Sunday, August 30, 2015

Time Machine

I once wrote a local column for the Sun-Sentinel.
Then the Chicago Tribune decided otherwise.
This was one of my columns back in the day.
From October 26, 1983
      It was October and the rolling Ohio farmland was ablaze with the golden breath of Indian summer as I drove south from Akron.
      A reporter for the Akron Beacon Journal, I'd been assigned to cover the funeral of a 20-year-old Marine who been sent home in a box from some place in Southeast Asia.
     It was 1966 and still news when they shipped a dead Marine home from Vietnam.
     "Ought to be a decent human interest story in it," my editor had said. "Kid's just a couple of years out of high school and there's only a few hundred people living in this cross road farm town he comes from. Should be real touching."
     The services were scheduled for 2:30 at the Congregational Church the funeral director had told me over the phone.
    "You can't miss it," he said. "It's the only church in town."
    It was that kind of town: the unusual Sohio  gas station; a tired IGA general store; a tiny, maple-ringed park with its stained granite Civil War monument; a Grange Hall, and a freshly painted church.
    The church was already filled by the time I arrived, lean men with weathered faces, their wives gone heavy from child-bearing, the youngsters wide-eyed and frightened, everyone trying to figure out why the boy had come home in a box and what it meant for this kid to die on the other side of the world.
    Flag-draped and stiffly flanked by four boy-faced Marines and their sergeant, the coffin rested next to the plain wooden alter in the front of the church.
    The minister had trouble with the name of the place where the boy had died.
     "Vet-nam" he called it.
      They buried the boy behind the clap-board church, his freshly-dug grave surrounded by moss-covered tombstones and rusting metal markers for long-dead veterans of Gettysburg, Verdun and other battlefields.
      I was a stranger -- very much apart from the bond of grief that had brought this crossroad community together.
       But the father thanked me for driving down Interstate 77 to write about his son.
       "He was proud to be a Marine and proud to serve his country," the father said, a big man with stooped shoulders and calloused hands, his sun-wrinkled eyes red-rimmed from weeping.
        "How did your son die?" I asked.
        "He got hit in some battled," he said tiredly. "Dang something-or-other, I think it was. One of them Chinese-sounding names they have over there."
         The first time he'd heard of Vietnam was when they sent his son over there, and then he had to look it up on a map, he told me.
         "It's not that I'm stupid," he said.  "I mean, I try to keep with the news and all. But I just never had no reason to know about this Vietnam until they sent my boy over there to fight the Communists
         "But  he was proud to go," the father added quickly, straightening his back. "He was that kind of boy and we're all proud of him now for what he done."
          I left a short time later -- heavy with feeling for this family that had lost a son in a land that had no meaning.
   It's been thirty-some years 
since I wrote that.
 And nearly that long since Chicago
 decided my voice didn't fit 
the Sun-Sentinel's demographics.

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