The shining star in our family though wasn’t me. It was that precious only son, Jimmy. Brother, as I always called him, was my hero.
He was handsome, fun, gentle, thoughtful, generous and kind to all of us and there wasn’t a conceited bone in his body. As far as I was concerned, he hung the sun, the moon, the stars and any other constellations.
For the record, after God created my brother, He broke the mold. In my family’s eyes (and a lot of other no-reason-to-be-partial ones), Brother was as close to perfect as a human being could be. I would never have blinked twice if I’d seen him walking on water.
He was also the consummate athlete, excelling in football, basketball, baseball, golf and tennis with trophies and letters to prove it. Baseball, however, was his first love.
When he graduated from Winder-Barrow High, he headed to college on a baseball scholarship. But it was the mid-1960s and there was a war going on in a place we’d never heard of — Vietnam.
And there Brother was, playing college baseball, eating meals in the school cafeteria, staying up late studying – basically living the normal college life.
Mother was happy. Daddy was proud. Here was their boy, their pride and joy, bettering himself with a good education.
There was a restlessness in my brother that he couldn’t shake. From what I’ve been told, he couldn’t reconcile the life he was living with the one so many of his peers were – going to, and hopefully, coming home from Vietnam.
I remembered waking up one night at age 5 and following Brother outside. We sat on the back porch steps of our home and looked up at the stars. I thought it was just a special time alone with my big brother I loved so much.
Now I know.
This 19-year-old young man had more on his mind than the North Star and the Big Dipper. He was trying to chart the very course of his life.
One day, soon after our night of stargazing, he did what so many other young Americans were doing at the time. Unbeknownst to Mother and Daddy, he joined the United States Marine Corps.
Like many other families, this decision changed our life as we knew it forever.
My brother was doing what he felt he had to do. He loved this country. He was proud to serve and as far as I know, he never looked back and he never complained.
I, on the other hand, did complain. I wanted him home with me for my birthday parties and Easter baskets and Santa Claus and trick-or-treating. I wanted him to teach me to play tennis.
Before he left, he bought walkie-talkies for fun; I seriously begged him to take one and leave the other with me so I could at least hear his voice everyday. This just wasn’t fair. But it was a sacrifice he felt he had to make. We’d have really fun times together after the war was over he assured me. “I’ll count your freckles again when I get back, Little Red,” he promised.
Off he went, coming home on leave after each of his two tours of duty and then for Christmas in 1968. His plan was to finish up the last six months with his platoon in Vietnam and then he’d be home for good. He’d finish that college degree and buy that Dodge Barracuda and life would be back to normal. We’d all be together for holiday celebrations again. Happily ever after.
Ah, the best laid hopes and plans of a brave, much-loved, determined 22-year-old young Marine.
They found a medal in his things they sent home. They awarded it to him for bravery. He’d never shown it to anyone – except me.
I loved to hug his neck and I told him I loved him a thousand-plus times I’m sure, but I never got to say thank you to him. I didn’t really know the magnitude of what he’d given up for us. But now I do.
I also know now that my life wasn’t the only one changed. Nor was my family’s. Thousands of others have been touched by what happened in Vietnam — and World War I, World War II, the Cold War, the Korean War, the Bosnian War, the Gulf Wars I and II including Iraq and Afghanistan.
It’s with a heart bursting with pride and gratitude, I’d like to say to every one who serves and has served our great nation, thank you. It has not been in vain.
Thank you for the selfless surrender of time away from your family. Thank you for the freedoms you allow us to enjoy everyday.
I don’t take it for granted and I never want to miss an opportunity to let you know you aren’t forgotten. I remember your sacrifice and I recognize full well that our freedoms are not free but come with a great price.
Beth Cook Maranville is a former writer for the Griffin Daily News (Beth Smallwood) and now lives on Bainbridge Island, Wash., where she writes for the Bainbridge Islander. She can be reached at Beachgirl257@gmail.com.