Service of veterans embodied by long-lost cousin

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, May 23, 2001

I got a bunch of them.

Wednesday, May 23, 2001

I got a bunch of them. They were in all different sizes, ranks and poses. They were even on different sides. They were miniature Revolutionary War soldiers made out of pewter. They were well-crafted and amazing things to see. They were given to me and I took them without even mumbling a &uot;much obliged.&uot; My older cousin Daryle had given them to me.

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Daryle was all dressed up in his army uniform. He looked even more impressive than the little soldiers. I didn’t really want the little soldiers he offered me, but I took them. Daryle was older than I was and as my elder, he deserved some respect. I was at that awkward age when it came to such things. I was too old to play with the small troops and too young to really appreciate them. The only material things I was interested in at that age were my baseball glove, my GE transistor radio with the earplugs and my dream car, that I would be much too young to drive even if I could afford to buy it.

My mother always told me that a person can never be too thankful. Even with that wonderful instruction, I had neglected to thank Daryle for the little soldiers. I wish my mother would have taken them from me, along with my old comic books and baseball cards, and told me that she would give them back to me when I turned 30 in the hopes that I would have developed a brain by then.

I had a Springfield single-shot .22 rifle. I wanted to practice with it. Daryle had shown me his marksmanship badge and I thought maybe I could earn myself one of those one day. He was plenty proud of that badge and told me that it had taken a lot of practice to get it. A decent target cost good money and I wasn’t much of a hunter, so the little soldiers were the perfect prey for me.

I set the little army men up on a rockpile and then began picking them off one-by-one with my Springfield rifle. The shooting did wonders for my marksmanship, but it didn’t do the little pewter figures much good. Soon they were all gone, shot to pieces, yet another item tossed upon my life’s scrap heap.

Time passed. I had forgotten all about the tiny pewter soldiers until I received word that Daryle had been killed in Vietnam. The day he gave me the little soldiers was the last day I was to ever see Daryle alive. He left a wife and two young children.

I wanted to bring Daryle back. I wanted to bring those little army men back. I never did thank Daryle for those little soldiers. Perhaps playing with the little soldiers is what made Daryle want to make the Army his career. I will never know.

Since that day that I learned of Daryle’s death, I try very hard to thank everyone for everything. Sometimes I forget, but I try real hard.

Some years ago, I made a trip to Washington, DC, and visited the Vietnam Memorial. I was going to make rubbings of Daryle’s name on the Memorial Wall, keeping one for myself and giving the rest to a number of my aunts. I was doing okay at this task until a little blond-haired girl wearing a white dress put a flower at the base of a row of names. This little girl, probably the grandchild of one of the deceased, brought back a flood of memories for me. She caused me to give much thought to Daryle and some to those little Revolutionary War soldiers made out of pewter as I stood by that Wall. I cried as I made a rubbing of Daryle’s name from that Wall of names of people who died doing their duty in the jungles of a foreign land. It took me a number of attempts before I was able to finish making the rubbings.

I never thanked Daryle for the little pewter soldiers. I never thanked Daryle for serving this country well, for being willing to die for all of us back home. Daryle died for his country and for all the things it represents. People like Daryle have made this country what it is, the greatest place on earth. For some reason I know, the way people sometimes know things, that whenever I thank a veteran, that Daryle hears me and understands that I am thanking him, too.

Thank you.

Hartland resident Al Batt writes columns for the Wednesday and Sunday editions of the Tribune.