Two days ago, I was able to honor the memory of an old friend, Barry Logan, who served three tours of duty in Vietnam. He was nearly a generation older, in his mid-thirties, when I first met him in college.
He regaled us with many stories of his time in Vietnam, some harrowing, some hilarious, but always with a pride in having served. Barry served as the president of our student professional communications organization, Alpha Epsilon Rho. He was the same age as several of our professors and he could pivot between us and them. He often wore a suit. In the end, he was always our ringleader, from organizing meetings and hosting regional conferences, to piling us in his car and supplying rides and making sure the beer pitchers at our table never went empty.
In the immediate years after school, we stayed in touch pretty well. Barry came to my wedding. Then, as life got busier, we talked less frequently. Christmas cards every year, then every other year. Then a longer lapse. Last year, I wanted to touch base again — our last call had been in 20007 — and I put out the word among our mutual college friends. It was our friend and classmate Brenda Irwin who hunted down some information and shared the bad news with me.
Barry’s obituary. He had died just weeks before.
He’d been sick and in a VA assisted living facility for a few years. We were sad to learn that we missed rich opportunities to see him just when he was in a spot in life where a visit might have meant the world.
The only thing I could do was a write a letter of those fond memories to Barry’s siblings.
Barry gave his youth to serve his country. In death, he gave his body to scientific research. About a year after his death, just days ago, his family held a memorial picnic and buried his remains with full military honors.
Barry’s brother, Tom, also a veteran, found my phone number on the letter I wrote and invited me to this even. I attended and shared more of the stories I would have shared with Barry himself had I stayed in touch better. Barry’s family received me and his stories happily.
France, 1944: My father, Raymond Morelli, in the center.
My father served in World War II with great pride. On every Memorial Day of my childhood a parade was held. The simple parade includes a few small floats, the school’s marching band and then the military veterans marched, in order of era served. When I was a small child, the World War I veterans came first. Then the biggest group, the World War II veterans, followed by veterans of Korea and Vietnam.
While he was very patriotic and extremely proud of his service in the battlefields of Europe, my dad never walked in those parades. I’m not sure why, but I think it’s simply because he was quiet and preferred to be in the background. He’d observe, “You can always tell the Vietnam vets,” and he’d point out their ponytails and untucked shirts. But it was just an observation about changes in generations. He respected their service. They had war in common.
My father told us many stories of his service, too — mostly affectionate portraits of his brothers in arms. I met a few when I joined him during one of the annual reunions of the 4th Armored Division, which served under the command of General Patton. My father passed away in 2001. He requested that the insignia for the 4th Armored Division be engraved on his headstone.
The stories he told about his buddies who died in action were always softer, punctuated by a soft phrase such as, “And he never made it home…”
One of my dad’s most realistic war stories was just a sentence long. He never really liked fireworks displays like you see on the 4th of July. “I saw enough of that in Belgium,” he said.
The reality of war was something I could count on from Barry and my father. They were kind men who both knew the horrors of explosions, chaos, and the cruelty of death and injury from wars. They were both skeptical of jingoism — which squanders precious blood and resources and is false patriotism masquerading as the real thing.
I honor not just their wartime service but the strength of their postwar reflections on what war — and patriotism and responsible good citizenship — is really about.
Mark Morelli is a New York Times Bestseller reader.