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From the Wall

His name was Donald Martin, but he was always Donny to me.

Donny was a dark-haired Louisiana boy with a quick smile and an even quicker temper. One minute he’d be laughing at something and the next he’d be in your face, cussin’ up a blue streak. I liked him, in spite of his unpredictable moods, and in direct violation of the distance I tried to keep between myself and the other guys in the platoon.

He and I were a lot alike, you see. We were both from religious families, and were testing the limits of how far we would go in rebellion against our upbringing. Both of us had enlisted and volunteered to be there. We both read when we got a chance, and passed books back and forth. Both of us had lives we wanted to go back to, parents praying for us, a girlfriend waiting for us.

For decades, I didn’t say anything to anybody about Donny, not a word about the war that wasn’t a war. I wouldn’t even admit to anyone that I’d been to Vietnam, couldn’t watch the ridiculous movies about it, wouldn’t have guns in the house. And sometimes I think that maybe Donny would have been the same way, would have gone through the same stuff and finally ended up more or less okay.

The reason his name’s up on The Wall and he’s not spoiling his grand-kids can be argued, but that’s not what this post is about. It’s an installment on a promise I made to Donny… and to myself… on the day I traced his name.

I haven’t forgotten, Donny, and I hope you rest easy.