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photo: Martha G. Brady

photo: Martha G. Brady

I knew Wendy when I lived in Oxford Depot, NY.  It was a tiny community about 45 minutes northeast of New York City.  I understand it is now a bedroom community.  Back then, it was an area that was full of farms and beautiful rolling hills.  In the summer, there were many camps that Jewish families came to for the summer.

I lived in this little community during the years I was 4, 5 and 6.  I went to kindergarten and first grade here.  The nearby town where I went to school was in Monroe, NY.  I still remember the teachers and the school I attended there.

Wendy, a childhood friend

But back to Wendy.  He was one of my friends.  I think it was a nickname.  When he was older, he went by another given name.

The two that were my friends in that little town, were Butch and Wendy.  They were a year older than I.  My dad pastored a small country church nearby in Craigville, NY.  Many, many years later after his aunt and my dad passed away, his uncle and my mom married…but that is another story.

The year was circa 1951. Wendy was the only son of a war widow (sister of his aunt, our friend).  His grandparents lived next door to his aunt and uncle (the Hummels) and he and his mom lived with the grandparents.

On occasion, the boys would let me play with them.  I know I usually felt very privileged when they did, so it must have been rare.

On one occasion, they took me to an empty building on the street.  (I don’t remember what kind of building it was but it did have a cement floor.)  They had a special treasure: a pack of cigarettes!  They were so excited.  I did not share their excitement, but was curious.  Of course, I was sworn to secrecy.  Eventually, I tried a puff…on one cigarette.  I don’t even think I inhaled.  Ugh!  I certainly didn’t get the attraction of cigarettes…at all!  I was cured at the age of 5!  I felt guilty about it for years!  But I digress.

A boy who never knew his father

Wendy was one of a few kids I knew at the time whose fathers didn’t come back from the War.  (That was World War II.)  During the 3 years we lived in New York, Wendy’s mother remarried.  It didn’t take long for her to realize that the man she married was very abusive.  I think he was just a cruel man, wealthy, but cruel.   His abusiveness extended to Wendy as well…who was not willing to tolerate it, so in no time, he was back with his grandparents and living with them.

His mother never was able to summon the courage to leave the man she married, so although she lived only a few miles from him, she wasn’t able to be a full part of Wendy’s life growing up.  The Hummels and his grandparents raised him.  When he was grown, he went to the Air Force Academy and graduated just in time to go to Viet Nam!

He served in Viet Nam and was affected by Agent Orange

As a result of his service there, he became ill with cancer from agent Orange a few years later.  He fought the disease long and hard…for years.  However, he eventually succumbed.  I don’t think he made it into his 60’s.  I’m sorry.  I don’t remember how old he was when he died.

This isn’t a traditional Memorial Day story

No, this isn’t a traditional Memorial Day story.  It isn’t a neatly packaged story with a soldier buried with military honors (which he probably was) after falling in the line of duty.

But it is the story of many of our military men who served in Viet Nam.  These are men who are near my age (late 60’s and early 70’s…or they would be if alive).  But it is a two generation story of Memorial Day.

It is the story of how military service affects families

It is the story of children, orphaned by fathers, now mothers too, who died in service to our country.  Later, these children may have also served and either been killed in the line of duty or been injured or worse, injured by a secondary cause…like Agent Orange or whatever the current thing is out there.  The result was years of treatment, some service, but a lower quality of life for sure!

In my mind, Wendy is still a young man!

The last I saw Wendy was probably the summer after he graduated from high school.  I was in NY that summer working.  He was a good looking guy!  Blonde, well built, care-free!  He was headed off to the Air Force Academy.  He had the world by the tail.

I never saw him after that…only photos.  Because of our family friendship with Hummels, we heard frequent updates.  Later my mom married Carl, his uncle, and we heard more updates.

I was sad to hear of Wendy’s death.  He married…twice.  He had a son too.  I don’t know much about him.

When you think of Memorial Day,

remember those who have been left behind as well

I do remember Memorial Day today…and the families.  It is not easy for them.  Whether they are left behind temporarily or permanently, it is not an easy life!

Pray for them.  Love them.

Encourage your congressmen to increase the benefits for veterans, not cut them! There are plenty of places money can be cut…like salaries of congressmen who keep getting raises?