Faith, Family, and Freedom with Major James Capers, Jr.
Major James Capers, Jr was critically wounded but relieved to be home.
Fresh blood mingled with the dry as his open wounds continued to bleed. The broken body nestled in a pool of feces, blood, tubes and pain was hard to recognize as the imposing, fearless leader who had become a legend in his own right, but Major Capers had never backed down from pain before and he wasn’t about to start now.
He watched one of his men – his brothers, really – kiss the ground and others be wheeled off to hospitals while he patiently awaited his turn. Medical personnel swarmed the tarmac. Mentally he was almost as overwhelmed as he was physically.
Just days ago they’d all been in the jungles of Vietnam together, knowing each moment could be their last and being forced to watch their brothers die. They’d existed in a constant state of high alert, ready to kill at a moment’s notice and constantly compartmentalizing each unspeakable experience in order to move forward through each day.
Major Capers had been the leader they all turned to and readily walked into battle alongside. Now, the ones who were lucky enough to be alive lay beside each other trying to process the new confusion they were enmeshed in.
Through the haze of morphine and fatigue, Major Capers saw a corpsman approach his cot. It was a welcome sight, if not odd, to see a corpsman in civilian clothes, but in his current state of mind Major Capers dismissed that oddity – until he felt the urine splashing down onto him.
“That was my welcome home,” he says, “pissed on by an American.”
The joy and anticipation of reuniting with his beloved wife and precious son vanished in that instant. In their place, bitterness and hate took root. A lesser person with less faith and strength than Major Capers would have succumbed to that hate. But Major Capers is no ordinary man.
He never lost a single battle he’d been in during the war in Vietnam, and he would not allow himself to lose the battle between love and hate now that he’d returned home, no matter how hard it would be.
Major Capers had every excuse to seize upon that bitterness and hate. No one would have blamed him if he finally gave in to a lifetime of scorn and struggle. Born a sharecropper’s son, raised in the Jim Crow South, young Jim was the youngest of 8 children. His parents buried four of his siblings and almost lost him, too. When his father fled the South as a fugitive for a crime he had not committed, his mother was in no position to offer her baby the care he would need to survive the illness that killed her other children.
That, says Major Capers, was when he first experienced the kindness of strangers. A brave and caring family took young Jim into their own home and nursed him back to health while his mother took his siblings to join his father. That family risked their own well-being not because of a contagious illness, but because they were white, and back then it was considered unacceptable for a white family to render aid to a black child like that.
“History has a way of forgetting good people and the little things they do to make our country great, but I never will,” says Major James Capers.
It was the presence of people like that in his life who were a testament to human character, he says in his book, Faith Through The Storm. It was that character appearing time and again in people around him that gave him the foundation of faith in mankind itself. That faith, when blended with his faith in God and the love of his own family, is what carried Major Capers through every storm that raged in his life, and the storms that continue to rage today.
Faith, family, and freedom are recurring themes in Major Capers’ life.
Even as he shares one horrific story after another, he swiftly follows each story with a message of faith.
His wife Dottie shared that faith with him and in him.
“God is with me. God is standing here with me and you will walk to us,” she told him when he fell to his knees and said he could not stand. His body had endured catastrophic injuries. He had pushed himself beyond every possible physical limit in Vietnam, and he was tired. He was more than tired – he was exhausted and asking for permission to give up, if just for a moment.
Dottie would have none of it. She understood her husband was battling for more than his physical strength back. He was waging a war against demons she could not see or understand but which she recognized as very real, and she was not going to let those demons claim the man she loved with all her heart – even though he had fumbled a bit on their wedding day.
“They say a bad beginning makes a good ending,” Major Capers laughs as he shares that memory.
The man who held his ground under the weight of oppressive racism, forged through training moments where he felt the real threat of his life being in danger, and persevered through one daunting challenge after another was still no match for the power of the love he felt for Dottie from the moment he laid eyes on her.
“I thought a lot about my future now, knowing that somewhere along the line she would have to be a part of it, and trying to decide how best to inform her of the whole thing,” he remembers with a laugh.
He was so stunned she’d said “yes” and in such a hurry to make it official that he threw his usual care to the wind that day. In between teasing Dottie that he was getting cold feet and hurrying to town to get their marriage license, he carelessly stuffed that important piece of paper in a pocket while his mind and his heart burst with nerves and excitement.
There was his bride before him, with their families by their sides as the priest asked for the license. But the paper was nowhere to be found. Major Capers still seems a bit sheepish when admitting he’d dropped it.
The priest was unwavering in his insistence that the license was required, and Dottie seethed with anger that this moment was dissolving.
A phone call near midnight saved the day, as the person who found the license in the street called to return it, and Major Capers’ smile beams as he recalls exchanging vows in the middle of the night.
Memories like that are what he holds on to now, along with memories of the son they had and loved so fiercely. Their son Gary was born with severe handicaps as a result of a gestational illness Dottie suffered. The couple’s love for their son equaled their love for each other, and every decision he made was with Dottie and Gary in mind. Major Capers’ pain is palpable today when he talks about the tragedy that stole Gary from them.
Gary was brought to the hospital in severe pain, and sent home without his ruptured appendix being diagnosed. Hours later, Gary lay on the floor of the waiting room of the same ER, as his father held him. He died right there in his father’s arms, and Major Capers still cannot talk about it without tearing up.
Losing his beloved Dottie to cancer not long after was the last piece of pain the retired Marine will ever feel so deeply.
Dottie died 11 years ago, and Major Capers talks to her every day. He wanders back in his memories to the time they had with Gary, and he knows they will all be together again. In their honor, he launched a nonprofit. The Gary Capers Foundation is in honor of Dottie and Gary, and focuses on assisting individuals facing overwhelming challenges.
Major Jim Capers, Jr has an impressive legacy himself.
It’s not the numerous medals he’s earned or the induction into the Commando Hall of Fame. It’s not even the Medal of Honor being petitioned for by those who served with him and know him to be a genuine hero.
Those who read his book or who will watch the upcoming documentary, “Major Capers, The Legend Of Team Broadminded” will learn of the example Major Capers sets for us all when faced with unjustness or adversity. They will learn of his resoluteness in serving God, Country, and Corps, and going into places others flee from to defend the freedoms of others.
They will learn of the powerful legacy of strength his own father passed to him when he taught his son, “If 10 men start up a flight of steps and only one makes it to the top, you believe that you will be that man, and it will be so.” They will learn of his unyielding faith in God, who was always with him in Vietnam and is with him now.
Major Capers carries the burden of memories and persistent symptoms of PTSD from his time in Vietnam and from holding his son as he died. He remembers every detail of losing one friend after another.
He also carries painful memories of men- boys, really – that he did not know, like the young medic who answered his call into battle. That medic was mortally wounded himself. In the mayhem surrounding battle in the dark of night, Major Capers did not notice the injury and the medic did not speak of it. The medic asked to take a break, sat at Major Capers’ feet, and died on the spot. Major Capers’ voice breaks when he speaks of that memory, and guilt pours from him.
Even as Major Capers was preparing for a trip to his birthplace of Bishopville, SC to attend a ceremony in his honor and the unveiling of a statue of him, he remembers that medic and questions if he is worthy of such an honor.
He does not see that asking that very question is in itself why he is worthy.
The man whose father fled town as a fugitive, who was not allowed to swim with the white kids or study alongside them, or dine alongside them, is now the pride of that same town.
Major Capers recognizes that the country so many died for and that he himself gave so much for has a lot of room for improvement.
He himself has been spurned by this country and its citizens, time and again, and yet he refuses to give up on us. He sacrificed tremendously for the rights people are exercising today, even if he does not agree with those actions.
“I grew up in some difficult times,” he admits. He even had a rope around his neck once, while a senior officer ordered a junior officer to hang him. “But in front of the flag, will I take a knee? No. I’ve seen too many flags on too many dead bodies.”
He’ll honor his oath, says Major Capers, and defend your right to kneel, but you’ll never see him do so.
Why did he do all he’s done?” he’s often asked. The answer is simple: “I love my country.”
WELCOME HOME, MAJOR CAPERS. 🇺🇸
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