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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
J. Wilborn
Posts: 40
(2/8/01 5:01:46 pm)
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
Instead of the Western Union messenger bringing the WE
INFORM YOU news from the Department of Defense, the CAO or
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.

From: Host: Date: WATER COLORED MEMORIES--. John Wilborn 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
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
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
they had logistic set-ups and plans in place for
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
Wilborn sends. Subject: From: Host: Date: WATER COLORED
John Wilborn 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
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
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.

From: Host: Date: WATER COLORED MEMORIES John Wilborn 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
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
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.
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