Saturday, January 2, 2010

Veteran's Day

I went to see my brother Terry on Veteran's Day and it's always the same. I try to be stoic and just say to myself I can handle it, but on the drive out my memories always turn to what a great guy he was and how I wish he was here so we could grow old together. I wish I had known the wife he never had and I wish my two daughters could have had cousins to play with when they were younger. Although I was two and a half years older he was bigger, faster and stronger than me. Oh yes, he was better looking too. Smarter? Probably me, by a nose.

Growing up and all through our school years we were best buddies. His friends were my friends and my friends were his friends. Our mother always said, "It's good for you boys to get along because you'll always have each other". We could not possibly have dreamed how horribly wrong she would be.

Whenever I would turn out for a sport he would come to all of my games, just itching at his chance to play when he was old enough. Then wouldn't you know it, by the time he was finished playing he would find a way to top whatever I had accomplished. One of the happiest days of my life was when I received a registered letter while stationed at Camp Lejueune, North Carolina. I was about a month shy of shipping out for Vietnam and seriously reconsidering my decision to enlist in the Marine Corps. Upon opening the envelope I found an Income Tax return check for a whopping $125 and a letter from my mother. My heart began to pound as I read her account of Terry's thrilling run in the District 10 Mile Championships. Although a fourth place finisher in the City Championships a week earlier, he felt he could beat the same City runners and the best from the rest of the District.

With a raucous following of his best friends cheering him on, one of whom had already qualified for State in the Mile Relay, Terry charged into the lead at the start of the final lap and fought off all challengers for the next quarter of a mile. After breaking the tape with a ten yard lead his friends, led by our mother, rushed from the stands and mobbed him. As I stood alone in the Base parking lot I shot my fist into the air and shouted with joy.

Two years later three of those friends and Terry had enlisted in the Marine Corps and were in Vietnam. They all made it back alive except Terry.

People gravitated to him. He was a young man with a special aura. I'm not saying that because he was my brother. Ask anyone. Girls liked him because of his good looks and natural charm and guys liked being around him because of the girls, his sense of humor and his easy confidence.

The summer before his sophomore year in high school we were visiting friends in California and while riding a bicycle one night he was hit by a car. Thrown through the air, he landed on his back and skidded into a three-foot gap between a fire hydrant and a telephone pole. When I found him he was in a great deal of pain but joked that he could see he was going to hit the fire hydrant so he maneuvered himself in the air to miss it. He had gashes on his back that required fifty stitches and five cracked vertebrae but he was alive and I thanked God for that. His injuries prevented him from turning out for football but the circumstances led to his successful high school running career and a college scholarship.

Our mother used to say that the way Terry landed was a miracle and the reason it happened was because God was saving him for something important. We all believed it. We used to call it the "Lomen luck". When I got back from Vietnam, sane and in one piece, I knew the "Lomen luck" was real. I could recount a minimum of six events that would have kept me from coming home alive. From comrades in front and behind me being killed, to being pulled into an underground river and almost drowning, to my missing a helicopter flight that was shot down, the "Lomen luck" protected me for twelve months and twenty-one days. The "Lomen luck" ran out for Terry after four months and seven days and it turned out God wasn't saving him for anything. Maybe he had already been called.

Somewhere there is a woman who might be married, has a wonderful husband and a house full of great kids or she might be someone who is happy to be by herself and puts her energy into a career that is extremely successful or maybe she is just getting by and has taken a lot of lumps from life. Whoever she is, every once in a while she is going to remember something that happened to her when she was very little. She might remember it because it is indelibly imprinted in her mind or maybe she remembers it because she still has a clipping from the Seattle Times or the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. At a quiet time the memory might be triggered by some unknown reason and she will drift back to a time when little girls played with dolls and dreamed of white knights from children's stories read to them by their parents or maybe as she watches her children splashing in Lake Washington on a sunny summer day or maybe she opens a special box and brings out that faded newspaper clipping and reads about a boy who pulled her from the water after she had foolishly waded out too far and stepped into a drop-off. At that moment she will wonder who that boy named Terry was, what he looked like and how his life turned out. She will nudge the memory and fantasize she knows Terry and that he will always be there to talk to and protect her. Then she will snap back into reality and go on with her life.

It is probably better that she doesn't know what happened to that boy because it would spoil the fairy tale.

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