Monday, May 30, 2011

365 Jobs, Day 150: Memorial Day

Monday, May 30, 1983

On a weekend job in my truck, I drive north on Interstate 280.  It's a jam of camper trucks, RV's, trailers towing dune buggies and motorboats. 

From the freeway there's a view of the valley of the San Francisco Bay, the airport, the ring of mountains.  Just before passing through a riot of shopping centers, one can look down and see, among the rows of headstones, an old woman in her Sunday coat.  She's on her knees in front of one particular grave. 

We've lost them by the thousands.  We grieve them one by one.

We remember people for who they were.  Our frame of reference - inevitably, for better or worse - is who we were when we knew them.

Denny was a freckle-faced, jug-eared, left-handed kid in my high school in Maryland.  Thin as a whip.  He wasn't great at sports, but he was scrappy and he was fun.  We played baseball, football.  We weren't friends.  I only knew him through sports and seeing him at school, where he hung with a different group.

Denny and I were practically the same age - just two days between us. 

I never saw him after high school, so all I know is what I learn from The Wall.  I went to college in Missouri.  Denny moved to Colorado and, a couple years after high school, was drafted.

On May 2, 1968, I would have been preparing for junior year final exams.  The musical Hair had just opened on Broadway.  On May 2, Denny began his tour of duty with the 101st Airbourne.  It didn't last long. 

On August 5, 1968 I was camping in a pup tent on Bainbridge Island near Seattle, Washington, exploring the USA
with my girlfriend in a Volkswagen beetle.  Richard Nixon was being nominated at the Republican national convention in Miami.  On August 5, in Thua Thien, South Vietnam, Denny was a "ground casualty, hostile," caused by "other explosive device."  His body was recovered.

In a couple more weeks, Denny would have turned 21.  A couple weeks later I drove through Chicago passing truckloads of National Guard troops, who were pouring into the city for the Democratic national convention.  Near Rochester, New York I turned 21 and (legally) bought a bottle of champagne.  The woman in the liquor store said, "Is that your driver's license?"  She turned to another woman and pointed at me.  "My, my, that little thing's twenty-one."

Different tours, different outcomes.

Two day's difference in birthdays, another lottery number in the draft, a different sense of obligation, it might have been me.  I honor you, Denny, for the choices you made and the price that you paid.  I remember you.  Rest easy, forever.


  1. Hi Joe,
    I am a veteran and I appreciated what I read in this blog. I too have a few friends that served and didn't make it back. I enlisted in submarines (stayed for 20 yrs) so I wouldn't have to be a ground pounder.
    FTG1(SS) Ralph J Boumenot, USN retired

  2. I salute you, sir. Thank you for your service. And I'm glad you made it back. After 20 years under water, I think I understand why you like to work with wood now.