Wake Up Call

 (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.

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.


About Melissa Crandall

Longer ago than I care to admit--although I will--I cut my writing teeth on fanzines and media tie-in novels. Since then, I've moved on to narrative nonfiction, speculative fiction, and essays. I write to explore and understand the world around me, the things I see and experience nearby or from a distance. If I shake myself up, cool. If I shake you up, even better. Not gratuitously--what's the point in that?--but to set what I know, or think I know, on end and realize, "Well, doesn't it look different from this side!" My work is neither sexually explicit nor graphically violent. Let's face it - your imaginations will come up with things far worse than anything I could write, no matter how descriptive. Besides, it's just not my thing. I live in Connecticut with my supportive husband Ed, a cat named Ruby who might just think she's a dog, and an epileptic Australian shepherd named Holly who isn't quite certain anymore who she is, except she knows she loves her mommy.
This entry was posted in Army, Clifton Park, Courage, death, Essays, Family, Loss, love, Melissa Crandall, Memoir, Memory, Vietnam, War and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Wake Up Call

  1. Barbara J. Davis says:

    Imagine finding your post — because I’m from Farragut and knew both Durwood and Fritz! Your Aunt Helen taught high school English and was my favorite teacher. To know her was to know that she loved to play bridge and drank Coke by the case! Durwood was just as you describe — a very sweet guy. I think he was in my sister’s class, and I didn’t know him well. I visited Washington DC several years ago and found Durwood’s name on the Wall. I still find it sad when I think of your aunt and what it had to have been like to lose a son like him.

    • Oh, my gosh, Barbara! I’ve come to believe that there are no coincidences anymore. So good to hear from you and to know that you knew Durward and Fritz. Alas, that portion of the family is all gone or vanished — Helen and my Uncle Karl and Durward have died, and Fritz (with whom I was never close due to age and distance) has vanished who knows where. If you ever come across a picture of Durward, I would love a copy. Thank you for writing.

  2. Eileen Eldred says:

    Grateful to them all and to you for this blog. No more words, just gratitude.

  3. Becky says:

    Forever thankful for those that served and those that made the ultimate sacrifice. Both my brother Richard and my husband Steve had the unhappy task of fighting in a war that they were never truly recognized for. Both extremely proud of their service…rightfully so. I also am proud of them.

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