I was lucky enough to grow up in Phoenix when everyone had carports and very few fenced in their backyards. Without these barriers we became a neighborhood of neighbors. What I mean by that is we actually knew eachother. The kids played together and the adults borrowed a cup of sugar or two eggs or vanilla as part of their open relationships. We also got together for barbeques around holidays, particularly the Fourth of July. One house would be the host and fire up the grill. The rest of the families would bring a “dish” and some beverages to share. We were an intergenerational stew at these gatherings. The adults would gather at one end of the yard while the kids drifted between the food and a place in the yard to continue their games.
During the summer that I was in between the seventh and eighth grades and overly self conscious, I wasn’t sure if I should join the kids or find a place with the adults. So I decided to play the role of observer. From my silent observation post I drank in the expressions, sounds and stories. So it is from this vantage point that I can describe Jimmy.
He was a senior in high school. So for a junior high kid he was an adult. Jimmy was one of those guys who very presence commanded attention. It wasn’t because he was a clown or boisterous. It was because of the ease he had with himself. He felt comfortable with adults and easily entered into conversations. While respectful, it was obvious that he was self-assured and felt free to express his opinions. When he spoke to you, he looked directly into your eyes. He had a gentle laugh, but what really stood out was the way he carried himself. I knew that I was looking at someone who was a natural leader. You also knew that he was motivated by goals he set for himself. There was no indecisiveness in any of his mannerisms. His parents couldn’t conceal the pride and love they had for him. The other adults gave him the ultimate compliment by including him in their conversations and asking his opinion.
After he graduated, Jimmy joined the U.S. Army. The army also noticed his natural leadership abilities. He became a helicopter pilot and a leader of his unit. Having glimpsed the character of this young man, it was no surprise to me to learn that he lost his life in a rescue attempt in the jungles of Viet Nam. I couldn’t imagine that he would ever think of leaving anyone behind.
Whenever I get a chance to travel to Washington, D.C. I visit the Viet Nam Memorial. I find Jimmy’s name and I offer a prayer of thanks for his sacrifice. As I walk away from the memorial, I thank those who fought and died for freedom. Thank you veterans. None of you have died in vain.