The occasional, often ill-considered thoughts of a Roman Catholic permanent deacon who is ever grateful to God for his existence. Despite the strangeness we encounter in this life, all the suffering we witness and endure, being is good, so good I am sometimes unable to contain my joy. Deo gratias!

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

A Memory Almost Forgotten

Youth has the benefit of experiencing a kind of temporal slow-motion. Hoped-for events seem always so distant that when they finally arrive most of the expected enjoyment has already been savored. For a child the anticipation is nearly as wonderful as the reality. As we age, however, time seems to compress causing the future to collide with the present. We hardly have time to look forward to a future event because it has already arrived, or more likely, has joined the rest of our life in a jumble of memories. And the past is indeed a jumble.

This all came to mind yesterday as I approached a local railroad crossing. I've always enjoyed watching trains -- a delight I inherited from my father -- although these days I miss seeing the caboose, that final appendage to every freight train. The caboose, the train's exclamation point, let everyone know the train has passed. And as a child I could always count on a wave from the brakeman as the caboose roared by. But, sadly, technology has now eliminated the caboose, and today's children will suffer, if only mildly, the loss of that wave.

Anyway, as the barrier lowered, the lights flashed, and the warning alarm clanged, I obediently brought my Kia to a stop. I was the one and only car at the crossing and, looking to my left, I could see an oncoming freight train moving along at a good clip. Powered by three engines, the train consisted of 105 cars (I counted). I had even opened the car window so I could fully experience the noise, the smell, the sight of all those freight cars rumbling by as I waited more than patiently. And then it was gone. The barrier lifted and the train joined all those other experiences -- small, large, and in-between -- that make up my past. That train passing in front of me is really no different from the movement of the other events of my life as they pass from future to present to past.

It's unlikely I will actually recall this experience as a unique event that occurred early one February morning in 2018. It will probably merge with dozens of similar experiences joining all those other trains I've watched over the years. But memory is a strange thing, and some experiences, so intense or so meaningful, will always stand out as unique events, never to be forgotten or absorbed into a mass of like incidents. And as I drove through that railroad crossing, I suddenly thought of Henry Wright and said aloud, "Oh, my gosh, I forgot February 6th, the day Henry was killed."

I am ever amazed how the memory of such events is triggered. Why did I think of Henry yesterday morning? I haven't a clue. But as soon as I got home I went directly to a thick book just published by my U. S. Naval Academy class of 1967 as a remembrance of the 50th anniversary of our graduation. It contains biographical sketches of most of my classmates, living and dead. I turned to Henry's entry just to ensure I had the date right. I did. His entry is below. Click on it for a larger image.

Henry Arthur Wright was a 1967 classmate who, along with me and a couple of dozen other classmates, spent four years together in the same company. (The Brigade of Midshipman was divided into 36 companies.) 

Henry was a remarkable young man, a true over-achiever determined to prove, if only to himself, that he had what it takes to do great things. Henry didn't need to prove this to those who knew him, because we were already convinced of his capabilities. The photo below is his USNA yearbook photo.

Henry Arthur Wright
Henry chose to become an officer in the U. S. Marine Corps and at graduation was commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant. Like every new Marine officer, he spent the next few months at The Basic School at Quantico, Virginia. On January 5, 1968, just six months after graduation from the Naval Academy, Henry was in Vietnam as a platoon commander. One month later, on February 6, Henry was mortally wounded leading his platoon in relief of a company of Marines near Da Nang. He was the first of our classmates to sacrifice his life in combat. And it truly was a sacrificial act, for his bravery under fire was recognized by the award of a posthumous Bronze Star and, of course, a Purple Heart. Among the youngest members of our USNA class, Henry was just 21 years old at the time of his death. He is indeed "forever young."

We lost too many classmates in the Vietnam conflict. They were all remarkable men, true heroes every one. But to me Henry was special -- not simply because he was the first to lose his life, but because I knew him so well. He was indeed a friend. (Henry's profile on the Virtual Wall: Panel 37#, Line 76)
Marines Near Da Nang
A few months ago, a TV show recalling the Tet Offensive brought Henry to mind and I could hardly believe it had been 50 years since his death. I promised myself that on February 6 of this year, I would remember February 6, 1968 by having a Mass celebrated in Henry's name for the repose of his soul. And then, of course, in the busy-ness and unceasing movement of life, I simply forgot. I will make up for that lapse this week. Fortunately, Henry is now in eternity where time and memory presumably have less meaning. But these are still meaningful to me and to all those who knew this wonderful young man.

Rest in peace, Henry. We will never forget you.

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