My Friend Larry
When I was a young boy I had a friend named Larry Harden. We were not the closest of friends, as Larry was 6 years older than me and when you are young that is a very big age difference. But I liked Larry. He was a nice and kind person who was interested in automobiles. Where many teenage boys go out of their way to act like a tough guy, especially towards younger boys, Larry always had a friendly word and a smile.
Larry lived about a mile from me and a few houses away from my grandmother. From my grandmotherâ€™s front porch you could see the Hardenâ€™s house and the driveway where Larry would work on his car. My dad and Larryâ€™s dad were old friends and sometimes while visiting my grandmother we would go over and see what Larry was up to while he tinkered with his car. And sometimes Larry would stop by our house to show us what improvements he had made.
Then one day in 1970 while he was working as a mechanic for a local auto dealership Larry got his greetings from our government. He was drafted into the Army.
It worried his mother and the other adults, but I donâ€™t recall being overly concerned myself. After all, others I knew had been drafted into the services and sent off to places like Germany and Kansas, so I was sure everything would be okay. And besides, it was the right thing to do, or so I had been led to believe.
My dad had been drafted and sent off to fight the Japanese in World War II. He wouldnâ€™t talk about it very much, mainly keeping to subjects like his friends from basic training and how hot the weather was and how bad the food was overseas. I knew he had to have been a hero fighting for what is right and good in the world as I grew up reading comic books and watching TV shows that told me that inarguable truth.
Now we were fighting the communists over there so that we wouldnâ€™t have to fight them over here; you know, the good old domino theory. Plus we were fighting for the freedom of the Vietnamese people, so that they could be free and live just like us.
So Larry went off to basic training to learn how to protect his fellow countrymen from evil and I went along with my daily routine knowing that all was right in the world. Well, maybe everything wasnâ€™t right, but if the hippies and other malcontents would just go along with the program then things work a whole lot smoother and the problems of the world would be solved oh so much more quickly.
Then one Sunday in January of 1971 things changed.
It was an unseasonably warm day in Pennsylvania and we were sitting on my grandmotherâ€™s front porch. Then I saw a car pull up to the Hardenâ€™s house. â€œLook, Dad, thereâ€™s an Army guy at the Hardenâ€™sâ€, I said. My father immediately told my younger brother and me to go inside the house. We protested as it was such a beautiful day and we were curious about the goings on at the Hardenâ€™s. But my dad knew what was going on and he took us inside.
He sat us down in the living room and got my mom, my aunt and my grandmother from the kitchen.
Then he told us that Larry was dead.
How could this be? I couldnâ€™t understand it. I had just seen Larry in his uniform a few weeks earlier and he had said he was going to California. But my dad knew that the only reason for that officer to be arriving on a Sunday afternoon was to give the family the sad news that their soldier had been killed.
I was stunned on that day. And I remain stunned over 36 years later.
Larry was going to California like he had said weeks earlier. He just left out the part that California was only a stop on the way to Vietnam. And three days after he had arrived in Vietnam, Larry Harden was killed in a helicopter crash.
Larry was twenty years old when he died. A kind and nice young man. The type of man that any parent would be happy to have their daughter marry. But he never got that chance. He never got a chance to own his own auto repair business. Or serve on his church council. Or join the Lions Club or Elks or Rotary. Or tell his mother that he loved her one more time.
Today we have generals and politicians in Washington once again telling us we have to fight people on foreign soil in order to protect ourselves from their evil ways. Once again we have our friends, neighbors and family members dying and becoming maimed in order to continue the status quo. Again the media promotes the government propaganda that frightens people into continuing to support interventions into other lands that are lining the pockets of the well to do and well connected with profits from the violence. This time they point to the armed forces as being made up of volunteers as a further justification for their actions. They want to maintain a volunteer force to make it easier for many people to hide their eyes from the reality of the situation.
What did my friend Larry die for? He died for lies and deceptions. Just like every other soldier in Vietnam and just like every soldier in Iraq. Many people donâ€™t want to face that truth. They become angry. And I understand their anger. It is a terrible thing when you do something for noble and righteous reasons but are used by your leaders in a way that corrupts your intentions. And it is easy to become angry because you do not want to face the truth of how you were deceived. It is easier to deny that you were deceived and to deny that you were corrupted.
We have to stop the deceptions and corruptions. We have to return to the rule of law and the defense of our Constitution. Only by doing that will the taint of the deceptions and corruptions be removed from those who do not deserve that fate. If we truly want to honor the deaths of those who have fought in unjust and illegal wars, in wars that we now call a mistake, then honor the Constitution, honor the rule of law.