It’s now some thirty-eight years since you were killed in Vietnam. And yet, in reading my journal of the war, I can go back to the time I knew you, as if it were only yesterday. I can see you clearly and hear your voice and hear your outcry as you fell.
Your tour was short – a month or two – but very busy. You were a machine gunner and there was combat most every day. You heard the call, “Get the gun up here!” many times, responding with the brisk alacrity of a good soldier.
I should not say we were friends. You were killed before a deep friendship could have developed between us. But I am certain that we would have been the best of friends. For some reason, with boyish good humor, you singled me out for friendship, and I was just beginning to respond to the offer.
Unhappy people stumble through life, unsure at every turn. But happy people march from event to event – graduation, marriage, children, retirement – with cheerful certainty. In your happiness, Bill, you graced the world with your company. Till you died of old age, you would have showered the world about you with cheerfulness. Even I was catching your spirit.
What a fine son you must have been! What a loving fiancé! What a father you would have been! What a credit all-around at every stop in your passage through life!
I have learned by now that one does not live one’s life for oneself alone. Others have a stake in our lives, too. Since we want them to be around for us, we must go on for them. But only now have I learned that we do not die for ourselves alone, either. Others partake of our deaths, too. When we die, something dies in others. And when they die, something dies in us.
How far we reach out in our lives astonishes me. Here I am, Bill, just an old Army buddy, and not even so close to you when you lived, and still you resound within me, even all these years after you died in the war.
I can still see the great smile and hear the bright call, “Hey, Pat…”