him, her eyes filling with tears, "I just don’t want him to have to…to have to…"

"I know. It’s not about that. It’s never been about that for us. We shoot because we’re shooters. Some people chase a ball around a golf course, some people drown worms to try and catch a fish. Us? We shoot. I think Sean is a shooter, too."

"I’ll agree, but only if you teach him to do it right."

"I wouldn’t have it any other way."

Just then, Joe walked into the room, "Have what any other way?"

"I’m going to give Sean Grandpa’s rifle."

Joe just smiled, "That old relic? What is he gonna do with that antique?"


Sean was sitting at the Dining Room table. His Grandpa said he had something important to tell him. He didn’t think he was in trouble, but he knew whatever it was, it was serious. Only the grown-ups sat around this table when there was something to talk about.

He didn’t have to wait long, his Mom, Uncle Joe, Grandma and Grandpa came in. Grandpa was holding a long, black case. He set it down in front of Sean, "Sean, this is something that I was originally going to give to your Dad. It’s been passed down to someone in each generation that is a shooter. Do you know what that means?"

"Someone that likes to shoot?"

"Someone that loves to shoot. Someone that appreciates a fine rifle, and enjoys the skill that goes into making a perfect shot at any range. A shooter respects the work and time that went into building his rifle, and he takes care of it the way a race car driver takes care of his race car, or the way a woodcarver cares for his tools."

Tim opened up the case and pulled the rifle out. It was still in 6.5X55, but it had been cleaned and repainted. Sean’s eyes grew wide as he looked it over. His mouth hung open a little as he drank in every line, every surface of the rifle.

"But, since I can’t give it to your Dad, I need to figure out who might be a good pick for passing it along."

Sean looked at his Grandfather, "Uncle Joe?"

Joe shook his head, "Not me. I’ve got a bunch of guns. I don’t need another one."

Tim set it down in front of Sean, "What do you think? Do you think you can take care of this rifle?"

Sean looked uncertainly at his mother, she just nodded, "It’s okay. You’re Grandpa and I talked. If you want it, I’m okay with it."

Sean broke into a huge smile, "YES!!! You bet I want it!"

Tim just laughed, "Okay, it’s settled then."

Sean looked at his Grandpa, "Can we go shoot it?"

"Don’t you want to wait until the temperature gets above zero?"

"We can wear extra sweaters! Please Grandpa???"

Tim looked at his wife who just shook her head, "You opened this can of worms you take care of it."

He looked outside at the snow blowing across the lawn. Then, he looked at his grandson. He thought back to the times he had sat at a bench, or lay prone on a mat, all in the attempt to hit a target several hundred yards distant. And he thought that there was no other place he would rather be. He could almost feel his own Grandfather reach across the years and push him towards the door, "Okay. But you’d better bundle up."

Joe stood up, "I’ll get the bench and the rest. Where are we headed?"

"May as well head to the usual spot. We’ll set up below the crest of the ridge so we can block some wind."

Sarah stood and headed for the kitchen, "Hold on, I’ll make some coffee for you to take with you."

Lisa looked at her son, "If you get too cold, promise me you’ll tell your uncle and grandpa. I don’t want you getting Frostbite."

"I promise! Thank you Mom!" he hugged her tightly, "I have to go get ready!" He ran to get his clothes on.

Lisa looked at her Father-in-Law and shook her head. I can’t believe that you three are going out in this weather to shoot guns!"

Tim just grinned at her, "What can I say? We’re shooters."