“We set off to find water and food. That meant we had to head down off the mountain. We weren’t in the greatest shape so the going was slow. But we were Army hardened. We stumbled, fell, walked for as long as we could stay on our feet. We made camp the first night.”
“What about your GPS and equipment?”
“Most of our equipment was destroyed in the crash. And you can ask anybody about GPS in the mountains. When it works, it’s inaccurate about 60% of the time. We couldn’t get a signal and the map was wrong.
“That first night, we dropped most of our possessions. I kept food, water and Valerie’s pictures. I had the pictures in this pouch right next to my heart. I knew exactly where I was going. I was hiking home… to Valerie.
“It never occurred to us that someone was tracking us. In all my years in the Rockies, I never saw anyone. But no one lives in caves in the Rockies.
“We were picked up about two days into our hike.”
Mike stopped talking. For a moment, his mind flooded with images.
“I’ve thought a lot about this,” Mike said. “We invaded their land, their country. I’ve thought about how I’d feel if I found three foreign soldiers in the middle of the Rockies or walking down the street… We… Anyway, they took us back to their camp.
“There was a lot of yelling, hitting, and all the stuff you can imagine. They wanted to know why we were there and we wouldn’t tell them. Truth was that we weren’t supposed to be there. But why would they believe us? By the time they hiked to the crash site, the Army had been there and gone. The Army took everything – men, chopper, everything. The Army even cleaned up the char marks from the crash and the fire. When they got back? The shit hit the fan.
“They sent someone to get the head guy in their region. After the initial drama, things fell into a normal pattern. It was hard for us Americans. We were used to doing what we wanted when we wanted, even in the Army. We were captives. We did what we were told.
“The guys and I were strong and capable. We knew someone would come for us eventually. As long as we were of value to them, they fed us. So we worked and worked and worked and worked.
“I told you I had the photos next to my heart. I didn’t know Val was pregnant. She was my life, my heart, my soul. I… I just focused on the pictures. When I was alone, I would take them out. She has this smile in those pictures. A kind of, ‘I have a secret’ smile. I’d imagine we were talking or laughing. Those pictures and Val saved me.”
“The photos we just talked about?” the interviewer asked.
“What was it like for you, Val?”
The retelling of Celia’s Puppies, Denver Cereal Volume 2, continues tomorrow…
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