Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Take Five

"Rest and be thankful." ~ William Wordsworth

Many years ago television gave us the World War II wartime drama Combat!. This hour-long series ran for five years and followed a front-line American infantry squad as it battled its way through war-torn Europe. Grittier than anything on television at the time, Combat! reflected more grimly on war than its immediate successors such as Hogan's Heroes or Gomer Pyle. Combat! addressed the ravages of war without shying away from the effects battle can have on men, and women, physically, emotionally and morally.

Combat! was ahead of its time.

As a kid, I watched the show which seemed to be filmed as much on Hollywood sets as in outdoor environs. For this reason I always felt the squad was wandering about aimlessly, battling in circles as it encountered one enemy platoon, personal demon, partisan, collaborator or manifestation of evil after another. It wasn't. These men, or the men portrayed by the players on the Combat! stage had a higher purpose. History tells us this is so.

"When will they win the war?" I still pondered in my preteen naivete'.

It also seemed like one soldier was always feeling the brunt of the war. To add further realism to the drama the writers needed to emphasize a devastating truth of warfare. People are wounded by gunfire, mortar and shelling. Private Littlejohn was the character to highlight this painful certainty. Every other episode seemed to find Littlejohn wounded, only to be "patched up" to rejoin his brothers at the ending minutes of the hour.

Even as a kid I thought, "Poor Littlejohn."

Very often during a broadcast where the action had built frantically to a pace of action and emotion that seemed exhausting for the characters as well as the viewer, a call would come out from the squad leader, Sergeant Saunders

"Take five."

With these words, action stopped.

The men would do what they always did when given an order by their tough commanding non-com. They obeyed. No questions asked even with the war raging all around. They trusted their sergeant knew what they could withstand, he knew their breaking point, their limit. The eight to 13 members of the squad - depending on the number of guest cast members - would stop everything to find a safe "covered" place and with one or two guards posted take five minutes to recharge, and for a few moments, perhaps, forget about the carnage.

As a dedicated viewer I never felt the action stopped during these times of respite. Instead, I felt a welcome break from the tension and drama the show would bring to my young life. I also knew this brief rest would soon end and and the soldiers of King Company would resume their journey battling on through World War II-era France. I would also feel exhilaration when the men would take off their helmets and light up, some sprawled upon the ground under the ever watchful eye of their buck sergeant and one or two posted sentries.

I felt exhilaration because I knew action would soon follow, rising and falling, and these unlikely heroes would soon be, heroic. I realized, or perhaps I now realize, the respite was needed for the squad to bear the trials ahead.

They call it a "breather" for a reason.

So take five. Breathe. Sometimes we may feel if we stop all will be lost. Maybe we just need to take an inventory of where we've been and how far we've come. Perhaps we've been through so many battles we simply can't take it anymore, for now. We can even take a more extended leave if we've been hit, taken down, hard. Maybe. like Littlejohn, we've been wounded and need some time to get patched up.

It's OK to take five, 10, or 20. Knowing there is a presence watching over us helps. There is a sentinel, a force we can trust. Sergeant Saunders never took a break. The omniscient viewer knew he was always watching over his squad, strategizing, mapping, anticipating. His soldiers simply trusted he would always show them the way.

We can return, rejoin our journey with our band-of-brothers-and-sisters travelers, rejuvenated and ready for anything our child's addiction can throw at us.

Take five, then keep moving!

… keep coming back

"Just find a place to make your your stand and take it easy." ~ "Take It Easy" - by Jackson Browne & Glenn Frey