Memorium to Joey

Most of the Vietnam War is a blur in my mind. I wasn’t born when it started and it was wrapping up by the time I was in second grade. But one day stands out clearly, in Kindergarten, we were making drawings with flowers, learning the seasons. Spring was probably not far off, but all I remember was a cold, bleak day with crunchy snowy remnants lining the icy gutters and sidewalks under a sky of slate. The assistant teacher suddenly piped up and said “Hey Joey, come with me for a minute, I’m going to read you a story.” Even at age five I got a really weird vibe, story time was already over …

As soon as Joey left the room, the head teacher gathered us around and explained his dad was wounded in a place called Vietnam. The doctors did everything they could, she said, but the wounds were just too serious and he died anyay. Joey’s mom was coming to pick him up and tell him. “Joey may be gone for a few days,” she finished. “But when he comes back we’re all going to have to be extra nice to Joey because he will be real sad. OK?”

“OK” we all nodded in unison. I remember it all as clear as day. The smell of rubber galashes lined up near the door, next to brightly colored name boxes with jackets and gloves, the electric nip of winter sliding over it all. I remember the somber and serious tone of the teacher; what a sad, shitty duty for her to have to carry out! But I don’t recall what happened to Joey, I don’t even remember his real name: Joey is just a poignant placeholder. I can see the little boy himself in my mind’s eye, right down to the brown pants and white sweater he wore that day. But I can’t remember anything else about him before or after.

I always wondered, later on, how Joey did. He’s my age, so somewhere, out there, he’s probably still alive, maybe his mom is too. Maybe he had brothers and sisters. I hope they did well.  But however they did, they paid a dear, dear price that most of us will never understand.

On Memorial Day its customary to honor the fallen. But each of them left an imprint in the living. And sometimes we have no choice but to think about that, too. All we can say is sorry, kid, it must have been tough.



  1. Francisco Bacopa says

    Best Memorial Day post I’ve read today, and I’ve come across quite a few.

  2. blindrobin says

    Good, interesting post and a very different perspective to mine.
    My brother, who spent a good chunk of the war on an aircraft carrier in the Gulf of Tonkin, and my sister-in-law and I spent the afternoon talking about friends and relatives that died or were damaged in Viet Nam (it’s a significant number), and our various connections to the war. A lot of mine oddly beginning after the war through interactions with Vietnamese immigrants and my x-wife’s family (my father-in-law held a post in the US Embassy in Saigon during the last years of the war). Most Memorial days we just kind of mention it and let it pass but I guess we’re getting older.

  3. rtmillic says

    Very powerful post. Thank you for sharing.

    I vaguely remember the first gulf war growing up. I was 6 or 7 when it was raging. I remember my dad and I used to pray every night back when we were still churchgoers. At the end of the lord’s prayer, we would pray for the “troops and hostages in the middle east.” I didn’t know what a hostage was at the time. My second grade self got so tired of repeating this ritual that I would think “poops and sausages” and it was all I could do to keep from laughing.

    I do remember asking my father which side was the “bad guys,” because my understanding of conflict came from watching TV shows like the Ninja Turtles. He said that both sides thought they were the good guys, and it totally blew my developing mind. That bit of wisdom would in time lead me to be very antiwar and anti-religion.

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