Marine Stands Guard Outside The Hospital Room Of A Dying Dad - But It Isn’t His Dad

A touching short story written in 1964 by Roy Popkin has truly stood the test of time. The story was published under the title “Night Watch” in Reader’s Digest back in September 1965.

The inspirational story has been circulating online for a decade or so under a variety of titles such as “He Needed a Son” and “Just Stay,” and has also been reprinted a number of times.

The story starts as a nurse takes a tired-looking serviceman to the bedside of a dying man who had been asking for his son who was in the military. “Your son is here,” the nurse said to the old man.

The story read: “She had to repeat the words several times before the patient’s eyes opened. Heavily sedated because of the pain of his heart attack, he dimly saw the young uniformed Marine standing outside the oxygen tent. He reached out his hand. The Marine wrapped his toughened fingers around the old man’s limp ones, squeezing a message of love and encouragement.”

The story continues: “The nurse brought a chair so that the Marine could sit beside the bed. All through the night the young Marine sat there in the poorly lighted ward, holding the old man’s hand and offering him words of love and strength. Occasionally, the nurse suggested that the Marine move away and rest awhile.
He refused.”

Popkin’s classic short story finally reaches a denouement:

“Along towards dawn, the old man died. The Marine released the now lifeless hand he had been holding and went to tell the nurse. While she did what she had to do, he waited. Finally, she returned. She started to offer words of sympathy, but the Marine interrupted her, “Who was that man?” he asked.

The nurse was startled, “He was your father,” she answered.

“No, he wasn’t,” the Marine replied. “I never saw him before in my life.”

“Then why didn’t you say something when I took you to him?”

In the story, the Marine looked the nurse in the eye and said: “I knew right away there had been a mistake, but I also knew he needed his son, and his son just wasn’t here. When I realized that he was too sick to tell whether or not I was his son, knowing how much he needed me, I stayed. I came here tonight to find a Mr. William Grey. His son was killed in Iraq today, and I was sent to inform him. What was this gentleman’s name?”

The nurse started to cry, tears dripping slowly down her cheeks. She answered, “Mr. William Grey…”

Source: Little Things
Photo: 123RF

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