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September, 30th, 1970

The young men in uniform look tired now. Only a few moments ago they were all spit and polish as seven of them simultaneously fired three rounds skyward.

Taps echoes in my head and the shots startle me, I struggle even now not to think of such a report and his body falling endlessly toward the dirt, as it does repeatedly in my dreams.

I am a spectator here, standing outside of myself, watching a Technicolor film.

Two young men in uniform remove the flag from the coffin. They smartly fold it. Their faces betray no emotion as one of them salutes, and the other performs a smart about face, closing the distance between himself and the young widow.

I watch silently as he presents this shroud to her. Taking it to her chest she seems to melt to the ground. The others are shaken and rush to attend her. They lift her from the earth near the open grave and carry her toward the vehicles parked nearby. The young men in uniform look tired now, and mama worries they have not eaten. This is the second funeral they have attended today. The Johnson boy was laid to rest this morning just up the hill. The raw earth of his newly closed grave can be seen clearly from where we stand. Mama asks someone to invite the young soldiers to the church. She worries they are hungry and have a long ride back to base. The officer in charge gratefully accepts and they board their bus to join the procession, back to the Disciples of Christ Church where the ladies have food and comfort waiting for us.

Reaching the familiar surroundings of the church basement I find a corner and make myself small. I have had the ability to make myself small and unnoticeable for several years now. I learned to do this when mama and daddy would fight before my older siblings moved away from home. It was a skill I needed when they would leave me alone with my sisters and I was frightened by their battles. When I was really, really scared I knew that if I made myself small enough no one would notice me and I would be safe. I could become small by pulling all of me inside. I knew that if I pulled hard enough, I became nearly invisible. After awhile I no longer had to paint the picture in my mind of pulling in arms, legs and head, I could feel it happening. Once in awhile someone would see me, startling me into coming out with a word or touch, but lately since the phone call and telegram I don't worry so much about that happening. Mostly I worry that if I open my mouth and let words come out they will get all turned around becoming questions. Questions are not good things anymore. They make everyone around me cry or turn away. The few grown ups who do offer answers always tell me things I don't understand. Not understanding seems to make my mouth Want to allow more questions to come out. I know that this will bring more tears, so mostly now I just stay small and watch.

Someone I don't recognize brings me a paper plate full of food. I think some grown ups must have better eyes than others, because I am still very small. I take the plate though I have no desire to eat. As I push the food around with a plastic fork I watch the room. Mama is at a table with the young soldiers. She has tears in her eyes and all the soldiers look sad. I find myself wondering if any of them have been to Vietnam, if any of them will go there, and if any of them will die there I don't look closely at their faces for fear one day I will see them on the evening news, bloody and bandaged being carried to a waiting helicopter .

Keo R. Gathman
Little Sister of Gordon Kaye Gathman
Panel 7W, Row 77
Vietnam War Memorial

A Sad Day in Bavaria

Dark clouds in the sky… all around me
My heart feels heavy… no wedding to be
Six years ago today… they gave it a chance
Special love developed… but no wedding dance?
Bianca, a German student… Mike, an American soldier
Much sadness today… as he will not hold her
Bianca studies in America… while Mike goes to Iraq
Volunteers for the mission… first day the Shiites attack
He promised he wouldn’t… only seven days to go
If he only knew then… what today we all know
Noble and proud… no fear… had to go
Twenty soldiers ambushed… was he a hero?
Sensitive… strong… positive… was quite the young man
Handsome… virile… loving… living in a foreign land
Intelligent and strong… now back in her homeland
Pretty, proud and secure… awaiting her man’s hand
We all had made plans… for their special life
To be married today…the proud husband and wife
The Shiites were angry… soldiers invaded their land
Liberated they were… guns in their hand
Mike wanted to help… felt sorry for them
Sadr City is a slum… ‘twas no Bethlehem
Why did he go then… we would all ask?
Volunteering that day… for that terrible task
Oh 4 - Oh 4 - Oh 4… that ominous day
Did anyone know then… it would turn out that way?
Maria looked in the cards… no wedding she said
No one knew then… he’d been shot in the head
Killed in Iraq… giving others their life
He was soon under… the autopsy knife
Sadness abound… no wedding to be
Bride-to-be crushed… life without he?
All lives are changed… plans not as they were
Two lives together… now it’s just her
A love so special… so deep and immense
Love is still there… but nothing makes sense
Life without Mike… no one conceived
Life without Mike… still don’t believe
Not in this lifetime… now they’re apart
But special love lives… it exists in the heart

Bill Mitchell
Written while riding on a train to Munich
August 28, 2004
Mike Mitchell and Bianca Liebl’s wedding day

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