Friday, May 23, 2014

To Absent Brothers

His name is Tim. He is my brother. Tim is a First Lieutenant of Infantry and an Army Aviator. At age 26, his hair already flecked with gray, Tim is a bit older than most of his fellows. Tim arrived in our unit in April of 1972 fresh out of Flight School and Cobra transition. He flew his first mission the day before Tan Canh fell. The next day, he would fly over Tan Canh in Bill Reeder's front seat. When his turret weapons wouldn't fire, Bill handed him a camera and told him "Take pictures," and he took pictures. Tim died at Ben Het on 9 May 1972 after thirty days in country. Tim is my brother. He is absent.

His name is Fred and he too is my brother. Fred is a Captain of Armor/CAV. Fred is so CAV he wears spurs and a saber with his dress blues. Fred completed two tours in Vietnam and had seven Purple Hearts before attending flight school and returning to Vietnam as Executive Officer of an Air CAV Troop. Fred was flying Command and Control when he was hit and subsequently perished. Fred is my brother. He is absent.

Dusty and Dex are also my brothers. Dusty's aircraft exploded in flight, the site of its crash undiscovered for nearly forty years. Dex, who now has an airport named after him, perished from burns suffered in a post-crash fire. These too, are my brothers. They too are absent.

I never met Mark. Mark was gone long before I got to the unit, but he is my brother. In later years, his kid sister would seek out men who knew, lived, and flew with Mark to learn how he lived. What she found is documented it in a heartfelt memoir entitled "Dear Mark". Although I never met him, Mark is my brother. He is absent.

Each year, at the closing banquet, the Vietnam Helicopter Pilot's Association sets a table as pictured above for our absent brothers.

The TABLE, set for one, is small, symbolizing the loneliness we feel without them.

The TABLECLOTH is white, symbolizing the purity of their intentions and their willingness to respond to their country’s call to arms.

The single ROSE in the vase reminds us of the families and loved ones of our comrades-in-arms, who kept the faith awaiting their return, and are forever left behind.

The RED RIBBON tied so prominently on the vase is reminiscent of the red ribbon worn by many who bear witness to their unyielding determination to account for every one of our missing.

A SLICE OF LEMON on the bread plate reminds us of their bitter fate.

There is SALT upon the bread plate too, symbolic of the river of tears shed by families and loved ones.

The GLASS is inverted. They cannot toast with us.

The CHAIR is empty. They are not here. Our lives are incomplete because they are not here to sit with us. They were there for us. We are still here for them.

In honoring them, each of them, all of them, we face their table, the table where they should be sitting. We stand silently in their absence.

To the Missing Man. We flew with you and called you comrade; we will never forget you. Though absent, you are our brother.

To absent brothers.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014


I'm a standin' on a corner
Somewhere in Arizona
And such a fright'nin' sight I see.
There's an old man there
With snow white hair
In a window looking back at me.
-- with apologies to the Eagles

There I was, waiting to cross the street in the middle of an Arizona afternoon and I find myself staring back at me from the window on the other side. Coming face to face with yourself is jarring, especially if you're not expecting it, and more especially if the reflection fails to match the image of yourself you hold in your mind.

Talk about cognitive dissonance! 

In the reflection, I see a white haired old timer with a tired expression and sizable paunch rather that the trim, alert and energetic middle aged gentleman I know myself to be. Neither does the reflection match the image of any of the many former selves I carry with me. 

Only my inner eye can discern the skinny seventeen year old farm boy, yet that boy is there.

Only my inner eye sees the proud 21 year old with his new bride, yet that young man is there too. 

All of them are there: the idealistic military officer, the dashing helicopter pilot, the father watching children grow from infants to toddlers, through grade school, preteen, high school, and college years to become responsible productive adult members of society.

The engineering professional is there, as is the proud grand father, and many others.

None of these past selves is evident in the current reflection. All are behind it, each having played an essential part in building the person represented by the image.

The image in the window? Momentarily jarring, ultimately unimportant.

What I do with the image? Thought provoking and totally important.

I can either conform my actions to the image and become as I appear, an old man quietly going to seed. Or I can challenge the image and boldly engage new knowledge and experiences, have adventures, and live above and beyond the expectations of society.

I know my choice.

How about you?

Have you ever come face to face with yourself?

What did you see?

Will you conform your life to your reflection, or boldly live beyond what is reflected?