Bob’s older brother was Richard. Ronnie’s older brother was Anthony, and Jeff had an older brother named Jimmy.
David and I were the older brothers in our families, so we had to share the above older brothers.
By their cars could you know them. Rick drove a ’57 Chevy, the queen of cars. Jimmy had a tricked out 64 GTO, and Anthony laid claim to a brand new ’65 Chevelle.
We did not know, though we speculated, which car was fastest. What they and the other older boys did on Friday nights was not for our eyes (we were still in elementary school) and they never told us. We were more than content to get rides in those cars, and to be allowed to “help” work on them.
The class of 66 graduated. The war in Southeast Asia raged on, swallowing American youth. The big brothers were not smart enough for scholarships, and not rich enough to afford college. Besides, we had overheard the words “not college material.”
There would be no student deferments. Anthony joined the Navy, Rick was drafted into the Army, and Jimmy joined the Marines.
Years passed. Anthony came home, discharged, with a wife from San Diego and a baby. He went to work for his uncle, the plumber.
Ricky came home. The jolliest of the three in earlier times of innocence, he did not talk to anyone. He grew long hair and a beard, and Bob said he screamed and paced the floor at night. After about a year, he moved out into the mountains east of us.
It was another two years before he began a carpentry business there and married a girl from the commune he was living in. Many of the commune members were fellow vets. By that time, the younger brothers were in high school.
Jimmy never came home. There was a funeral, but no body. I did not know what to say to Jeff, who cried all the time. It was like the time Bob Milliken’s mom got killed in a car wreck — all I could do was stand in the funeral home and feel useless.
Jimmy’s dad, who also cried all the time, made a kind of a shrine out of the GTO — never sold it, never drove it, just kept it in the garage.
Finally when Jeff started college, the car went to him.
Whatever we may think, or know, about Vietnam, each of the three believed he was doing his duty, as previous and succeeding generations of vets have also believed. Thus we come to Memorial Day.
When Bin Laden was killed, I called my dad to ask him if news of Hitler’s demise had been greeted with the same fascination. Somehow, we got onto the topic of flag burning. I remembered that like many others, I had once publicly sworn that, among other freedoms, I would protect your right, or anybody else’s, to freedom of speech — including flag burning or the right to protest at funerals of vets.
Please, for your own sake, just don’t do it in my presence.