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Joshua Carter
One of Anne Carter’s favorite stories to tell about her youngest son, Joshua, was of the time when at age four, he begged his father to take him on his annual month-long hunting sabbatical in Kansas. Perhaps due to hearing the story so many times throughout his life, the incident is also the earliest memory that Josh can recall.

Despite Joshua’s insistence that he was nothing like his older siblings – a falsehood that he clung to until his teens – his father smiled at the request and put his son through the same paces as he had for his other four sons and, he wouldn’t hesitate to admit, one of his two daughters as well. Ruth had always been a tomboy, and her parents thought that she always would be.

It was to no-one’s great surprise when Joshua, as spirited and eager as a four year old was capable of being, couldn’t hold his father’s unloaded rifle steady, much less be relied upon to fire it accurately. “Maybe next year,” was the answer that he got. “But only if you behave yourself, and make sure you’re strong enough to hold the rifle by then.”

Perhaps it was serendipitous that Joshua was unable to pass his father’s test that year, since the trip was cut dramatically short in any case. Matt – Joshua’s eldest, most indestructible brother – was killed in Iraq during Operation Desert Storm.

That is why every time Anne tells the story she always trails off. It’s almost as if she loses herself in the pleasant memories of the early childhood of her youngest child, and forgets about the fate of her eldest until the end.

Every year, Joseph’s annual hunting trip came around, and every year the children either packed their things to go along with him (if they had passed their father’s scrutiny), or made their pleas to be allowed to go along this year (if they hadn’t yet). Every year Joshua was turned down. Luke was the first to be taken on his first trip that Joshua can remember, then Ruth, then John.

Well into his teens, John had always been annoyed that Ruth had gotten to go hunting before him. “Hunting is for boys,” he always insisted. Because he knew it would annoy him, Joshua always reminded John that Ruth could beat him up. More often than not, this got Joshua beat up, but he judged it as worth the pain. At the very least, the two youngest boys could play together while all of the other men (and their boyish sister) were out in the Kansas woods.

When John was finally taken along with the rest, Joshua grew to dread the yearly trip. The only people left at home were his mother (who he loved, of course) and his sister Mary (who he also loved, even if she was boring). To keep himself occupied while most of his family was away, Joshua took up “pee wee league” football with the other kids in Arnold Heights. It turned out to be exactly what he needed.

Joshua was a natural runner, fast and light on his feet and able to turn almost on a dime even while at full speed. His first year playing, he was starting halfback for his team. The next year he made the All-Star team. The year after that, he stopped playing in the youth leagues and started playing for his school.

For his fourteenth birthday, his father bought him a guide to military hand signals. It was his father’s way of telling him that he was finally eligible for the hunting trip. Over the next four months, Joshua learned how to handle, clean, care for, and shoot a rifle under his father’s steady hand. Only once did he, in a moment of childish exuberance, accidentally swing the barrel of the rifle toward his father.

After the shouts to point the weapon elsewhere were obeyed, there followed a long and lengthy speech. “Only point your rifle at something that you have every intention of shooting, Josh,” his father told him. “Never forget that. It’s a very dangerous thing that you have in your hands right now, and you need to treat it with respect.”

Joshua nodded in response, almost ashamed. His father had told him all of this before, and he’d always tried to follow these instructions. He never made that mistake again.

That year, Joshua had no problem passing his father’s rigorous hunting test. He was fourteen years old. On the second week of the month-long trip, he killed his first deer and, again under his father’s tutelage, he dressed and skinned it as well.

Through his high school years, Joshua went on all of his father’s annual hunting trips. During school months, however, he divided his time between JROTC and making a name for himself as one of the best young half-backs in the region. By his junior year in high school he made All-State, and Senior year he was an All-American. The University of Nebraska offered him a full football scholarship which, after the insistence from his parents, he accepted.

His freshmen year in college was full of turmoil. For the regular season he was second string, but when the starting half-back caught a brutal tackle in the first round of conference play-offs, Joshua was suddenly shoved into the national college football spotlight. In his first appearance, which was only a little under one half of a game, he racked up over 50 yards and two touchdowns.

Three games later, he was awarded MVP of the conference championship game which the Huskers won (28-24). In the national play-offs, however, things took a bad turn.

Joshua learned that his closest brother (both in terms of age and emotional attachment) John had been killed in the Middle East. John had been a fighter jock for the Air Force. The news was delivered the night before the second round game, and it obliterated Joshua’s ability to focus on the game. He only ran for 67 yards and scored one touchdown. The Huskers won despite his sub-par performance, and after finding out why he had done so poorly (Joshua had hidden the reason for his distraction up to that point) he was benched.

This grated on him. Despite the overwhelming circumstances, Joshua insisted that he could perform again. His coach wouldn’t hear of it, however, and although the Huskers made it through one more round, they were eliminated in the Final Four against Kansas.

After being benched, Joshua didn’t stick around to see how his teammates did. He didn’t even watch the game on television. He was too busy mourning his brother.

At the funeral, both his mother and father asked Joshua if he still intended to go into the Army after graduation. When he said that he did, his mother cried a bit harder and his father’s stony expression only grew harder.

The next several years in college were a blur of dedication, sweat, blood, and tears. Despite the voiced understanding of both his coach and his teammates, he could tell that they were disappointed that he’d let his own personal tragedy impact the team. He vowed that it would never happen again, and forged an ability to focus and ignore distraction – physical or mental – that was unrivaled in the entire conference if not the national league. He earned team MVP in his sophomore year and was named All-Conference halfback.

By his junior year, he was a candidate for conference MVP. In his senior year, he was a candidate for the Heisman and was being scouted by almost every professional team in the country. The Huskers also managed to win the Rose Bowl that year, in no small part to the dogged determination and absolute refusal on Joshua’s part to be anything short of amazing in the eyes of his teammates and spectators.

The day after he graduated, he signed his life away to the United States Army, despite his mother begging him not to (she’d already lost two sons to the Armed Forces) and his father’s threats to cut him off, financially.

Joshua hoped that they would understand. He had to start standing on his own now, and he had to pay his dues to his nation. “The Carters have paid their debt to this country,” his father said. “I paid it. Your brothers paid it. We’re all settled up.”

Joshua disagreed. Their sacrifice, while honorable, did not absolve him of his own debt. He promised to send them letters every month, even if they never wrote him back.

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