This was originally written for the Paducah Sun, in Paducah, Kentucky. I wrote this just after there had been numerous stories about pictures of flag draped coffins coming back from Iraq.
Seeing the images of the flag draped coffins a few weeks ago took me back to the same image I see when I walk past the old army helmet that sets on top of a chintzy ceramic statue of an Eagle in my boy’s bedroom. It’s a helmet I purchased from an estate sale last summer. I display it in my boy’s room to remind them of a young man they’ve known all their life who wore the helmet years ago. They of course never really met him but they know he’s the reason their mom rarely makes it through The National Anthem without tears in her eyes.
Kenneth Pease worked for my dad and mom in the sixties. He was a hired hand on the family farm. He worked summers and after school for my dad until he graduated. I still have a picture of my sister and I with some of the puppies he and my dad found in the woods. Wild dogs have always been a problem back home. Many of the family pets I had while growing up were from litters of puppies rescued from the woods that border the fields along the creek bank. I still remember Kenneth and Daddy laughing while hiding these little black and brown puppies in their shirts.
I’m not sure if they were trying to surprise my sister and I or trying to hide them from my Mom.
I have many memories of Kenneth but none are as strong as the one the day he told us goodbye.
I don’t think I was surprised he was leaving. I knew he had gotten older and had other things he needed to do but the day he told me he was going to be a soldier was the day he became my hero. Not because I really understood what being a soldier during the sixties meant or even where Vietnam was but maybe it was because he seemed so excited and proud to be going.
I remember the day he left as well as I remember the day the phone call came. It was one of those calls that you knew wasn’t good news. Mom answered the phone and after hello she didn’t really say anything else but just started to cry. She bundled up my baby brother, put us in the car and headed to the field. My sister and I didn’t say a word. We didn’t ask what was wrong. Maybe we thought if we didn’t ask everything would be ok. As the car left the gravel road and headed down the dirt road between the fields we knew the news was bad. We never took the car to the field. Dad was on the tractor and I guess he saw us coming. You could see the dust kicking up behind us for miles. He had stopped working and had walked across the field to meet us. I don’t remember much after that
But I do remember the flag draped coffin and the picture of Kenneth in his uniform and how sad and proud I was all at the same time.
In the years after Kenneth’s death I never forgot him. I never really got to know his mom and dad or his brothers. I wish I had told his folks just how much he meant to me before they died.
Because of Kenneth I never meet a Veteran that I don’t thank nor a Vietnam Veteran that I don’t want to hug and say I’m so sorry for what you went through and then ask if the name Pease rings a bell.
It’s amazing how many of those from Vietnam still get a hollow stare when you ask them about the war. If you take a minute to talk with them… it’s not from the war… it’s from coming home.
His death showed me at an early age that the price of freedom is still worth fighting for because he fought for it. It’s not a price paid with cold hard statistics of causalities of war nor is it something that only our ancestors had to face.
It’s not a price paid with lives lost but with lives given by brave men and women.
…Hero’s that will always be represented for me by a giggling farm hand hiding puppies in his shirt and smiling bravely as he told a little girl goodbye because he was going to be a soldier.