War is hell...that is what we hear....and that is so true...but, hell is also on the home front. Hell is knocking at the doors of famiies...mothers and fathers, wives and children. Hell is the waiting and the wondering. When there is war...the whole nation is affected.
This story begins in my youth and has been carried with me my entire life. It is a moment in time that has been burned into my brain and branded on my heart.
When I was a young girl growing up, life was much different that it appears today. Life was simpler, friendlier, more family oriented and that included neighbors. Evenings were spent on the front porches. Neighbors conversed over the railings between the houses.
I want to share a story from my past.
Next door to me lived a kind, sweet couple named Joe and Vicky. The had 3 sons and the father worked a hard life in a factory to provide for his family. Their life seemed to be no different than anyone else in the neighborhood, until one day their middle son, Tony got drafted into the service.
Tony was a chubby, round faced young man with deep indented dimples and a smile that could capture anyone's heart. He had a personality that lit up the room even before he entered it. He was sweet and kind and always had a welcoming word to anyone he met. Tony left for boot camp and would send letters home almost on a daily basis.
In the evenings, as we sat on the porches in our rocking chairs...Joe or Vicky would read his letters to us. Tony had dreams just like every young man, but his dreams also included others.
He would send home money for his parents to put in the bank for him. He wrote that someday, when he returned home from war....he already knew that he was going to Vietnam, that he would open up a Gas Station. He was learning mechanics and he would be able to do the work and wrote in his letters that his dad could stop working in the factory and could work with him at the gas station keeping the books. Tony assured his father that his life would be easier and that once he came back from war he would be able to repay all the kind things his parents did for him and help to make life easier. His parents were so proud of this young man. Their faces beamed with pride each time they spoke of him. Time went on and so did the summer. Letters began do dwindle as the war continued. Soon the weather was turning colder and not as many days were spent on the porch.
Then one late afternoon, we heard this screaming coming from what seemed to be outside. We all quickly ran out onto the porch only to find Vicky screaming frantically and she was running down the front stairs. Close behind her was Joe. He finally caught her as she reaching the bottom step screaming...."NO, NO, NO...not my Tony!" Her face was a red as a tomato and tears were streaming down both Vicky and Joe's face. We stood on the porch in horror, not really knowing what to do to help. We just wondered what had happened...had he been injured? As Joe got Vicky up the stairs, he gave us a glance that without words spoken we knew we would soon get the details. Once Vicky was back into the house, he must have gotten her calmed down somehow. Joe the returned to the porch to reveal the earth shattering news. Tony had been killed in a mine in Vietnam. They would be shipping his body back home for burial. In that moment, it seemed like the world stood still....KILLED??? DEAD??? NEVER TO RETURN?? Sweet baby faced Tony? I was stunned. I had never known anyone could get killed. I was a kid...people don't get killed...they just die when they get really old! That was the way it goes, doesn't it?
And if that wasn't the worst of the story...when the body returned home in the casket...his parents had to go to the funeral home and make the arrangements...only the body in the casket wasn't Tony. They accidentally mixed up the caskets...but left Joe and Vicky with hope. Maybe somehow Tony was still alive! We all prayed that their dream would become reality. That their wonderful child would be returned to them, but the reality was that he did go home...to his heavenly father.
I remembered that I never thought that war was so glorious any more. It had taken away one of the sweetest young men I ever had the privledge of knowing. War WAS hell....but hell happened right there in our neck of the woods. It happened to Tony's parents, siblings, family and neighbors. We all grieved over this senseless loss of a man who would have made such a huge difference in this world. After all...his life already had made people happy. All that was left was longing. A longing to see him again. I am sure that when the time came for his parents to go home...Tony was there to see them over.
Years and years have gone by...my thoughts on war are still the same...WHY? My thoughts of what is put on the line is understood....that when a young man...and now women go to war...not only do they stand on the line or go to the front...so do all those who love them.
I have seen his name on the wall of the Vietnam Vets. I go to his grave and salute to the young chubby faced young man that I once knew and loved. I pray that his death be not forgotten. For a future was cut short so that you and I may have ours. I pray that in his last moment, he wasn't alone. That he knew how much he was loved. That today, men and woman around the world give a moment of time in prayer over Tony and all the others that gave their lives so that we have freedom. God Bless you and keep you smiling, your eyes sparkling, and your heart gleaming until we all reunite on some porch somewhere else in peace and harmony.
Dedicated to ANTHONY FIRAK.