Joined: Sep 2008
Location: High Point, NC
I got up Monday morning, looked outside and saw fog. It wasn’t too bad so I hit the road around 7:00. Today was the day! I’d get to Mike’s home around 4:00 PM, we’d catch up and, at some point, I would make the presentation when the time was right. The morning was cool as I headed north and what a respite from yesterday’s heat. As I passed through the hilly farm country, I made a brief stop near a soybean field when an old barn caught my eye.
I continued on, the fog finally burned off and the heat returned. I hadn’t gone far when I noticed an all-too-familiar sight: The distant profile of a Huey helicopter. The old war bird had been long retired by the looks of her paint but, even in that faded state, she was the focal point of a local war memorial:
The Louisa County Area Vietnam Veterans did a very nice job with their memorial and still do. The grounds were properly cared for and it was a pleasure to spend a little time there. I couldn’t help but remember when I saw those birds almost every day. Maybe, just maybe, I photographed this very UH-1H as it flew up the Song Be in 1970:
Nah, probably not . . . . nice thought, though.
Pushing north, I stopped at one of the bluffs that overlook the Mississippi:
The clouds where starting to get a little darker so I check the zumo 665’s active weather radar and saw what I was riding toward. It looked like quite a storm system about thirty miles away. As I was in non-waterproof ATGATT, I pulled into a small state park to don the rain gear I knew would need in a few minutes. The place was deserted and I could hear a little rumbling to the north. My rain wear of choice is also armored so I removed my padded jeans just as a car rolled in . . . never fails.
The Garmin was right on the money and I had actually enjoyed a nice rain all of the last 50 miles of the day’s ride. I arrived at Mike’s home about 4:15. As you might guess, we caught up on each other’s families and what we’d been doing lately. Mike, his wife, Sandy and I had a great time grilling burgers and having a few cold ones. We were joined at dinner by Mike’s good friend, Dan, who I had met when we had a reunion in Kalamazoo a few years ago.
When dinner was over, I very casually retrieved the cardboard box where I had packed the presentation case and conversation never lagged. When everyone looked at the box, I started my spiel. I reminisced about how we’d met at a Vietnam LZ over 12,000 miles and 42 years ago. Now, we were sitting around his kitchen table sharing a great meal with friends. Finally, I said in my best military voice, “Colonel, attention to orders! For conspicuous exuberance over and beyond the call of duty in our reconnection after all those years, I extend this token of my deepest respect and admiration for the US Army officer you were and the friend you are today. Thank you, buddy.” I handed the case to him and he gave me a look that said, “What have you done?” but not a word was spoken. Almost reluctantly, he fingered the latch open and slowly lifted the top. After a glimpse of the contents, he closed the lid, looked at me as tears welled but never spilled. He opened the box for all to see:
Very quietly, he said, “Many times during my career and after, I wondered if I had done the right thing staying in the Army. This makes it all worthwhile.”
Last Christmas, Mike wrote a letter to me and said this:
"You and I remember spending our 1969 Christmas in Vietnam. It was OK, because we had good friends and buddies, and we somehow made it work. But those days aren't like how we spend Christmas today. We know, and those who were not there, may not. That's OK. There is a saying, "For those who fought for it, freedom has a meaning most will never understand." That's OK too. They may never have a clue, and they don't have to. That's America. That's what we fought for. "This we'll defend."
“I know you have memories, as I, but you and I will know, understand, and feel what we did for our Country. We will always be a band of brothers. We went through difficult time, we did our jobs and we came home to Sandy, Sally, and our kids. We're lucky. God Bless those who did not. Merry Christmas, my friend. I'm proud to have served with you, in combat.” – Mike
I sent my friend this reply:
"I look back on those times now with senses dulled by over forty years. I didn’t realize it at the time but this former soldier now feels as though we were at our best. As you wrote, “We will always be a band of brothers.” That’s a great paraphrase of one of Mr. Shakespeare’s best."
"Over the years, I’ve certainly met and shared time with many former soldiers who were in World War II, Korea, Bosnia, Panama, Grenada, and now Iraq and Afghanistan. Had I never shared the experience of being part of something far bigger than myself, I could never and would never understand. Now I know why men who have been to war share the desire to reconnect. It isn’t to look at old maps and pictures. It isn’t to tell old war stories, laugh or weep. Old soldiers get together because they want to be with the men who once did their best; men who knew the starvation on Guadalcanal, who suffered at the Chosin Resevoir, were under the cone of fire at Con Thien. We were a mixed group individuals thrown together by the Armed Services and the collective fates of nations. Since those days, I doubt we’ve ever trusted others so deeply. Those soldiers guarded something more precious than our lives. They were the keepers of our reputations and, if we fell, they were the guardians of our memories. That was the unspoken pact we shared and, as long as memory serves, I will think of them. I sincerely hope that when I depart this life, my last thoughts will be of my family, friends and brothers-in-arms."
My duty is done and, as in Vietnam, I look forward to getting home.
Thank you all for coming along with me.
mikegc screwed with this post 08-22-2011 at 03:03 AM