He joined the Army in the fall of 1967.
It was a dangerous time to be male, aged 19-21, unmarried, and not enrolled in college. Families dreaded the daily delivery of correspondence, knowing it was a matter of time before the summons would come with the news that their sons had to report for duty. There was little they could do to keep them safe from the draft.
Very few of them hurried to get married just to gain a reprieve; others were not interested or could not afford college. Living in Texas, it was ridiculous to consider making a run for Canada.
He had no immediate plans for the future, but he was nineteen and very few boys that age know what they want to do with their lives. The Army promised him a career, he said, and if he waited to be drafted he would not be given a choice. He didn’t want to go Air Force or Marines.
He came home at Christmas before leaving for Vietnam. He promised us all he would be back in one year; he would be fine.
He died four months later. It was early May. My mother returned my dress, a pink organza gown with an empire waist and puffy sleeves, and bought me a black dress instead. I don’t even remember the boy who was to be my date for the senior prom.
We waited almost three weeks for the return of his body, and his mom buried him in the family plot and not the national cemetery.
Many more young men died over the next few years. Their names are inscribed on plaques all throughout the city and their names are read on Memorial Day. We thank them for their service. We thank them for their sacrifice. Most of their parents are gone, so others bring the flowers and others tell their stories.
But I was there forty-five years ago.
He had just turned twenty. He was funny, smart, and cute. Everyone liked him and he liked everyone. The morning he died, he awakened to gunfire. The soldiers on guard duty had fallen asleep and the enemy was storming their campsite. He grabbed his rifle and came out of his tent shooting, but he was fatally wounded, taking gunfire to the stomach and more to his face. He died in a fellow soldier’s arms while waiting to be evacuated by helicopter.
Thanking soldiers for their sacrifice will never seem enough.