My father-in-law, Adrien Roussel, whom I called “Pop,” was the ultimate patriot. Not a political patriot like those who seem to be on every street corner these days, but a take-your-hat-off-when-you-see-the-flag sort of patriot. I halfway expect that when I look up the word “patriot” in the dictionary, I’ll see his picture.
These days he’s in a cemetery in Baton Rouge, resting beneath a grave marker inscribed “SSGT US Air Force KO.”
Whenever my wife and I visit him, I generally wander around while she spends some quiet time with her folks. During my strolls, I began to notice the relatively large number of veterans’ grave markers nearby.
Pop’s neighborhood in the Garden of Prayer is fairly small — probably 250 graves thereabout — yet I was surprised that 37 veterans are there.
One of my favorite TV shows is “The Twilight Zone.” I could easily write an episode about Pop’s neighborhood. I can see the soldiers, both young and old, congregating under the moonlight to tell their war stories.
There’s a bond between soldiers that people like me will never fully understand. As a young man, I considered myself lucky that my Vietnam draft number never got called. These days I read books like “The Soldier’s Story,” a riveting account of Vietnam in the words of the men who served there. Whether Vietnam or World War II or the continuing conflict in the Middle East, one theme seems consistent: Soldiers throughout time may have stepped onto the battlefield because of political turmoil, but their focus quickly shifts to taking care of their buddies.
Many military history books and documentaries sum it up by simply saying, “We were just trying to keep each other alive.”
Corporate America loves to create mission statements, most of which are filled with empty words. Imagine a mission statement that simply says, “We’re just trying to keep each other alive.”
I’ll never know the details of the lives of the men and women in Pop’s neighborhood, but their grave markers sometimes tell interesting stories. Lt. Cmdr. Aubert, for example, was the obstetrician who delivered my two children, yet I never knew he served as a Naval officer in Vietnam until I saw his grave marker today.
And there lies Pvt. Samaha and Staff Sgt. Samaha. Were they brothers? Their markers tell me the younger of the two was a sergeant. I can only imagine the good-natured ribbing within that family.
And there is Lt. Col. Strawn, who served in WWII. Glancing over to Mrs. Strawn’s grave marker reveals she also served in the Army. Did they meet and fall in love during the war?
And there is Sgt. Campbell, the only Persian Gulf vet in the neighborhood, who died at a relatively young age. Did he die in battle?
And here is 1st Lt. Gastinel, who served in the Army during WWII. No big deal, right? But this first lieutenant was a lady, which was certainly a big deal 70 years ago.
We live in a time in which you can learn anything about anyone by simply typing their name in Google, yet the majority of the names on these grave markers come back with no record. Pop probably knows the story of each by heart. Perhaps some were true heroes. Some may have simply done their duty and returned to their lives back home. Regardless, may God bless the souls of each and every solider, not just in Pop’s neighborhood, but everywhere.
— Singleton lives in Livingston
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