A Rhoades Never Forgotten
I struggled with how to cover Memorial Day this year. Since 2018, I have dedicated a post to it, experimenting with both prose and poetry.
Here are past entries:
Perusing my own work made me realize that I haven’t reflected in prose since 2018. Interestingly enough, the 2019 and 2020 poems were appeals to society at large to change its attitude and behave a certain way regarding the holiday. In 2021, I returned to more personal reflection, possibly because I figured it was more genuine or effective than previous efforts.
Despite attempts of a personal nature, I haven’t mentioned a fallen soldier by name. Mostly likely because I have known veterans-both of my grandfathers and multiple other family members served- but no fallen military.
A photo posted by my uncle on Facebook got to me.
On June 6th, 1968, Private First Class Louis George Rhoades passed away at the age of 18 in Vietnam due to “wounds suffered from a mortar shell.”
I thought about Louis a lot in the past few days.
Perhaps because Louis gave me the chance to learn about my father’s hometown Pembine and its people, despite not having been there since I was an infant.
Aside from my dad’s stories and these kinds of social media posts, I don’t get to interact with Pembine and its inhabitants.
Perhaps I’ve thought about him because of similar backgrounds and interests.
We both played in our respective school bands.
We both appreciate forests and nature.
We both wear glasses- but I bet his eyesight was better than my 20–400 ‘telescopic’ vision.
That’s where the similarities end.
Perhaps Louis has stuck in my head because he breathed his final breaths across the ocean far, far too young.
Before getting home.
Before getting married.
Before raising a family.
Before becoming a forest ranger.
Before meeting his youngest brother.
Unlike Louis, I won’t be drafted. (unless conscription returns in the U.S. and they are willing to take aging cross country runners)
I will have the opportunity to get married, raise a family and pursue my passions and most likely pass in my homeland, with friends and family around me.
An Internet search revealed that Louis has a memorial on the virtual Wall of Faces, which “features a page dedicated to honoring and remembering every person whose name is inscribed on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.”
As I read the messages to Louis written by his brother, family members, friends and fellow serviceman, I felt loss, pride and urgency.
I felt compelled to write my own:
“Although we never played instruments, walked in the forest or marched together, you have touched my life, Louis. I will never forget your sacrifice. There will be a forest ranger in your honor in my fantasy novels.”
It’s funny, isn’t it?
Memorial Day became realer to me through the passing of someone I had never met, from a town I’m only vaguely familiar with, from an era I can only read and hear about.
I can only hope he’ll like his character and how he treats nature.
It’s the least I can do.
For a Rhoades never forgotten.