He left in February and by early June, he was dead. June 10, 1965, to be exact. Sometime after midnight Vietnam time, but it seemed to be earlier the next day in Clear Creek when a knock came to the front door of the house out in the country. It wasn’t the Army; it was his pregnant wife who I saw from my hiding place behind my Mother’s yellow sundress. I never saw my brother’s wife cry before, but as she stood framed in the doorway with the bright light of summer behind her, she sobbed.
It was all so confusing for an eight-year old to witness such a thing. Scary too. It was the first time I ever heard such mournful wailing, and when she passed a telegram to my mother it increased two-fold. The telegram stated my brother; a Green Beret was missing in action.
What’s that mean, Mom? Is he lost? You know, he was just here a few months ago. He came upstairs Mom, and sat on the edge of each of our beds taking turns telling us to be good kids and to listen to you and Dad. Where’s Vietnam, Mom? I thought he was in North Carolina, Mom. Remember for my class project, I chose North Carolina to write to their tourism bureau to find out about their state? Mom? I can only think these words; there is too much commotion now.
The night brings a lot of visitors. I climb up on a chair and watch the television. My Dad watches it too, I like Chiller Theater, but Dad keeps trying to find the news. In this part of Pennsylvania, two stations are the only choices, and I never saw my Dad change the channels back and forth so much. I got to stay up late, and even when I was getting fidgety, they didn’t yell at me. My Mom’s eyes sure look red. Dad’s face looks blank, and empty. There are six other kids in the house, but I don't know where they are, they are so quiet. Things are never quiet around here.
When the last visitor leaves, and the television signs off to nothing, but crackling white specks on blackness, I go upstairs to bed. I can hear my parents in muffled serious voices, but can make out very little. They rarely talk in such quiet tones. So, I lay on my back with my hands folded behind my head and stare up toward the black ceiling. Missing. Action. Vietnam. What does it all mean anyway?
Around here, my brother knew these woods like nobody did, I thought. He probably was camping, or hiding from the other guys. He did that a lot of times with us kids. He was good at it. I wished I could walk as quiet as he did. You couldn’t hear his boots in the leaves. He’d jump out and scare his buddies for sure. That’s what he did to us, and we’d all let out a startled squeal, and take off running back to the safety of the big yard, or house. But none of us could come close to outrunning him. I doubt anyone could catch him over there either. He’d just run and run, and if he had too, he’d climb right up in a tree too. He wasn’t afraid of being in any tall trees; he’d go right to the top. He even jumped out of planes. I don’t like being up high.
The covers feel soft, and I pull them over my eyes to make my darkness, even darker. I fall asleep wondering if it is as black there in that place called Vietnam, and if they have katydids. I knew they had monkeys, because awhile back he sent home a picture of him with two of them clutching onto him. He even wrote on the back that they looked like the twins when we were little. Mom laughed, see, I have a twin sister. Good night.
Morning light through the window sure can make a blanket hot. I kick them off, and notice all four beds in the room are empty. I walk on my knees on the soft bed and position myself at the window. It provides a wide view of the front yard and the black road below me, and in front of the place. There are cars parked all along the road outside the house and people milling around, many with their heads bowed down as if they are looking for something in the green grass. A dark olive colored car with a star on the side of it turns around in the middle of the road and I squint from my perch and watch it leave.
We rarely have this much company. That looks like Uncle Paul down there. Hey, there’s my older sister and her husband, they live far away, and we don’t get to see them much at all. Why are all these people hugging Mom like that? I know, I know, I bet the Army guys brought my brother home.
In memory of Charles Owen Jenkins Jr, who died in Vietnam at the age of 24.
For more of Ronnie Ray Jenkins, visit http://blog.ronnierayjenkins.com/
or read his novels, here: http://www.amazon.com/Ronnie-Ray-Jenkins/e/B004PJL2OK/