low2go J. Wilborn Posts: 40 (2/8/01 5:01:46 pm) Reply WATER COLORED MEMORIES. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- It was early spring 1967. Idaho Falls, Idaho is lovely in the spring. I and my crew of three fellow instructors were at the Naval and Marine Corp Reserve Training Center teaching NBC warfare classes. Our home base was in southern California and we were on what was called TAD or TDY-(temporary additional duty). The military is renouned for shorting meanings with letters--acronyms I believe it's called. Another such term was to enter my life I'd never heard of before---the troops who had heard of the term before referred to it or them as "THE COW". The CAO--(CASUALTY ASSISTANCE/AFFAIRS OFFICER). Instead of the Western Union messenger bringing the WE REGRET TO INFORM YOU news from the Department of Defense, the CAO or his representive would go to the next of kins home with the heartbreaking news. Such a mind-numbing event had occured in a tiny little coal mining town in West Virginia--a local son, who had been a career Navy man, had been killed in action in Vietnam. However things are meant to happen--whatever is meant to be--I was cought up in that tragedy--the wife of that deceased Navy man had requested via the CAO that I accompany her husband home for internment in their family cemetery. She and her husband had visited our home prior to Christmas 1966--he had orders to go to Vietnam. I had known him since l952 when we were helping to build an airbase down in the Philippine Islands--he was my buddy--my friend. The call from the CAO went out to my base Commanding Officer, who in turn called Idaho Falls where I was teaching. In some manner, these military functions are budgeted for--I was already on a per-diem allowance so the authorization was given for my orders to be modified. The Skipper simply inquired "Wilborn, are you 'geared' for this--any uniform that may be needed--dress blues w/grey gloves, service dress khakis or whites--are you ready"? I assured my CO that I was all set in that way, but I had never been called on to do this type duty. He assured me that he never had to do those type calls in all his service years. The reserve center cut my order modifications, one of the crew drove me to the airport and I was on my way to West Virgina. I arrived in Charleston, West Virgina that evening--the duty driver from the Reserve Center was awaiting my arrival--he drove me to a motel located next door to the Center. Next morning early I met with the Centers Commanding Officer--he offered the use of his Navy vehicle which I accepted. The CAO and I spoke on the phone--he gave me directions on how to get to the tiny town of Salem, West Virgina and who I would contact upon my arrival. He used the term "play it by ear" when I expressed one feeling of insecurity after another--but that was pretty much what every one had told me--"play it by ear". May I return tomorrow to tell you things that happened--I hear we are supposed to keep our posts shortened and abbreviated. I feel deeply it is a story worth telling. Wilborn sends. ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Subject: From: Host: Date: WATER COLORED MEMORIES--. John Wilborn kdialup147.phnx.uswest.net Mon Sep 11 05:27:45 I knew they were military orders, plain and simple. The modification of my original orders had taken me from a teaching assignment in Idaho Falls, to another assignment in the far off state of West Virginia. That assignment was referred to simply as ACCOMPANING. Only short minutes earlier I had spoken on the phone to a man with an unusual handle if you will--THE COW. The cow was the acronym for CAO-- (CASUALTY ASSISTANCE/AFFAIRS OFFICER. He had given me directions for driving to his location from the Charleston Naval & Marine Corp facility where I had picked up a Navy sedan for my use in ACCOMPANYING. I was to meet this person called The Cow in Clarksburg, West Virginia and from there we would 'play it by ear'. Damn, everyone said that--I was depending on someone for directions in this new task and everyone told me that--'we'll play it by ear'. The early morning drive was pleasant and uneventful--I suppose the thoughts of Donnie and his wife Thelma were more than I should have. The childless couple had visited my home in California the previous winter--around Christmas time as I recall. Donniehad been attending a Navy Class and now had orders to Vietnam--Thelma was going back to her family in West Virginia while he was gone. Donnie and I had gone back a long ways--both of us had been mere teen age NAVY SEABEES, when during th Korean war, we had helped shovel an entire mountain out in to the salty depths of Subic Bay down in the Philippine Islands. Of course, we didn't stay in touch that much--just doesn't work that way in the military, but along the way we'd 'bump heads'--in Rhode Island, I was on instructor duty and Donnie was preparing to go down to the ice (Antartica) and winter over--I tought Donnie and his group a class on fuel oil burner operation and repair. Yes, there were other times--one time I was hauling left over constuction supplies from Port Lyautey, Morocco up to Rota, Spain and run into Donnie. But directions had taken a different turn--Donnie was killed in action very near the demiliitarized zone in Vietnam--a place called Con Thien. As I drove, a thousand scenirios played across my mind--they said it was rockets--I hadn't been to Vietnam yet so that weapon system had no meaning for me--. I thought about how I had been brought into this ACCOMPANING assignment--maybe they had asked the next of kin, that being Donnie's wife Thelma, about a buddy or a friend to help out during this terible time and that was how I had been designated. The trip to Clarksburg was where I would begin getting help with this 'play it by ear' thing. A small well laid out town--lots of church steeples--a mixture of brick and wood homes--lots of corrugated metal roofs on the houses--nothing seemed new like in California--all the metal roofs seemed rusty--lots of weeds--no well maintained lawns. The address I was given turned out to be a church--The Cow was an older minister--maybe a World war II vet--he reminded me of Gary Cooper--long, sad face--black suit with a vest and string tie. Was this going to be the key person to help me 'play it by ear'--. It was easy for me to call him Chaplain--he was still in the Army Reserves--he was as comfortable as could be with a simple title of Chief for addressing me. By mid afternoon a plan had developed--Donnie's remains would be arriving at Dover, Delaware sometime that evening. The chaplain told me we would be at the Army's disposal--that they had logistic set-ups and plans in place for ACCOMPANYING. He used that seemingly over-used term 'play it by ear' so easily. In fact, once he told me that my role in the scheme of things was a figurehead--for the family--for them. I took a degree of solace when he mentioned the family. I had not even met with them yet--how in the world would I 'play that by ear'? (more tomorrow) Wilborn sends. Subject: From: Host: Date: WATER COLORED MEMORIES John Wilborn kdialup95.phnx.uswest.net Tue Sep 12 04:58:12 I had been calling him CHAPLAIN every since our meeting and occasionally, Mr. Scoggins, for he wore that nametag on his jacket. He had been right--I was just a figurehead--things were working themselves through in their own good time--and fast time at that. The CAO(CASUALTY ASSISTANCE/AFFAIRS OFFICER), Mr. Scoggins had rec'd. notification that Donnie's remains would be arriving at Dover, Delaware for transhipment to Miller's Funeral Home in Clarksburg, West Virginia. He had assured me that my responsibilities of ACCOMPANYING did not entail traveling with the shipment. He had done this often enough so he should know--I felt relieved. Donnie's family did not have a telephone so the Chaplain simply suggested driving to their home that evening, unannounced. The very small village of Salem, west Virginia was to be our destination--the home of Donnie's parents and his wife Thelma. The reason for the trip was two fold--first, the CAO would update them as to the current status of Donnie and secondly I was to meet with Thelma and be introduced to Donnie' Mom and Dad. So often folks from the South are depicted by cartoonists as lowly characters-- rude jokes, or rowdy behaviour seems to be the theme for their poking fun. That evening when Mr. Scoggins introduced me to the family, I was amazed at their strength and graciousness. Thelma was as I remembered her when she and Donnie had visited our home in California less than a year ago--she thanked me for being able to come--she said Donnie had spoke of our friendship often. Quiet and refined people--years of hard work had bent their backs and knurled their hands but their spirts were in place and alive and well. Donnie's Dad told us he had been busy throughout the day plowing garden spots for local residents. He told us about OLD CHARLIE--with all the hurt that poor man had in his heart for loosing his son on the field of battle, he told us smilingly about Old Charlie. Old Charlie was a mule. He used Old Charlie to plow small garden spots where tractors could not get into because of obstructions, fences, or other conditions. He said some of the residents had the same garden spots for more than a hundred years--and I remember him chuckling when he said he hadn't been plowing them that long though. I remember how they were dressed that evening--Thelma and her mother-in-law were in dark dresses--the Mom had a flowered apron over her dress--she had served us coffee as we visited--the old plowman had on striped bibb overalls--a blue chambray shirt buttoned all the way up to his throat, and a leather watch fob hanging out of the chest pocket. He politey asked the Chaplain to say a prayer before we left--he took the big old pocket watch out of his pocket, snapped the cover open and laid it on the oil-cloth covered table. Following the benediction and a few spoken pleasantries the CAO and I departed for Clarksburg--I had accepted Mr. Scoggins invitation to stay in the church rectory. The following morning a messenger from Miller's Funeral Home delivered the news that Donnie's body had arrived during the night. Strange today, I had not heard the expression of "we'll play it by ear"--I think that was replaced by the prayer that the Chaplain had invoked at Donnie's parents the night before, "Dear Lord--we beseech you". Wilborn sends. PLEASE NOTE: THIS IS THE THIRD POST THAT I HAVE TITLED WATER COLORED MEMORIES--FOR MY ATTEMPT AT CONTINUITY, MAY I INVITE YOU TO READ THOSE ALSO--THE FINAL POST WILL BE TOMORROW-I DID IT IN THIS MANNER TO MEET NEW CRITERIA ON POST LENGTHS. I'M OBLIGED TO YOU. JW -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Subject: From: Host: Date: WATER COLORED MEMORIES John Wilborn kdialup142.phnx.uswest.net Thu Sep 14 05:34:53 Even though I had been staying at the rectory with Chaplain Scoggins, we did not see much of one another. He was the CAO (CASUALTY AFFAIRS OFFICER)for a large area around Clarksburg, West Virginia. The much smaller town of Salem was where Donnie's family lived. My duty was listed as ACCOMPANYING--at some point in time following their notifiction that Donnie had been killed in action in Vietnam, Donnie's wife Thelma had requested me to accompany the remains. I had seen Mr. Scoggins, the CAO, that morning and we were scheduled to have lunch in Clarksburg Thursday. The purposeof the meeting was for him to fill me in on the details that had developed. It was good to see Chaplain Scoggins--his out and about on his missions of mercy or whatever. Over lunch he informed me that the services for Donnie would be at sunrise the next morning--Donnie's family, primarily his dad was very forceful in the arranging according to Mr. Scoggins--something to do with Scottish rites--. There was to be no volley of shots fired--only a three man military contigent was to be used and that was for the flag folding--the flag was to be presented to Donnie's Mother instead of Thelma, Donnie's wife. All the pall bearers was to be clan --my eyes must have popped open on that word of clan for Mr. S. assured me it was a Scottish term--. At their meeting house--that's what thet called their church, all the activities that were to carried out was family and clan. The following morning I drove to Salem--a tiny little burg and it was not difficult to locate the meeting house. Hanging kerosene lamps provided illumination--a big, pot-bellied, wood burning stove provided warmth in the cool chill of the spring morning. A big black smoke pipe extended straight up to and through the slanted roof. Donnie's flag draped casket was up front near the pulpit--some of the wooden pews were already occupied--I was dressed in my Navy dress blues--grey gloves, and I felt overdressed as I looked around. Folks were dressed in their work clothes--many men were wearing bibb overalls--and a kind of dark jacket or coat with no collar. The women were mostly in dark dresses --some with shawls over their shoulders. I noticed there was no sign at all of weeping or catterwalling I normally associate that with funerals. I set down in the rear near to the Chaplain Scoggins--he had told me the meeting house had their own deacon-priest to conduct Donnie's services. He mentioned also that the hearse from the funeral home would not be used--and when the flag was folded and presented to Donnie's Mom, another banner if was called would be placed over the casket. A tap on my shoulder by a person who must have been serving as an usher, requested that I go up and sit with Donnie's family. Thelma smiled when I set down near her--.The services were more of a testimonial than typical conducting by the deacon--he sit up on the stage near the pulpit and things just kind of developed. Donnie's Dad spoke of his son--what a good boy he had been--another big raw-boned man stood and spoke--only the men it seemed--a scattering of testamonials here and there--old and young. I looked over toward Thelma--she nooded her head and I used that occasion to stand and offer up words for my friend. I introduced myself and mentioned ever so briefly that Donnie and I had served together many times--that Donnie had performed well in the service of his country and he had been rewarded with many positions of responsibility--that I would miss him and the Navy would miss him. The deacon spoke and offered up a prayer--the flag detail performed and presented the national ensign to Donnie's Mother and they departed the meeting house. Two older men, one carrying a white, rolled up cloth, approached the casket. Very reverently they unrolled what seemed to be a flag. It was a rectangular cloth with a dark colored cross extending the entire length and breadth. They draped it over the casket in the same manner as the American Flag had been displayed earlier. Mr. Scoggins had mentioned that only the family and clan men were permitted at the grave site--the women would go at daylight the following morning to decorate the grave with flowers and memoribilia. The pall bearer arranged themselves around the coffin and carried it out to the waiting hearse. The hearse was a steel wheeled wagon--(probably the same one as Donnie's Dad hauled his garden plows on)and it reminded me of the baggage carts one used to see around railroad depots. The pall bearers carefully positioned the casket on the wagon and with a piece of white rope, secured it in place. The mule, Old Charlie, the one Donnie's Dad plowed gardens with seemed unconcerned--just another hauling job for an old farm mule. The morning sun had risen as the funeral possession of male family and clan members trudged slowly away toward the family cemetery. Mr. Scoggins had mentioned that the family cemetery had been there more than one hundred years--he said some of the live oak trees and weeping willows there were as large as he'd ever seen--and he commented how green the grass was. I recall in my minds eye, that final view before I departed the tiny town that was my friends home--thirty or forty men--most wearing their everyday work clothes, following behind an old plow mule being led by Donnie's Dad, pulling an old steel wheeled wagon that held the coffin of his son, covered with a white flag with a cross of some sort off to Donnie's green, green grass of home. Wilborn sends.