(Courtesy of photo.net)
For much of the Vietnam War, I remained (admittedly and with shame) clueless. The war (or police action, if you will) began two years before I was born. As I grew, it became a constant presence in our home, an annoying and unwelcome house guest to which my parents felt compelled to pay attention. The tiny portable television in our living room droned through every meal, alternating images of battle and statistics of death with celebrities on The Mike Douglas Show. Imagine — we ate our dinner without a qualm, not so much as a tremor to our forks, while the newscast flashed pictures of destruction. What the hell was wrong with us?
I’d like to come up with a valid excuse for my lack of involvement, although there aren’t any. I never voiced any protest against the war, let alone attended one. Part of it, I suppose, was living in bucolic upstate New York, but that’s just me making a rationalization. There were plenty of people who traveled great distances to lend their voices to the protests being staged, but I wasn’t one of them. In many ways, I had no idea what was really going on, what was at stake. Incapable of lighting a fire under myself, there was no one else to do it. The Vietnam War became a television show that aired daily at 6 pm and 11 pm and, like a television show, it had little effect on me.
Until December 6, 1967. That’s the day my cousin, Private First Class Durwood Allan Limbacher (HHC, 4th Battalion, 12th Infantry, 199th Infantry BDE, USARV, a medical corpsman in the Army of the United States) died in Binh Thuan, South Vietnam, a victim of small arms fire/grenade. He was twenty years old, and had served his country for less than three months.
I didn’t know Durwood well. He was one of two sons from my Uncle Karl’s first marriage and lived with his mother, my Aunt Helen, in Farragut, Iowa. They rarely came East, we never went West. In fact, I only remember meeting him once, shortly before he went into the Army. He was tall, lean, blond like most of the Limbacher men, and terribly, terribly kind when confronted by a shy, much-younger cousin. Kind enough that I’ve remembered the moment all these years. Kind enough that when I heard he’d been killed, a Durwood-shaped hole opened up in my life that has never fully closed.
I wish I had a picture to share with you, so you could see how handsome he was, how the kindness shone from him like a light, but I’ve none to share. And now, with both Aunt Helen and Uncle Karl gone, and Durwood’s brother Fritz among the missing from the sort of attrition that happens in some families, I doubt I’ll ever have a chance to see a photograph of him.
But one of these days, I intend to visit the Vietnam War Memorial and seek him there. He’s on panel 31E line 049. If you get there before me, tell him I said hello.