Wednesday, November 11, 2009

No More



He never knew that he was a veteran.  All he knew was that he'd traded in his life tinkering with an education, a girlfriend, and wondering about a future for an army uniform.  No Germany, no Korea, no local military base; Vietnam, just Vietnam.  It was 1968, we were down to one Kennedy, no more Dr. King, escalating death tolls, and hundreds of thousands in the street.  All he really wanted was to get away.  Tie up that relationship that would have never worked, get a chance to smoke and drink without being hassled, maybe learn a trade, and consider himself a man.  
He wrote me a number of letters.  Particularly ironic for a guy that didn't really like to write.  He'd begun to harden; became less tolerant of those around him.  Hate began to leak through his beaming smile.  At home, the music was unifying our movement.  The opportunities to express our disgust and anger grew more frequent.  Yet, we never forgot about him.  We never judged him.  He was still our classmate, our friend, our forever funny iconoclast.  We all knew our plans for anything would be put on hold.  But we never thought there would be no more dances where he'd chose the sexiest girl and dance to Louie Louie.  We never thought there would be no more trips in his '59 Ford Fairlane convertible to Santa Monica or Sorrento beach.
No more cruising Bob's Big Boy, no more double dates or top 40 countdowns.  
Somehow I lost his letters, but he lost his life.
The obituary said he died in a place called Happy Valley.  Just another 21 year old frozen in time by the war in Vietnam.  Some years later I made a pilgrimage to the wall in Washington D.C. to find his name.  William Garcia was near the highest point of the wall.  The park ranger that works at the memorial offered me a ladder to climb up and make a rubbing of his name.  While I was doing that, cameras flashed.  Bill would have loved that; I could see his wide grin.  All I wanted was a moment alone...he wouldn't allow that.  
As we all watch our dark brown or black hair turn salty, Bill is perpetually blonde in my mind.  His Spanish blue eyes  never represented his Mexican mother.  He'll always be 21 in my mind.  That's all I have to hold on to.  
When I think about him on this Veteran's Day, I think about all the others too.  The people, men and women, who really believed they were serving their country.  Really thought it was worth their lives at 21 to insure that our country and culture was protected and defended.  It's a good thing that they weren't around to see what's  become of Vietnam.  To see how all those supposed promises and threats, those claims and warnings were untrue.  Vietnam today for the next generation is a name on a clothing tag they pick up in The Gap.  It's the label in Ikea where a rug was made.  The children of Garcia's generation are investing in Vietnam.  It's just about as much a capitalist democracy as we are.  They wouldn't want to know that.  

Vietnam Veterans Memorial

Panel 12 East

ROW 1 DAVID GREGORY¨WALTER JOSEPH JANKOWSKI¨MICHAEL WALTER KOLEMAINEN¨PHILLIP DALE JOSLEN¨HARRY WILLIAM JUNTILLA¨

ROW 2 DANIEL JOHN ILLI¨TED T LOCKLAR¨ELEFTHERIOS PANTEL PAPPAS¨LEROY BURKS Jr¨RONALD A VAN SESSEN¨

ROW 3 LAWRENCE R COSTELLO¨CHARLES CHAPMAN CLARK¨MARION LEON DRAPER¨RICHARD JOHN EDRIS¨CHARLES N CARSON Jr¨

ROW 4 RONALD ALBERT FROMM¨DAVID LEE HALL¨DAYTON LEO HARE Jr WILLIAM GARCIA¨ANDREW HERMAN HODGE¨

ROW 5 JOHN ERNEST JOHNSON¨JAMES LEE HOLCOMB¨ROBERT IRVIN JOHNSON¨TIMOTHY HOLSTER¨EDWARD PAUL AUSTIN¨

ROW 6 JUDD WAYNE KENNEDY¨JOSEPH PAUL MACHALICA¨DONALD KAY LAKEY¨JOHN FRANCIS KNOPF¨JOSHUA THOMAS JONES¨

ROW 7 DANIEL TIOFILIO MARTINEZ¨WILLIAM G MENDENHALL¨ALLAN ARLYN MILK¨MICHAEL LAVERNE PUGH¨THOMAS MICHAEL MOORE¨

ROW 8 GARY LYNN SUBLETTE¨MICHAEL HOWARD STOFLET¨ROBERT LE ROY SHUCK¨JOSE ANGEL VAZQUEZ¨KLAUS WARRELMANN¨

ROW 9 BILLIE ALVIN ALLEN¨CHARLES EDWARD BROWN Jr¨RANDY BLAKE WRIGHT¨GEORGE ROBERT WEAVER Jr+JERRY PAUL WITT¨ 


If I'm ever at the wall again, I'll climb to the highest point and find the name WILLIAM GARCIA, lean over and tell him.  It'll make me feel better, but it won't stop the tears.

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