It is a hot, sticky, humid night and the date is June 12, nineteen sixty-three. Graduation has finally arrived and we stand sweating in out caps and gowns, waiting to hear the first strains of "Pomp and Circumstance." On cue, we begin to march towards toward the auditorium in our rites of passage. We finally reach the stage and we take our assigned seats. When all thirty-three of us are finally seated, we look out over the crowd to see who has come to see us off and who hasn't.
We sneak looks at each other with quick, sidelong glances and we look about the auditorium and it's as though we are seeing it for the very first time. Funny, now that we are standing so close to leaving, the gymnasium seems so much smaller than it did just yesterday.
War is raging in Vietnam and as I look around at my classmates, a thought slid behind my eyes and I closed them in an effort to rid myself of it. How many of my classmates would be called to defend our "honor" in Vietnam? How many had the stench of death upon them right now? To die in a in a third world country, in a vainglorious battle, that no one would remember for ten minutes, let alone ten years. To be buried in a Washington cemetery and have your name chiseled on a hotly contested slab of granite that no one you knew would ever read. Was that the greater part of valor?
At the beginning of our junior year, we felt like a class already doomed. Because our high school was only about thirty-five miles away from Loring Air Force Base in Limestone, Maine, we were certain that if a war was declared, the first strike would occur at Loring and we would all be annihilated because it was common knowledge that nuclear weapons were being stored there. Just a few months ago, we had spent one whole day in our home room sitting under our desks waiting to see what was going to happen with the Cuban Missile Crisis. Our President, John Kennedy had just announced that if Khrushchev didn't back down, then we were going to have to invade Cuba. And now, here we were, embroiled in a non-winnable war in Vietnam. It seemed that in one way or another, our president was determined to have us fight a war in his honor, somewhere in the world.
Names were called, honors were given to the chosen few, the diplomas summarily handed out and we were on our way, our way to what? To die in a battle eight thousand miles away? To find a career, to marry? We knew not what the world held in store for any or all of us. As Steinbeck said, "The best laid plans of mice and men..."
Finally, it was over and we stood in the receiving line to shake hands with all those who chose to come forward and seek us out. My father, dressed in the one and only suit he had ever owned in his life, came to shake my hand. He had already been down this road three times before and still had four more to go. This graduation thing was nothing new to him. We shook hands with people we knew and total strangers, people we liked and people we didn't. One and all the same. Some wished us well and some secretly didn't. It mattered not.
Finally, it was over and we removed our caps and gowns, folded them and laid them on our chairs and then we turned to look at each other. What now, were our unspoken thoughts? After twelve years of being together, how do we say goodbye? We all knew each other like brothers and sisters and then, we really didn't know each other at all. It was decided by a few to drive out to Haystack Mountain and climb that little anthill and just be for a while. We didn't think about getting drunk, or stoned or laid. It just wasn't in our minds. For the first time in our lives, we were innocents and our minds were totally blank.
We climbed to the very top of Haystack and there were twelve or so of us assembled there. The guys smoked and the rest of us milled about asking each other what we were going to do next. We didn't know. Some of the class, whose parents were financially able, was going away to school in the fall. The rest of the class, the majority, didn't have a clue. But it really didn't matter anyway, because Life takes you where it wants and you simply have no control one way or the other. It doesn't mean that it's bad, that's just the way Life is. Two of my three brothers went to Vietnam and both came home again. Not the same way they had left but at least they came home again. The brother who stayed home due to a heart defect, died at age thirty-five. Go figure!
(Martha Stevens-David - 1996)
Autobiography of a Simple Soul
Memories, Another Place - Another Time
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