"Opal Flight, you together?"
"Opal Two's got you."
"Opal Three here."
"O.K., take it down, Opal. Take it down."
"Look at that oil fire!"
"We're getting flak. Keep it moving."
"Opal Two here, Lead. I'm getting rid of my tanks."
"Big flak sight at one o'clock. I can see it flash."
"Flak sight below.... Pick it up!"
"It's all over here. On our left, Opal...."
"Pull it up! Let's get...."
"Goddamn, they're angry."
"Opal Two, do you have me?"
"Opal Four's off."
"Opal Two, do you read...? Opal Two, check in."
"The last I saw him he was going into the pitch.... He didn't call...."
"Opal Two, Opal Two, Opal Lead. Do you read?"
The car carrying the major turns on McAlister onto the campus of Tulane University. From the passenger side the major watches, intent on things familiar. "There," he says, gesturing with his left hand, the hand rigged with aluminum struts and springs and elastic bands to keep it operational. "I lived in that dorm. After that Glenda and I had an apartment in some old Army barracks, but they're gone now. Just as well."
Ahead, a bus painted with signs advocating "Dixieland Tours" tries too tight a turn onto a side street and blocks traffic. The major's car waits. "That's something I want to do, I ought to do," he says, patient with the bus driver's clumsy navigation. "Take a tour. See what the tourists see. Holy mackerel, look at those new buildings."
On Willow Street the car turns again and Tulane Stadium, the Sugar Bowl, fills his view.
"There she is. Boy, I used to wonder if I'd ever see her again. In one of the letters that got through Up There they told me about the new SuperDome. When I came down to have my hand examined the other day I drove by the site. It'll be fantastic for the fans, I guess. But this is the one I dreamed about. When I got to Clark, after the release, there was an old pro football magazine lying around, and it had a picture of Dempsey's field goal. The 63-yarder. I said to myself, 'Well, it's still there.' You don't know what a relief that was."
Proximity diminishes the old stadium's elegance, revealing for the major the scars of rust and decay. It is obvious that for some time no great effort has been made to hide its age. A stadium apparently on death row.
"Are they gonna tear it down?" the major asks. "I'd hate to see that. In prison I'd lie there and picture it on a foggy night, when the rings formed around the lights. Like gaslights. Maybe that's why they decided on a dome, all the fog New Orleans gets in the fall. It was real foggy the night we played Texas Tech my senior year. I remember because it was one of the few games we won, and I got the game ball. Come to think of it, there must have been a lot of fog that night."
He takes the steps to the athletic office one at a time. The last time he had been there he weighed 220 pounds, his face was round and his crew cut black, an Air Force lieutenant home on leave. Now he was not sure what he weighed. At one point Up There he knew it was no more than 150 pounds, spread in a thin batter over a 6'2½" frame. Freedom had already put some of it back, but not enough to fill the hollows in his face. His gold watch slides on his wrist like a charm bracelet. There are motes of gray in his hair now, too, and the pained, caged look has not entirely faded from his brown eyes. Still, there is strength in his walk, and his bearing retains the military stamp.
In the athletic offices the ritual of welcome that has come to be customary is repeated once more. Friends wring his good hand and hug him; secretaries beam. He responds in kind—a gracious, humble man genuinely touched by attentive acts. He is asked if he is surprised much by any of the changes.
Men's clothes, he says. Men's clothes have shocked him. He smiles. "But I'm coming around. My first purchase was a very conservative brown jacket, brown slacks and a brown tie. Yesterday I bought a burgundy double-knit suit and I've got my eye on a yellow sports jacket."