On Monday 4/24/2017, I awakened to see that I had a missed phone call from Pecos, Texas. My wife Dolores and I had been notified a few days earlier that my father-in-law Herbert Casey (I call him Dad) had departed Salinas, California alone in his truck and was heading toward the east coast. It occurred to me as I pondered the number, that Dad may have run into trouble. You see, he had done the same thing two (2) years ago back in 5/2015. My son was graduating from college in Ohio at that time. Dad had left California alone back then too. But, he never made it to Ohio. He got disoriented and confused and was admitted to a VA hospital in Mississippi. Family from California had rescued him back then. Well, it appeared that he had done the same thing again. Dad will be 90 years old in 1/2018 and has been diagnosed with dementia.
Anxiously, I made the phone call to Pecos, Texas. The store manager answered the phone. I asked about an elderly man from California in a blue GMC truck who may have been there. The manager and the entire staff knew Dad. It appeared that two (2) days earlier, Dad had gotten his truck stuck in the sand at the Pecos Love’s Truck Stop. He got stuck not once but twice. The store staff thought something seemed a “little off” with Dad. The Pecos Police and Texas Adult Protective Services had taken Dad to the Reeves County Hospital there in Pecos. I called the hospital and Dad was indeed there. He was fine.
Dad is a retired Vietnam Veteran. He was an aircraft mechanic. After retiring from the US Army, he had then served 20 years as a Correctional Officer for the State of California. I was a Cobra pilot have retired twice as an Army Officer. I had also flown some search and rescue while stationed in Alaska. I knew in my heart that it was time for me to conduct a rescue mission to Texas. I needed to spend time with Dad and he needed me to get him back home to California.
I got on the internet. Getting plane tickets to Midland, Texas was not a problem. However, Pecos was another 90 minutes away. Pecos did not have a rental car return and taxi fare was several hundred dollars. I was sitting in my home office in South Carolina and weighing my options when I looked over and glanced at a post card from my local American Legion Post #133 in Ridge Spring, South Carolina. The thought occurred to me, so I googled American Legion Odessa, Texas. I called the local American Legion Post #430 in Odessa. A nice lady tending the bar answered the phone and she then handed the phone to another patron. I was given the phone number to the post service officer named Preston Parrott. I was a little uneasy, but called and introduced myself to Preston. I explained my predicament and found out that Preston was also a Vietnam Veteran and that he had a son currently living in the upstate of South Carolina. He paused for a moment and then said “Well, I’ll pick you up at the Midland Airport and we will just take a ride over to Pecos !” This guy had no idea who I was, but had just volunteered himself to be my point man.
The next day, I arrived at the Midland Airport at 1500 hrs and walked out the door toward the passenger pick up area wearing my American Legion Post #133 service cap. Preston was not on a white horse, but in a white pick up truck wearing a Vietnam service baseball cap. I immediately called my wife back in South Carolina to let her know I was safe. Me and Preston headed off toward Pecos and began reviewing and comparing our DD-214s. For the next couple of hours, it was like riding with an old friend.
We arrived in Pecos, Texas about 1800 hrs. We swung by the truck stop and spotted Dad’s truck with California license plates and then we headed over to the Reeves County Hospital. I went into the hospital room and there was Dad. He welcomed me a little embarrassed but with a big smile. He had been there three (3) days. His bag was packed and he was ready to make his “Great Escape” with the aid of his walking cane. After signing some papers, I broke him out and we climbed into Preston’s truck. However, I discovered that Dad in all the confusion had lost the keys to his truck. The hospital staff claimed that they did not have the keys. We went over to the truck stop and asked the store manager and then called the Pecos Police. We then called Texas Adult Protective Services. No one had seen Dad’s truck keys. We were screwed ! After calling a locksmith to gain access, we did an extensive search of the truck. No keys ! It was getting late. Preston, had more than fulfilled his duties as point man. We took a selfie photo at the truck stop to remember the moment and then Preston headed back toward Odessa.
We were 1400 miles away from Dad’s home in Salinas, California with no keys. I finally sunk in that had no idea how Dad had managed to make it alone this far without hurting himself or someone else. However, I thanked the LORD that people along the way had helped. During the search of the truck, I also discovered that Dad did not have the current vehicle insurance paperwork or registration. All the local hotels in Pecos were booked with local oil field workers. So, Dad and I slept in the truck that night making phone calls to both South Carolina and California. The next morning, family in California faxed a copy of the vehicle registration and insurance to a local car dealership. We had Dad’s truck towed to the dealership for them to make and then program a key. By around mid-day on Thursday, we had a key. A full tank of gas and Dad and I were on our way. We got in the truck and the first thing he asked, “are we going to South Carolina?” For the next almost three (3) days, we drove and talked. Dad took a lot of naps, but must have asked me every 30 minutes, “want me to drive ?” I pleaded, but Dad did not want to get a hotel room. So, we slept in the truck every night in McDonald’s parking lots. I felt like a zombie by the time we got back to California. After overcoming numerous obstacles, the story has a happy ending. I was able to get to Pecos, Texas and drive Dad safely back to California. Dad is now seeing doctors at the VA in California. He is not happy that his driving privileges have been revoked.
My hat is off with a big salute of thanks and gratitude to Preston Parrott. I took a chance and asked for help. The LORD introduced me to a fellow Veteran and American Legion Comrade from Post #430 in Odessa, Texas. Preston and I continue to exchange e-mails to the present date. What a wonderful feeling to have such a brotherhood filled with dedication, selfless-sacrifice and professionalism. Thank you so much for all your help. I now have an opportunity to pass it forward and will volunteer to be the service officer for my post.
James A. Bell “JB”
Major (Retired) US Army
American Legion Post #133
Ridge Spring, South Carolina