Thursday, October 02, 2008

Honor of Mike

Honor of Mike

Glazier, Glover, Gouvan. Ever since Jr. High school, we sat in that alphabetical order, either beside each other or in line like that, depending on how the teachers laid it out. Ignored by most of our teachers, we fulfilled their low expectations and lived up to our own, pulling Cs and Ds.

Glazier, a semi-midget with a build like a chimpanzee, distinguished himself as a likable athlete and son of one of our assistant coaches who directed his boy into baseball as a catcher, football as a linebacker, and wrestling.

I was a class clown, sit down, stand up, lunch line comic, least effort grades, working as a fountain jerk at a hamburger joint, and coming in off the bench when Pretorious got in foul trouble.

Gouvan was invisible. He didn’t play sports or stand out in any way. Like Glazier and Glover, he was from the east end of town, the poorer side. He was, in the grim, cruel estimation of a high school mind, a non-entity, with a vacancy beside his picture in the yearbook. When he received his degree in cap and gown, it was almost anonymously. Did anyone know Mike? After high school, there was only one place for him to go. Vietnam.

I didn’t know he’d gone to the ‘Nam, having lost touch with many classmates after the cohesion of small town high school identification lost its hold. It wasn’t until my tour was over that I even knew he was there.

One day in an enormous open-air pavilion at Bien Hua air base, two days before coming home, I passed a platoon of soldiers sitting in a cluster on the concrete floor with their weapons and gear, out-processing.

We were all going home. It was euphoria at having lived through that nightmare, and dread of going home, and how to act once we got there. We had plans.

We had plans, we all had plans of what we’d do if we lived through the war. It was horrible, the war. Coming home, terrifying.

Sitting cross-legged there at the head of that group of men was Sergeant Gouvan. I walked by and did a double-take. “Mike?” I said, staring, not sure that was the same person who had sat beside, behind, and in front of me since kindergarten.

He stared back and looked hard. “Vic?” he asked. “Is that you?”

Mike had earned himself some sergeant’s stripes, E-5 in the ‘Nam, a survivor, now a leader of men. Yeah, Mike, a leader of men.

As a grunt, he no doubt paid a price for his promotions, doing something heroic and extraordinary, I like to think. The experience had bleached his jungle fatigues white, and had carved itself into his face, the sorrow barely hidden in his eyes. He looked ‘hard core’.

Glazier went to the Nam, too. Came back whole physically, but drank some till he died a year or so ago. That’s an understatement. He was horrified by his experience, emotionally deranged, and drank himself to death.

Mike and I spent just a few moments together that day, talking about our tours. He’d been up north, out in the bush, the boonies. Say no more. I’d been up north, too, flying medevac. Say no more. We said we’d get together for a beer, back in the States.

We never had that beer, and Mike has never attended a class reunion.

- end