Dedicated to Mike Mooney-Semper Fi
My father told me not to tell his visiting Vietnam Veteran friend that I had an expressed interest in joining the Marine Corps when I was sixteen years old. The story went that while Mike was in Vietnam his younger brother and my dad’s best friend Mark would receive a copy of “Leatherneck” magazine in the mail, which he assumed was from his brother in Vietnam encouraging Mark to join. When Mike returned home during a vacation Mark told him that he was considering joining, so Marine Mike choked brother Mark in a heat of passion and convinced him to explore other career opportunities. It was mandated that you sign up for a subscription to the magazine as a recruit in boot-camp, Mike had forgotten about it and did not realize what had been done until the incident.
That day my father was going to ferry Mike and Mark to the “Moving Wall”, a mobile replica of the Vietnam memorial in Washington D.C. that has the names of the fifty eight thousand servicemen killed during the Vietnam War etched into black granite. When they arrived I sat nervously in the kitchen, fearing being choked out by Mike, but eager to learn something about his experiences because I felt that they could help me. At some point Mike asked me what I was going to do after high school and I blurted out, “I am going to join the Marines.” Mike looked baffled and sat a long pause in what seemed to be deep thought and then asked me, “Why in the hell would you want to do a thing like that?” Or something to this affect as he was known to be less elegant with the Queen’s English and more likely to speak Marine. I don’t remember what I told him, it was possible but unlikely that I gave him a patriotic bit about service to the country that had birthed me and knowing myself as a teenager I think I probably told him exactly what was on my mind. Mike sat with his cane propped on his chair and returned to an awkward pause and then he nodded and said, “You’re going to be alright. You will make a good Marine, I can tell.” I almost fainted and said no more about the service, instead we talked about life and then got into the car to visit the Vietnam memorial replica on display at the local park. Mike made his way to a dugout that faced the wall and took a seat. I sat with him and my father and Mark went to see the wall. “I don’t need to see that thing.” Mike said and we sat. When my father returned he asked if Mike wanted to take a look and the old Marine stood his ground and refused, so we sat together in silence as my dad returned to the wall. I looked at the replica from the dugout and could see that the white names seemed never ending.
As we sat there it was just a small wall on a baseball field but at the same time each name was a guy who had gone to high school and had wanted to live but died instead. Mike would have known names on the wall but would not confront them because they were not just etched markings in granite, they were his friends. Mike had carried a radio and fought in Hue City Vietnam, a famous Marine urban battle. In three years I would carry a radio and fight in Fallujah Iraq, which would be compared to the battle for Hue city. We sit in this dugout and I think about how Mike died about five years ago, and about how he would take a phone call from me late at night while I was stationed in Camp Hansen Okinawa, a base that he had also been stationed at. A few times I would receive packages from Mike with gifts inside, his lucky Marine Corps money clip and a book on jungle warfare dated 1968. In about thirty years when the next war kicks off and some punk kid tells me that he’s thinking about joining I won’t choke him out either, some people need to get what they ask for when they really think they mean it.