May 31, 2006

A Marine on unknown

I just wanted to get the day over with and go down to Smokey'sfor a few cold ones. Sneaking a look at my watch, I saw the time,1655. Five minutes to go. Full dress was hot in the August sun.Oklahoma summertime was as bad as ever -- the heat andhumidity at the same level -- too blasted high.

I saw the car pull into the drive, '69 or '70 model DeVille, lookedfactory-new. It pulled into the parking slot at a snail's pace. Anold woman got out moving so slow I thought she was paralyzed.She had a cane and a sheaf of flowers, about four or five bunchesas best I could tell. I couldn't help myself. The thought cameunwanted, and left a slightly bitter taste: "Blast! She's going tospend an hour, my darn hip hurts like blazes and I'm ready to getout of here right, by-God, now!." But my duty was to assist anyonecoming in. Kevin would lock the "in" gate and if I could hurry theold biddy along, we might make the last half of happy hour.

I broke Post Attention. The hip made gritty noises when I tookthe first step and the pain went up a notch. I must have madea real military sight; middle-aged man with a small pot-gut andhalf a limp, in Marine Full Dress Uniform, which had lost itsrazor crease about 30 minutes after I began the watch. Istopped in front of her, halfway up the walk. She looked up atme with an old woman's squint.

"Ma'am, can I assist you in any way?"

She took long enough to answer. "Yes, son. Can you carrythese flowers. I seem to be moving a tad slow these days."

"My pleasure Ma'am." Well, it wasn't too much of a lie.She looked again.

"Marine, where were you stationed?"

"Vietnam, ma'am. Ground-pounder. '69 to '71."

She looked at me closer. "Wounded in action, I see. Well done,Marine. I'll be as quick as I can"

I lied a little bigger. "No hurry, Ma'am."

She smiled, and winked at me. "Son, I'm 85-years old and I cantell a lie from a long way off. Let's get this done. Might be thelast time I can come. My name's Joanne Wieserman, and I've a few Marines I'd like to see one more time."

"Yes, ma'am. At your service"

She headed for the World War I section, stopping at a stone. Shepicked one of the bunches out of my arm and laid it on top of thestone. She murmured something I couldn't quite make out. Thename on the marble was Donald S. Davidson, USMC, France1918. She turned away and made a straight line for the WorldWar II section, stopping at one stone. I saw a tear slowlytracking its way down her cheek. She put a bunch on a stone;the name was Stephen X. Davidson, USMC, 1943. She went upthe row a ways and laid another bunch on a stone, Stanley J.Wieserman USMC, 1944. She paused for a second, "Two more,son, and we'll be done."

I almost didn't say anything, but, "Yes, ma'am. Take your time."

She looked confused. "Where's the Vietnam section, son? I seemto have lost my way.

"I pointed with my chin. "That way, ma'am."

"Oh!" she chuckled quietly. "Son, me and old age ain't toofriendly." She headed down the walk I'd pointed at. She stoppedat a couple of stones before she found the ones she wanted. Sheplace a bunch on Larry Wieserman USMC, 1968, and the last onDarrel Wieserman USMC, 1970. She stood there and murmureda few words I still couldn't make out.

"OK, son, I'm finished. Get me back to my car and you can gohome."

"Yes, ma'am. If I may ask, were those your kinfolk?"

She paused. "Yes, Donald Davidson was my father; Stephan wasmy uncle; Stanley was my husband; Larry and Darrel were oursons. All killed in action, all Marines." She stopped, whether shehad finished, or couldn't finish, I don't know. And never have. Shemade her way to her car, slowly, and painfully.

I waited for a polite distance to come between us and double-timedit over to Kevin waiting by the car. "Get to the out-gate quick, Kev.I have something I've got to do."

Kev started to say something but saw the look I gave him. He brokethe rules to get us there down the service road. We beat her, shehadn't made it around the rotunda yet.

"Kev, stand to attention next to the gate post. Follow my lead."I humped it across the drive to the other post.

When the Cadillac came puttering around from the hedges andbegan the short straight traverse to the gate, I called in my bestgunny's voice: "Tehen Hut! Present Haaaarms!"

I have to hand it to Kev, he never blinked an eye; full dressattention and a salute that would make his DI proud. She drove through that gate with two old worn-out soldiers giving her a send off she deserved, for service rendered to her country, and for knowing Duty, Honor and Sacrifice.

I am not sure, but I think I saw a salute returned from that Cadillac.

Later that night, while I was thinking about the day's somber events, Cpl. Richard A. Mason, an infantryman with Headquarters Platoon, who, in the short time I was with the company became a good friend, told me, "You're still here, don't forget that. Tell your kids, your grandkids, what Sgt. Peralta did for you and the other Marines today."


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