In 1968, I bought my first car, a 1956 Chevy, for 75 dollars, from my friend Gary Grubbs, who had been drafted. Gary went up to Fort Ord for Basic, came home and married his girlfriend, Kathy (he had also dated my sister Peggy for a spell in high school), then went up to Fort Lewis for AIT. Then he shipped out for Vietnam.
He was wounded and sent to Japan for some R&R. We exchanged a couple of letters. He told me about the rains and how hard it was to keep his rifle clean. I told him I had a chance to join the Guard, and asked if he thought that was better than waiting to get drafted. He said the Army sucks either way. I didn’t hear from him for a time, then came the news he had stepped on a land mine, and was coming home in a body bag. He was 20 years old.
His picture was in the influential article “One Week’s Dead,” in Life Magazine. The week was May 28 – June 3, 1969. Here’s a link to the article. You can page down and see Gary’s picture. His name is spelled Garey, and his hometown is listed as Denver, but I knew him as Gary and his hometown as Lawndale. He had a great sense of humor, and his smile in the Life photo shows it.
Today is another Memorial Day, 40 plus years since Gary’s last one, and I just finished reading a paper written by one of my students, an Iraq veteran. The description and narration in the paper are clear and concise, the details shiny and telling; the dust and smells and heat and noise seep out of the writing. But there is no sensationalism, no politics or pity, no moral to the story, which tells of a single, isolated event. Every detail shows, every spark of dialog tells. Nothing is wasted; no word is wasted.