Namestrip a reminder of the price of freedom

When my daughter was issued the pair of "Lower" pants, all kinds of memories were triggered. When my daughter was issued the pair of “Lower” pants, all kinds of memories were triggered. Kate was desperately in need of new camouflage pants for her Young Marines uniform. This would be the third pair of pants she’s needed, seeing as how she’s shot up six inches in the two years since she joined the organization.

My fingers cringed at the prospect of once again seam-ripping from one pair of pants and sewing onto another the heavy canvas namestrip with“Banks K” commercially stitched across it. Even with a heavy duty needle and thimble, the job is brutal at best and fraught with finger pricks.

Fortunately, the pants were free. Over the years Young Marines has developed an exchange program where the odds are good you can turn in outgrown gear for something better fitting. After I pry the name strip off of Kate’s pants, I’ll turn them back in for the good of another kid.

“Look, I got new pants,” Kate announced, waving them, when I picked up my kids from last week’s drill. I unfolded the pants to gauge where I would place her namestrip and to estimate how hard of a job it would be. I let out a startled gasp. A namestrip remained on the pants. What stopped me in my tracks wasn’t the extra work that would be required to remove it, but the name, itself, “Lower.”

“Mom, are you okay?” my kids wanted to know. “What’s so special about the ‘Lower’ name?”

How could they be expected to know the power that name spelled across camouflage had over anyone in my family above a certain age. “It’s pronounced “Lauer,” like “Eddie Bauer,” I corrected. “And that was the last name of my cousin, Larry, Uncle Bud and Aunt Pauline’s son, a marine who was killed in Vietnam at the age of 19, back in 1968.”

To give them perspective on just how ancient a history we were talking, I told them 1968 was the year after my sister, their aunt Kerry, was born. “That’s why Aunt Pauline used to ride in that special car with “Gold Star Mother” on the side of it every Memorial Day parade,” I said. “She lost her only son in Vietnam in a friendly fire incident.” Naturally, they wanted to know what “friendly fire” meant.

How do you explain an oxymoron like friendly fire? I can remember my first encounter with the concept, back in 1979, the year the movie “Friendly Fire” was broadcast on television. My family was among the estimated 64 million viewers who tuned in to watch Carol Burnett and Ned Beatty portray Peg and Gene Mullen, an Iowa farm couple whose son had become military collateral damage two years after cousin Larry had lost his own life.

I can still see my father, who pretty much never watched television, his wet eyes riveted to the screen, absorbing this ordinary couple uncover the heart-wrenching details of their son’s friendly fire death, much like my father’s own farming family had felt at the death of their beloved family member. I witnessed the auditory version of his reaction when I called my mother last week to tell her Kate had been issued “Lower” pants.

“Oh,” was all she could say at first, revisited pain stealing her breath. She recalled coming home the day our family learned Larry was dead. “I knew something was wrong because when I drove in the driveway, your dad was standing alone, out near the burn barrel, halfway between the house and the silo, crying.” Crying was not something in my father’s repertoire.

“Larry was a really good boy,” my mom emphasized. “Everyone thought so. They don’t make kids like that anymore.” He was exactly the son you would expect salt of the Earth people like Uncle Bud and Aunt Pauline to have: polite, caring, obedient, loyal. An ideal Marine. He would have made an ideal husband and father, too.

I looked down at the “Lower” namestrip on the pants. My eyes teared in sorrowful respect for the laughing teenage boy who used to lift four-year-old me high in the air and laughingly brush my head on the ceiling like he never would children of his own. The pants may have come free, but our freedom didn’t.


1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Auntie Sharon
    Apr 10, 2013 @ 06:28:08

    You touched my heartfelt memories deeply with this article Kristy ~ Can’t thank you enough for rekindling the Loving Memories we have always had of Larry, Bud & Pauline…. God Bless You for always telling the truth of the matter: Our freedom wasn’t ~ isn’t ~ and will never be free.


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