It's Memorial Day.
Easthampton, Massachusetts. 1959. The late May air is thick with the smell of flowers and new mown grass. The 12 year old kid that was me is standing at parade rest waiting for an unseen bigler to hit the last, sad note of taps. Taps ends and the silence is punctuated by the metallic sound of rifles of being cocked.
Three legionnaires take aim at the clouds. Pull triggers. Kids in the crowd cover their ears. I want to, but parade rest wouldn't look right with one of the troop's hands stuck to the sides of his head.
The shots are fired. The fat lady's sung. Another small town Memorial Day parade's history...
The uniformed men and boys break ranks, drift slowly away. Rejoin their families. As the crowd disperses, a veil of gunsmoke falls gently onto and around around the granite monument bearing the names of the troops who lost their lives in battles past.
As I walk away from the scene I see an old man. His hand is outstretched. He's touching the chisled letters of a name on the stone.
Back then I didn't grasp the meaning of this. The monument on the library lawn was just another monument. The names were just names.
When I'm up in Easthampton these days, I see that monument in a different light. When I see the names chisled in stone, I think of the names on the chevron shaped Vietnam Memorial in Washington D.C. That monument on which the names of more than 56,000 of my generation are carved.
At the far end of the walkway next to the wall there are directories that guide visitors to the section of the wall on which the name or names they are looking for are located. I visted the wall a few years ago. The name I was looking for was John Rabideau.
John Rabideau and I had gone to high school together. Played on the same varsity soccer team. After high school, he had joined the Army. I joined the Air Force.
Rabideau was killed in action. I didn't know John Rabideau well, but I knew him. He is the only person I knew who was killed in that war.
As I was walking to the area where the directories are located, a strange thing happened. I looked up at the wall and there it was. The name: John Rabideau. My eyes were drawn to the name. I was startled. The directories are there because it would take forever to find one name among the more than 56,000 names chisled into that wall.
Yet I had found it. Or had it found me?
I stopped and looked hard at my reflection in the mirrorlike surface of the wall. Then I reached out and I touched the name.