blàr anam [47]

“Dear Howard, On Wednesday we buried our son. Yesterday we had your card and thoughtful words. These are very sad, and yet proud, days. To know that there were tears and sympathy far away in Masonville helped. Someday when my heart is not so full I will write and tell you more. We have both known for a long time what KIA means – or thought we knew. Now my wife and I really understand those three horrible letters. A family in its grief wants to shut the door and pull the curtains and hoard its sorrow. But, this is not possible. As a casualty of the ‘war’ we had to share Dave with the whole community. It’s stretching the point a little, but someone came and said to us, ‘The whole town is weeping’. A death in the family is always sad – but this is real heartbreak. My dear buddy – may you never have to sit and gaze at a flag-draped casket. For years I’ve tried to teach my Boy Scouts about good character, good citizenship, etc., the oath of the Scouts ‘to do my best to do my duty to God and country’. On Wednesday our son taught them what it is all about in a way I never could. I searched the sad faces of the young scouts of Dave’s old troop – lined up stiff and neat at salute as an Honor Guard outside the church. The message was coming across to them. Beside us – through it all – was a young girl who, God willing, would have been the mother of our grandchildren. Her noble bravery was an inspiration to us all. She remained with us through it all, living here with us, and is still here at our side. She was able, thank God, to slip on his finger the wedding ring she had waiting for him. His last letter came to us the day after he was buried. It was the longest I’d ever had from him. It had a firm promise to return to us. It spoke of grim battle. We also had two letters from buddies in his outfit who’ve made it (so far). His outfit took a beating that day. I’m sure Dave would have a wry appreciation of his funeral – strictly GI. The busload of soldiers from Fort Leonard Wood who came to conduct the funeral was – of course – late. The fine young lieutenant who commanded the whole show was so very young – and it was his first assignment of funeral detail. His hands trembled and tears got in his eyes – but he did a real GI job. The old regular that came to tell us the news was a hard case, an older man, a career man and loaded with ribbons – he’d obviously been there and back several times but – he couldn’t say what he came to say – we almost finished up comforting him. I saw a rare sight (and I bet you never saw it) – a master sergeant with tears in his eyes. And so we’ve come through this experience so far. Perhaps we can talk more later. Let me say that we are so glad that our families did not share a twin tragedy when your oldest came so close to death on the highway. Please write again. At a time like this, one reaches out to old buddies and is comforted in a special way that few understand. Your buddy, Art”
–Arthur Freeman, letter to Howard Holden: 25 September 1970

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