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3.10.16

For Laura Lee, Wherever You Are

When I was about 5 years old, I had a neighbor friend named Laura Lee.  I don't remember her sister's name, but we all played together often.

Laura Lee had a playhouse in the back yard that her dad built.  It wasn't more than a few sheets of plywood barely held together with 2x4s and some 10-penny nails, but it was a palace to us.

One afternoon, we had, for some long-forgotten reason, decided to put bricks on the roof of the playhouse.  Must have seemed like a good idea at the time.  Laura Lee was up top and I was handing the bricks up to her.  One slipped and caught me square on the left temple.  I was rushed a couple of blocks away to Dr. Bonin's office, who put three stitches on the wound.  To this moment, I have that scar and I often rub it and think about Laura Lee.  I don't remember her face, but I can tell you a lot about her up until she was 5 years old.

One day we were playing out in the street and her mother called her home.  There were two men at the door in Navy uniforms and mother looked upset.  Come to find out, Laura Lee's dad had been killed in action in Vietnam.  He was in the Navy, and I really never knew what happened, but not long after that, Laura Lee and her sister and mother moved away.  I never heard from them again.

My dad owned the house.  In fact, he owned all but one house on the block.  After they moved, I helped him clean out the house and tear down the playhouse in the back.  It was strange going in there.  All I could think of were the times we had played in various rooms, or the nifty scar I had on my temple from loading bricks on the playhouse.  I was terribly conflicted, thinking about the man I barely knew (he had been gone most of the time), a war I vaguely understood, a land I couldn't find on a map if you paid me, and my poor friend Laura Lee who would never see her dad again.  It was an incredible thought for a 5-year-old for whom the world never changed.

After that, I started noticing things.  A stop sign at the end of the block had been spray-painted so that it read, "STOP WAR."  I suddenly noticed Walter Cronkite talking about the men dying in someplace called Vietnam.  Dan Rather was showing me pictures of soldiers running through swamps or diving for cover in rice fields, and other pictures of strange Asian people jabbering in a mystical language with a serious, deep voice speaking English over them.

I heard about other dads in the neighborhood who would never be coming home.  I didn't know them like I knew Laura Lee's dad, but I knew what happened when they died: the families moved away and were never heard from again.

I started paying attention to the heated discussions among the political people my dad was around a lot.  Some were saying we needed to 'increase our presence,' while others were hard-line against it, and wanted to end the war before it 'tore this damn country apart.'  My dad was on the former side, saying if Vietnam fell, it would cause a 'domino effect of commie expansion.'

I thought all commies looked like Asians, because I had little experience with any other kind.  They must have been bad, though, because they killed Laura Lee's dad, and I spent a lot of time under my desk on Friday at noon, with air raid sirens going off.  It was just a drill, but I could only imagine what those Asian commies would do if Vietnam fell.  Just look at Laura Lee's dad.

Eventually, I came to understand that the Vietnam war was a proxy for the US and USSR.  Instead of fighting each other directly, they were using this poor Asian country to hash out their differences.  Even later, I learned that the only reason the US was there was because of a mutual defense treaty with France, who had gotten into the war in the first place.  It wasn't a war about political ideology, it was to protect France's colonial interests in Asia.

I realized that people like Laura Lee lost their dads because of bullshit.  People were just things to throw at imaginary enemies, with little or no regard to the children who would never know their dads.  Governments used people's lives to back up treaties and political ideologies and strategies.  I came to despise governments because of Laura Lee's dad.

No Vietnamese person had ever done anything to me or anyone I knew or anyone I even heard of, except that one of them killed Laura Lee's dad.  But he wasn't there to defend his home.  The Vietnamese weren't marching down the street taking pot shots at us.  In fact, I had never even seen a Vietnamese person except in Dan Rather's pictures.

It wasn't until years later that I finally met some Vietnamese people.  They were refugees that had been resettled in Houston, which was a major center for such things, due to the fact that many Vietnamese made livings growing rice and fishing, and Houston was a major rice center and just miles from the Gulf of Mexico.

When I finally met some Vietnamese, they seemed pretty normal.  They weren't ravenous commies or yellow devils, they were a bunch of Laura Lees with dads who had died in the war.

Governments, on the other hand, were evil faceless machines that sucked up dads and spit out bones, and if you were luck, you got a couple of guys in uniform at your door and maybe a check.  I always imagined that it was hardly compensation to Laura Lee, but I will likely never know for sure.

What makes me angry is that all these wars are not to protect Laura Lee, or me, or you.  They are economic and political.  They are just part of the standard tool box for a government, and all the Laura Lee dads are just tools inside it.

How gross.  How course.  How sad.

When I look at the Middle East, or Israel, or the Ukraine, or any of a number of other wars that people like George Soros and various government agencies have committed, I think of Laura Lee's dad.    When I see all the strife and anguish and refugees in the world, I think of Laura Lee's dad.

And it makes me really, really angry.

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