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(Play Where Have All The Flowers Gone   --The Kingston Trio (Lyrics) while reading)

Diane Dean--OHS '65 


Where Have All the Flowers Gone

Diane Dean White


We met in high school during summer break, when counseling a group of junior higher kids at a church camp on Lake Michigan. He had ambitions for a career in the field of engineering, and wanted to design cars someday. He was accepted to Lawrence Tech, but not before he received a letter from Uncle Sam inviting him to join a WAR going on in Vietnam.


Basic training took place in Missouri and then he had a brief leave before he reported for duty, going to Saigon. His parents were gone and he lived with his older sister and family. We shared times of laughter and fun with friends. But too soon it was over and I drove him to the airport where he departed to join his battalion in California.


Over the next year while he was fighting a WAR, I was in college having fun with new friends, yet, always managing to get a letter to him, praying all was well. I received many letters that year, they were censored and he never mentioned his location. One was written in the rice patties and he described the area as if it were a lovely picturesque setting. Maybe during that moment it truly was for him, but I knew as an infantryman in the Army he was in the thick of it.


Time went by and I was home from college before his return stateside. I offered to pick him up at the airport. Waiting for his arrival I noticed many young men coming home. Some were maimed and walking with a crutch to support one leg that was good, others wore a sling holding their arm in place. Wives, girl friends, parents and siblings waited patiently as the planes arrived.


Many soldiers flew stand-by and their flight time was unknown. Lovers were united, Mothers cried and hugged their sons, and Dad’s patted their shoulders, proud of their contribution in this WAR. I guess he saw me first; the uniforms all looked the same to me. Very handsome and mature he walked up and gave me a hug. His face seemed to be older, his skin was tan, and when I looked into his eyes I knew he had lived a lifetime in that year.


On the way home we stopped at a little restaurant away from the busy airport and people. He ordered a hearty meal, and I shared about my own life, trying to stay away from talk about the War. He held back, smiling but had quick jerking motions, looking back behind his shoulder. He stood out in his Army uniform, and others glanced at him often.


A man at a table next to us asked him if he had seen action. He responded kindly and to the point, where he had been and for how long. I think the man would have continued, but his wife laid her hand on his arm. We ate in silence and I was glad when he went to pay the bill. I knew he was uncomfortable. To his surprise the owner told him it had been taken care of by the man at the other table. He turned and said, “Thank You, Sir.”


NO. Thank You, Son.” There was an exchange of understanding in their expressions. After the ride back to his sisters we kept in touch, but I was busy working, and then I left to go to college out-of-state. He had made plans to attend a school near home, using the GI bill to help with his tuition. We exchanged few letters, and it was some time over a year later that I saw him. He was happy and working at his studies. We touched on the highlights of our lives, and finally said good-bye.


Time marched on and I was engaged to be married. I sent him an invitation, but he was going with a gal and would be attending a function with her out of town at her parents’ home. I was happy to hear he had met someone special.


Years went by and we lived states away from one another. I was always happy to receive a Christmas card from him, to hear about his life and family. The exchange of notes in cards was our only contact, until one Christmas in the late 90’s, it didn’t look like his signature; it was his wife’s handwriting.


There was also a newspaper clipping with it. She wrote that although he seemed fine for many years after the WAR, in the early 90’s he started having problems, and he went to a hospital in Maryland for testing. Soon he started receiving treatments for Agent Orange. They said there was nothing more they could do, after a couple of years, except to make him comfortable.


He had two grown children when he passed away at a young age. The clipping was his obituary. My mind paused to remember the fun and banter we had and the little restaurant where the man bought our meal, and how proud and nice he looked in his uniform.


There was never any question about his going to WAR, he was glad to do it for his country. It was just hard to believe that after over a year in battle, he had to once again battle another WAR. I mourned for the person who had so many dreams.


I responded with a letter of sympathy and shared some memories with his wife. It was a sad and a cruel thing, but I knew he would have been brave about it, just like he was so many years ago when Uncle Sam had called him to serve in the 60’s. This time he wasn’t at battle any longer, the pain was gone, and it was the Lord who finally called him home. © Diane Dean White 2003

As Seen in the book, Stories from a Soldier’s Heart, compiled by Alice Gray and Chuck Holton.




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