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How To Deal With Death
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how to deal with death

Death is ever-present. We read about the dead in the newspapers. We here reports of death on television. People are dying all the time from accidents, illness, war, and by suicide. A few days ago, death came to a very good friend of mine. We grew up together and stayed together from kindergarten through high school. When we got out of the service, we resumed our relationship, often by telephone from long distances as I left my home town and he did not.

When my brother-in-law called me and told me that my friend, Larry, had died during heart surgery, I took it as a fact of life. We get old. We die. But the next morning my blood sugar skyrocket and I was very upset. I realized that I had lost a "brother."

Next I tried to figure out a way to drive to Utah, either to his viewing or to his funeral. My wife has Alzheimer's and I did not want to leave her. She can become very upset when I am away and she has enough problems without that. My family and her care giver said that they would either travel with us or take care of her at home. Finally, I decided to avoid the eight hours of required driving, to write a letter to his wife, and to send flowers.. I have to be satisfied with that.

In Korea I dealt with death like it was just part of war. In other words, I stayed detached. When I was asked one morning if I wanted to see two of our ROK attached soldiers where they were hit by a 155 mm. howitzer the night before, fired by our own artillery, I said, "I think I'll skip that." In other words I wanted to remember those two but did not want a life-long vision of them blown to pieces. I still have the image but it was provided by my comrade as he stood over that horrendous sight.

Now we have veterans who have returned from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan who have such images and they are having a hard time coping with the loss of their friends. Remember that many of these folks served with National Guard units where ties are strong to each other. I served with the National Guard, but when I was sent to Korea, I was placed in a regular army outfit where everybody was a stranger, at least at first.

My wife's care giver told me that on the Fourth of July the friend of her daughter (who serves in the Idaho National Guard), who just returned from the war, hid on the floor with his arms over his head too terrified to allow her to comfort him. The fireworks were here by my place. I closed the door and pretended they were not there. Fireworks are terrifying to some of us. The ones that are terrifying are the ones that blast with a white flash and provide nothing but noise and bright light. The more silent and colorful ones do not bother me. But before our dog died a few years a go, he would run and hide in the shower stall as far as he could from all that noise. The Twin Falls animal shelter reported that they were over populated by dogs that has ran from the fireworks and would their owners please come and pick them up. Communities have no idea how fireworks are horrible and traumatic to some veterans and to animals. When our "friendly" shells came in on us in the fall of 1951, blasting their white light with the terrible noise three times in one night, it is just like those high explosive fireworks to me. I remember the brave medics treating the wounded, a wounded man crying for his mother, our machine gun sergeant with his clavicle exposed by a gaping wound.

I had some of my associates killed in Korea, but they were not close friends. Some of my close friends were wounded however. World War II veterans who lost close friends still mourn their death. They cry when they are interviewed. Many refuse to talk about their war experiences. They want to keep ugly scenes out of their minds. Many of our current veterans are being treated for the sorrow that plagues them from their experiences in war zones.

In the news now, is the fact that as those killed in action in war zones are recognized by our president while those who commit suicide in combat zones are not, their parents and loved ones receiving no letter of recognition of service and gratitude by the American People. That has now been rectified but those killed in training and those who commit suicide outside of war zones do not receive any such letter from the President. They should be. What is the difference between dying as you prepare of combat than actually dying in combat? You are dead!

I was "in the company" of a young man killed by Chinese mortar fire. He laid by my bunker all day and I and my radio man recovered some of his gear. He was a fine looking young man and his Company commander mourned his lose. I though about how sad things would be back in Kansas when his family and friends learned of his death. Strangely, I felt the same way about the Chinese we killed. They would fall and I would think how sad things would be somewhere in China.

My friend is dead but his family will go through a process that will help relieve their sorrow. He will be praised for his service to his country and for the love and care he gave his family. That process is missing for many veterans that have lost friends. You have probably watched on television WWII veterans finding the graves of fallen comrades in Europe. They talk to them as they stand over the grave. That brings closure.

So we could take a shower in Korea, my platoon sergeant and three others replaced four of us by coming up to our positions on the line. He was hit soon there after and I worried about him for years knowing that he had an invalid wife who needed his care. I finally got in touch with him about eight years ago and found that his wound healed properly and that it sent him home. That was closure for me. For years I had blamed myself for requesting that we be able to come down off the mountain to remove six weeks of grime. (When he was hit, I replaced him as platoon sergeant.)

On my way home from Korea we stopped in Hawaii. I was not allowed to leave the ship because I was placed as Sergeant of the Guard to control the troops when they returned from Honolulu bars. While the GI's were sopping up booze in Honolulu bars I watched the merchant marine-men unload nine coffins, GI's killed in Korea. It was a lonely, sterile scene. There was no one there that I could see to take care of them. But I knew that they would be returned to their families, that their would be funerals for them, and that there would be some closure for families.

Trauma for others comes when death comes. Most of us recover, having fond memories of those we lose. Others are not so lucky. They need special help to overcome their grief. So while my friends are attending Larry's funeral I'll be going back to my Internet business. I put some pork chops and peas in the crock pot to make our home a less sorrowful place. And I have Red Skelton on the television. Now he should cheer me up.

Fly Old Glory!


Street Talk

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