Harold Gay, I Remember You

May 28, 2013

Sun sets on the day that is Memorial Day, 2013. On Memorial Days past, I remember selling poppies for the VFW in Ayden at a card table in front of Edwards Pharmacy. Daddy was a veteran of WWII. He was a graduate in the Class of 1938, VMI. He graduated as a 2nd Lieutenant and assigned to a Troop of National Guardsmen called up in service to the country in the war effort. I was not yet born, but I remember the stories of how his troop was called up and sent to Camp Dix for final exam before going to Normandy. Daddy was drawn from the ranks because of a heart murmur. Had he gone, he would likely have been one of the 100% plus casualties his men incurred. Thank you; I remember you. My husband was of age for service during the Viet Nam War. That was a war that should, in my opinion, have ended all wars. We were newly married and scared to pieces. We are lovers, not fighters, you see. When he had a call to join the National Guard, we gave thanks. He trained at Fort Campbell in Kentucky and Fort Sill in Oklahoma. I drove to Oklahoma to be with him during AIT Training. I took in washing and ironing to pay the rent and buy groceries during that time. His greatest call of service was in the riots that followed Martin Luther King's assassination in 1968. Thank you; I love you and will always remember you and the great service of the National Guard in times of trouble. Tonight, however, I most remember Harold Gay. Harold Gay was a young African American in the late 1960s who worked as a bag boy at the Winn Dixie in Wilson. He was always cheerful and courteous. I had a great affection for him. It is likely that his options were not broad and deep as he got ready to graduate from Fike High School in the spring of 1968.  I remember his talking about joining the Army after his graduation because that was just about the only chance he had to have money for going to college. What a handsome, bright, capable young man he was. I remember his care and his courtesy. What a blessing to know Harold Gay! The next time I saw him was at a Fike football game in 1968. I was pregnant with our first child who was born in 1969, so I well remember that football season. Harold was in his uniform, a dashing Private First Class if ever there was one. We exchanged warm words and kindness born of relationship in a most unlikely place, the Winn Dixie checkout. What a magnificent young man he was,  full of hope and promise. The next time I saw his name was in an obituary in the Wilson Daily Times about a year after I had seen him. He had been shipped to Viet Nam. He was lost to his family and lost to all the rest of us there. Harold Gay's name is the only name I know on the Viet Nam Wall in Washington, DC. There are thousands of names there of young men black and white whom I do not know. This is what I do know and what I deeply believe: in the 8th century BCE, the prophet Isaiah wrote these words as Assyria was surely getting ready to slam a people into oblivion: "They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation; neither shall they learn war any more." This is a word I have preached on more than one occasion. Oh, I am grieved that we did not learn this lesson before Harold Gay, and all the others whose names are on that wall, and all whose names are on all the walls around the world, and all whose names are likely to be on a wall somewhere in remembrance, until we learn that war does not work. Period. You see, our enemies are like kudzoo. We may be able to keep the kudzoo away while we have round up and hoes and strength enough to stave 'em  off, but kudzoo wins in the end. Borders of arbitrary design and nations rise and fall and young precious people are cold in a grave until somebody somewhere says, "Enough!" I remember you, Harold Gay, and give thanks for your life tonight. Thank you for the fight you fought. I have learned from you; I pray the nations will. When will we ever learn? When will we ever learn?    

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