Poem by Carrie Lenarcic, Story by Ray Lenarcic
Every Memorial Day I am reminded of the following poem:
Two boys sit rocking back and forth,
As bands play marching tunes.
“That man don’t have no legs,” they say.
And creamy pink buds of dogwood trees
Are swept away by the breeze.
The boys get up and race through grassy fields
To where their mother sits and weeps and holds a tiny hand-made flag.
“She does this every year,” they say.
And the balmy air smells of lilac perfume.
They weave like fighter planes
Among the neatly centered slabs of stone
And see the people strolling slowly waving paper fans.
“Our daddy’s under there,” they say.
And daffodils sway gently under pale blue skies.
Then the boys recall the day when someone took their daddy away.
“He’d taken too much medicine,”
Was all that they would say.
(But all they knew was the scary night-time screams
During daddy’s bad, bad dreams were gone.)
The boys walk swiftly through the silent streets.
Another setting sun lingers briefly over the horizon.
Tomorrow, they’ll have forgotten this pleasant celebration.
“That was fun,” they say and head for home…
My daughter, Carrie, was 17 when she composed this poem nearly 35 years ago. Having met many of my veteran friends, she had learned firsthand about Agent Orange and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, the signature wounds of the Vietnam War. At the time, she was especially bothered by the fact that very little was being done by the government to guarantee treatment for these wounds. She was all too familiar with the plethora of problems resulting from that lack of treatment; thousands of suicides, alcohol and drug addiction (i.e. self-medication), divorces, unemployability, incarceration, and homelessness. anti-social behavior, etc. And before a packed house at the Agent Orange Symposium at Herkimer County Community College, she eloquently addressed her concerns for the “youngest victims of the war,” the ones with the visible scars (dioxin caused chloracne and birth defects) and the invisible ones (PTSD related) caused by daddy’s rage-induced verbal assaults.
I’m also reminded every May 30th of the men I knew personally who were killed in Vietnam, true heroes who died far too soon because of a war that never should have been fought. I’ve written numerous times about both. Marine SSgt. Joseph Zawtocki, Jr. and Airman Eddie Juteau, Jr. I grew up with Stash. He and his close friends Bruddie Zysk, Bobby Mihevc, and Al Koziol (“Nam vet) were the youngest members of our Furnace Street “gang” (in the good sense of the word) in the city of Little Falls. I and Ed “Gabby” Bielejec were the head honchos. The latter, a “Nam combat vet who passed away recently, was the enforcer, seeing to it that we didn’t embarrass ourselves or our families. And regarding bully interlopers, Gaborza’s fists were effective solutions to the problem (counselors weren’t available).
Stash died on Christmas Eve, 1969, in a Viet Cong prison camp in Quang Nam Province. He’d been a prisoner for 686 days and was tortured and starved to death by his captors after he and fellow Marine Denny Hammond unsuccessfully tried to escape. Hammond died shortly after Stash. Our Polish Prince’s remains were missing until shards of bone later identified as his were found and returned in the summer of 1985. He lies in state in Arlington Cemetery and is remembered at LFHS by a scholarship in his name given annually to a male and female graduate.
I met my second hero, Airman Ed, on a sunkissed October day in 1979 when he addressed 130 of my Western Civ students and colleagues Gary Ruff and Fred Lieber in an HCCC lecture hall. I believe that no one in attendance has ever forgotten his opening words: “Hello. My name is Ed Juteau, Jr. and I was killed in Vietnam. It’s just taking me longer to die.” His topic that day was Vietnam veterans and the multitude of problems they were facing since their return. “We came home from one war to fight another.” This one against their own government which was refusing to confront two post-war killers decimating their ranks-Agent Orange (herbicide containing dioxin- one of the most dangerous toxins known to mankind; c.96 million pounds dumped on Vietnam) and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (mental disability leading to many of the maladies cited earlier). As a member of Agent Orange Victims International, Ed fought for his fellow vets until his death from non-Hodgkins Lymphoma on February 3,, 1980. A few weeks earlier, we carried Eddie into an auditorium on the campus of Utica College where, in great pain, he gave his valedictory, finishing to a standing ovation. “Uncle Sam wanted me and I went. When I wanted Uncle Sam, he went.” Yes sir, Ed, he did.
Readers, I’d like you to seek out Vietnam veterans in your town-neighborhood and thank them this Memorial Day for their service. In fact, thank all the veterans you know. I’ll be thanking men like Dennis Thorp and Ron Schoonmaker-combat medics who continue to serve their country-Den, as his Legion’s service officer, and Ron, each week before the 30th leading his volunteers in placing new flags in Herkimer’s two cemeteries and helping wife Laura run the highly successful Cpl. Michael Mayne Cookie Corps (look it up). Finally, Kay and I wish all Vietnam veterans good health, good fortune, and good times. You sure as hell earned each by your service to this country. And we offer healing prayers to the thousands of families whose loved ones returned, like the boys’ father in Carrie’s poem, unable to deal with their war-related demons. Like Eddie Juteau, the war also killed them. But it shouldn’t have. God Bless America and Our Veterans.
Ray Lenarcic is a member of the Little Falls Historical Society.