"Soldier of the First Division"
Kasimir Malevich, Hungary
For a long time I have been wanting to go to the Wall in Washington, D.C. The Vietnam Memorial Wall. I have a couple of old friends whose names are there and I just want to see them one time.
Today I am cruising
around on the Net visiting some Vietnam sites when I run across a link
to "The Wall On The Web":
I click on it. I find a complete information database on all the names on the Wall, including how, when, and where each one died. I can look in the alpha index or I can use the search feature. Can it be? Can I finally, after all these years of wondering, learn something about Roland?
Roland became my boyfriend the summer of my fourteenth year. He was a city boy spending the long school break with his country cousins. As luck would have it, the country cousins just happened to live right down the road from me. Roland and I met in church the first Sunday he was there and I was never more faithful to the Lord than I was that summer.
My mama didn't particularly like the fact that he was an old man of 17 and a city slicker, to boot, but he came from a God-fearing family so she let those things slide. He had perfect manners, the kind that mothers love, and for once I had a guy who was totally cool and met with my parents' approval, too.That did not happen often.
Come September he left to go back to Houston for his senior year of high school. We stayed in touch. He drove the hundred miles to see me once or twice a month. Every now and then my family would make a trip to Houston and I would call him and we'd go out. Then he went away to college and I didn't hear from him again. I started dating other guys, none of whom ever quite measured up to Roland in my mother's estimation. Or mine, either, come to think of it. Time marched on and I tried to stay in step. Then one day I heard through the grapevine that Roland had been killed in Vietnam.
I click on the index for "R". I scroll through page after page of surnames until I come to "Ray." Oh my gosh, here he is! Ray, Roland Wooldriedge. Date of birth, hometown, branch of service, rank, serial number, it's all here. Pay grade, MOS, component. He was part of a reserve unit, it says. A Second Lieutenant. Started his tour of duty on Thursday, 1 December 1966. Killed in action on Monday, 27 February 1967. Age at time of loss: 22. A ground casualty from small arms fire in the Long An province of South Vietnam. And here are the panel and row numbers where I can find him on the Wall.
I wonder how many boys from my hometown died in Vietnam? I could have missed hearing about their deaths because I moved to Houston so shortly after graduation. I go to the search feature and plug in "Madisonville, Texas." The search engine grinds and produces one name: Mosley, Irvin William. Yeah, he's the only one I knew about. He was even younger than Roland when he died. He was twenty.
I think about Irvin, about sitting next to him in Mrs. Thompson's English class, wondering about the strange young man no one really knew. He was a loner, didn't fit in with any crowd and didn't seem to want to. It is almost inconceivable to relive those days in my mind and realize the enormity of what I did not know then. To think about how short a time he had left on this Earth and how we were all so oblivious to that fact. He died in Thua Thien after being in country less than one month.
At home I pull out my old yearbooks and start looking for Irvin. I can see him in my mind's eye: olive complexion, black hair, a few long strands always hanging down on his forehead. But he is nowhere to be found. I look through every book, all four years, and he is not pictured. Well, I know I didn't dream him. I know he existed, I remember him. I can see him plainly. The fact that he is missing from the yearbooks just blows my mind.
I have no picture of Roland, either, other than the one in my heart. I reckon that will have to do.
Youngblood Brasket is a storyteller who
shares her home, with cats Harmony and Bandon, a rabbit, a field mouse
and various creatures of the forest on the Texas Gulf Coast. Her varied
background includes freelance work in petrochem, the oil patch, trucking,
and construction. Youngblood has also tried her hand as a rigger helper,
ironworker, demolition technician, roadie for a Rhythm & Blues band,
and as a member of the aerospace industry, where she still works today.
She is a regular contributor to the Song & Story Section of Moondance.
Email Youngblood Brasket Web page:
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