Life Stories – Remembering Don

My college years were probably the most important years of my life. They were a time when I quit being a skinny kid from a very small rural conservative town. They showed me that I had responsibilities as an adult to more than just myself. They showed me a world that I never knew even existed. I will have a lot of stories here are RJsView (of the world) about those years, but I want to start them out with my memories of Don.

Don was two years ahead of me in college. I was initially introduced to him when I was promoted to a “captain” at the dormitory cafeteria waiter staff. He was the dining room captain. Don just spewed “class” whereas I was just a country pumpkin. He dressed well and lived in Fowler House which was an exclusive part of Fowler Courts dormitory. He was as sophisticated as I was naive. As strange as the possibility was, he became a friend.

One of the things that drew me to him was that he, like me, was a lover of folk songs. I played the guitar in those years but never to the level that he did. Most importantly maybe, was that he introduced me to Bob Dylan and that cinched me to the folk music genre for a lifetime. Once I started buying Dylan records I discovered that Don had Dylan down pat. You almost couldn’t tell the difference between the two when they sang. 🥴

I never felt that welcomed by my dad’s new wife when dad moved into her home. She was just totally dedicated to her two boys to even bother with me. As a result, I often spent the holiday seasons on campus instead of going home. One of those times Don invited me to go home with him for a few days and I readily accepted. When we first went into the door of his lifetime home old people, I mean those in their 40s and 50s, started calling him Uncle Don. That confused me until I learned that when Don was born his parents were in their 50s and already had several already grown children!

Don loved his nieces and nephews even if they were 20 – 30 years older than him. They were a tight-knit family. That closeness was something I just didn’t fathom. My dad, like Don was the baby of the family, but unlike Don he was never close to the rest of the clan. I think part of the reason for that was because of who dad chose to marry. The rest of the clan just never got along with his self-centered narcissist wife. She was just too uppity for them. But, I’m getting off-topic here. That is the story for a future post here.

Don graduated in 1968 and pretty quickly married his childhood sweetheart. That year was also at the height of the Vietnam War. He was drafted into the military within a couple of months after graduation. I later found out that Don was killed within a month of going to Vietnam. This was the first time in my life that I saw death at such a personal level, and I was devastated by it. Even more so when I found out that his wife was pregnant and his child would grow up never knowing what a great father he had. Of course, I would end up losing other friends to that stupid war, but none hit me as hard as Don.

Every time after that when I listened to my Dylan records I thought, and mourned for Don all over again. But, as usually happens that grief gradually subsided, that is until about twenty years later. That was the time that I visited the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington DC. I just wanted to see his name on that wall. Little did I know what effect that would have on me.

From a large book at the site I got where on the wall where his name was and got into a rather long line. After about fifteen minutes the designated slab came into view. At first, I couldn’t find Don’s name but suddenly, it appeared and I just totally lost it. I was crying like a baby and all the good memories of Don flashed across my eyes. I wondered how his now twenty-some year old son, who Don never knew he existed, was doing. Then a second wave hit me as I remembered the high school classmates who were also lost in that war.

It was at that point that I become much more politically involved. One reason is that I wanted to do whatever I could to prevent us from getting involved in other useless wars that wasted so many young lives. Of course, more wars happened despite my meager efforts, but thank God none of them have caused the loss of American life as the Vietnam War.

I know the picture at the top of this post is a pretty blurry one, but I still love it as it was one of the few pictures I had of my college friend that I will never forget. It is how I want to always remember him.