An Even Later and Even More Appropriate Post for Memorial Day (Part 1 of 2)
May 29, 2009
On most Wednesday mornings I volunteer with a group of church members who cut and split wood to donate to elderly people and to people in temporary financial distress to use for heat. My closest neighbors in the woods where we live on a large island (on our five acre lots “close” means they live about a quarter mile away from us), members of this Protestant church, invited me to participate in their “wood ministry.”
I usually ride to and from the splitting with him. After each morning of sawing and splitting and hauling and delivering, the volunteers, all male, all church members, and all retired, gather at their church for coffee and snacks. At 65 years of age, I am the “baby” of the group. I am the only member of the volunteers who is not a member of the church.
Last Wednesday, the Friendly Neighbor (as I dub him in my blog) and I walked out to his pickup truck to head home. It was a sunny summer day. He commented on how attractive the few scattered clouds looked against the blue sky. As he is an interesting person of many talents and experiences, I asked, “Did you ever consider being a pilot and flying among those clouds?”
He replied, “Indeed I did. I passed all the physical exams and qualified for the training. However, my father died and I felt a responsibility to take care of my mother. Though it turned out that I could have gone on to fly. It took a while, but after my father died my mother found a job and was able to take care of herself.”
At first I thought he was talking about flying as an avocation, but then he said, “One of my best friends, a person a couple of years older than I and a person I really looked up to, was the first American pilot shot down in the Vietnam War.”
I then realized he had planned to be a pilot for the Air Force in order to fight in Vietnam.
He continued, speaking of his friend, “He was a very talented and capable person. He had been accepted into medical school. However, he really thought of himself as a person who had been given a lot, and he felt an obligation to give back. He felt he would be helping people live free, and not be prisoners under Communist control.”
He then continued, “He was not the only close friend I lost in Vietnam. Another one of my friends was shot and killed as he was getting off a ship to go ashore in Vietnam for the first time.
“In terms of my pilot friend, who had always been listed as missing in action, a few years ago, I just happened to read a local [Puget Sound] newspaper which carried an article about how his body had finally been recovered, long after the war was over. It was just a coincidence to see that article in a local newspaper [as he was not from Puget Sound], but I was very glad I had.
“The loss of those two close friends really brought the war home to me.” [A few days after he told me the story, I was able to find on the web the story about how the pilot’s body was recovered
I listened quietly and respectfully. There was really nothing more for me to say.
[The rest of his story will be provided in my next post.]