Editor's note: Pete Mecca is the author of the weekly feature "A Veteran's Story," published Wednesdays in the Citizen.
Judson Caldwell of Caldwell and Cowan Funeral Home in Covington called me last week with a straightforward statement, "Pete, we've lost one of our brothers." No other words were needed.
Judson and I spent three days in Washington, D.C., during Veteran's Day weekend with an oddball faction of our Band of Brothers from Vietnam as part of the History Channel's historic mini-series: Vietnam in HD. We arrived on one of four airliners filled with Vietnam veterans from four major cities to join approximately 4,000 other Nam vets at The Wall on Veteran's Day. None of the veterans sponsored by the History Channel had ever seen or visited The Wall. The time had arrived after more than 40 years for proper closure.
Among our brothers was a B-52 pilot that had gone "downtown" during Vietnam -- "downtown" is military slang for the pilots and crews that bombed the North Vietnamese capitol of Hanoi in the final years of the war. Several of the giant bombers were blown out of the sky during that bombing phase. A Navy medic was aboard our flight; "Doc," as the Marines call Navy medics, carried a spent AK-47 round in his chest for over 30 years until it finally lodged against his heart. The AK-47 round was removed by laparoscopic surgery, but the 33 pieces of shrapnel in Doc's back still remain.
Army chopper pilots with chopped up fingers and arms and legs were with us, as was a Navy taxi driver (chopper pilot) who flew Navy Seals into zones of combat heavily defoliated from Agent Orange. Unusual cancers on his forehead and lower chin advertise the results. One Army veteran, quiet and noticeably aloof, didn't join our war stories and B.S. until the last night. He chose that night to talk about Vietnam for the first time since 1966. Another Army veteran wanted to talk -- needed to talk -- but the pain remained inside, at least for now.
But our brother that Judson said we'd lost was not on our flight, nor did he visit D.C. on Veteran's Day. His name was Marvin Pressley. Marvin served in Vietnam with the U.S. Army. He was young and handsome, as we all seemed to be in those days, and Marvin did eventually make it home, but minus his right leg.
He married, raised a family, had grandchildren and great-grandchildren. He loved hot rods and fast cars, enjoyed his workshop, was unashamedly patriotic and undeniably a God-fearing Southern Baptist if this laidback Lutheran correctly understood the liturgy. Words like "a good man" or "did things his way" illustrated the complexity of expressing final thoughts and tributes in proper perspective.
That's all I know about Marvin. I never met his family; I never knew Marvin, but he was my brother. He was given an Army Honor Guard 21-gun salute; an Army bugler standing in the background played the haunting notes of "Taps;" the flag covering his coffin was ceremoniously folded and presented to his wife. I chose not to introduce myself; that just didn't seem like the right thing to do.
I noticed a representative from the Vietnam Veterans Alliance was in attendance, as was a member from the local Marine League and a couple of boys from the American Legion. We paid our respects and gave a proper salute during "Taps," but most likely some of us were also remembering brothers from another time, in that other country, or on The Wall.
Of approximately 2.8 million men and women that served "in-country" during the Vietnam War, a paltry 800,000 of us remain to carry on a confusing legacy of service and sacrifice and suffering in a conflict that is only now being recognized as an honorable and defensible strategy in that diminutive Southeast Asian nation of lush jungle and dirty rice paddies.
Marvin Pressley did his duty; he served his country with honor; then Marvin came home. Sometimes, I suppose, that's the greatest gift of all.
Rest in peace, my brother.