Johnny rose early this morning
After another sleepless night
He started the coffee brewing, dark and strong
Then returned to his room to shower and shave

Most days Johnny did not leave the house
He preferred to stay at home
Didn’t shave too often either
As there were few people around to impress

For weeks he would wander through the empty rooms
Venture outside just to mow the lawn
And to trim a few scrawny bushes
Or make the short walk down the lane to pick up his mail

Twice a month he went into town
One trip was to restock his supplies
If he ran out of something he needed later
Well he would just go without

His other trip was to the VA clinic
Which was just about fifty miles away
He’d sit for an hour or two waiting
To spend an hour with his shrink

The Doc would talk and Johnny would mumble
Telling the Doc he was doing okay
Johnny never did bother to mention his troubles
Or how he had stopped taking the meds the Doc had prescribed

No one came to see him anymore
But that was just fine with him
He had an old computer hooked up in the parlor
Johnny did his talking on it

He belonged to an Internet group of old Marines
All of them Vietnam Vets
They traded jokes and information
And that was enough for him

Johnny did not blame his wife for leaving
For fifteen years she had gamely stayed on
But he did wonder why she left when she did
For after he had stopped drinking the worst seemed to be behind them

He checked his chin closely in the mirror
Inspecting the closeness of the shave, for today he wanted it close
Drying off he combed his long hair
Threw on some cheap after shave

While drinking the hot dark coffee
He slipped into a new pair of blue jeans
Buttoned up a clean white shirt
And tucked it deep into his waist

He got out his favorite pair of cowboy boots
Dark brown with pointed toes
And taking a kitchen towel, wiped them clean
Smiling at the fact that only a single guy could get away with this

Out of the closet he pulled his old green field jacket
Covered with his Marine unit’s insignias and patches
The U.S. flag proudly displayed on his right shoulder
Slipping it on he zipped up the front

He poured the remainder of the coffee in a mug to go
And on his way out the door he placed a red baseball cap on his head
With the blue diamond and five white stars circling the big red one
Of the 1st Marine Division

He pulled his truck out onto the highway and headed for town
Although it was already mid-April it was still cold
With leftover snow in the ditches along the road
And on the shady sides of the small hills that spotted the countryside

It was already midmorning, but he knew that he was early
The sun was shinning brightly in the clear blue sky
As Johnny pulled off the main highway and onto the gravel road
The Cemetery Road at the edge of this small Midwestern town

When he came to within a half mile of the cemetery
He pulled the truck just off the road into a field and parked
Getting out he stood by the hood
Lit a cigarette and waited

He heard the procession before he saw it
The crunching of the gravel under the heavy load
Announced the funeral’s slow advance
With a young Marine Lance Corporal, killed in Iraq, in the lead car

Johnny was surprised by the number of mourners
Which followed the big black hearse
It looked as if the whole town had turned out
All to pay homage to this fine young man

Now memories flooded his mind
Remembering his brother’s funeral at this same place
Good, loving, smiling Van, killed at Hue, buried just up this hill
So long ago, ... no just yesterday

Watching the vehicle’s numbers grow
All with small American flags flying out their windows
Johnny thought of the few who had come to bury Van
Just a handful of friends with his small family

“How times have changed.”
He murmured to himself
And sadly shaking his head he said,
“This is the way it should always be.”

They were closer now
So he gathered himself,
Pulled down on his field jacket to straighten it
Flipped away the last of his cigarette

And as the big hearse with the brave, young warrior
Pulled even with this old Vietnam Vet
Standing alone at the side of the road
To pay a small tribute to his fallen Brother

Johnny snapped to a ramrod attention
Gave his smartest, sharpest salute
And with tears of pride and sorrow running down his face
Held it until the last car passed

Michael Tank        USMC
Scout/Snipers   1969-1972
The Tribute
"Copyright 2004.  Michael E. Tank  All rights reserved. No part of this document may be copied, faxed, electronically transmitted, or in any other manner duplicated without express written permission of the author."