Oh, the years creep slowly by, Lorena,
The snow is on the ground again.
The sun's low down the sky, Lorena,
The frost gleams where the flow'rs have been.
Those words are from “Lorena,” a song made from lyrics written in 1856 by Rev. Henry D. L. Webster. The song was a favorite of soldiers from both sides during the Civil War. Legends about it abound. One is that it was banned by officers for have the effect of making soldiers desert. Another is that one officer blamed the South’s defeat on the song for destroying the will to fight. Who knows?
Yesterday, I spent the afternoon with a comrade from another war. Mike Dunkum, longtime friend and college roommate. Mike left college in 1966 join the U.S. Army, ultimately becoming a Green Beret officer before serving his tour in Vietnam.
I joined the U.S. Navy in 1966 in an effort to avoid Vietnam but they sent me there anyway. Unlike today, avoidance of military service was not an option. You just did the best you could.
At any rate, along different paths, we ended up at the same place. Unaware of the fact, we were actually stationed near to one another, though in different branches and in different circumstances.
We ultimately finished our service. Mike returned to college and I went to work. Now, 40-plus years later, the memories of that time are anything but fading. The monsoons are wetter, the dangers greater, the action hotter, and the challenges met with greater élan. I guess it has always been that way.
We didn’t have a love song like “Lorena.” Our favorite sounds much more bitter:
We’ve got to get out of this place,
If it’s the last thing we ever do.
It had been a few years since I last saw Mike. He looks good. The effects of Agent Orange have slowed his body a bit, but not his mind. If our country continues to fund the VA, and that seems iffy at present, he will be fine.
The visit was most pleasant, filling an entire afternoon. Our wives listened patiently as we relived our youth, pretending not to have heard each story dozens upon dozens of times. Maybe that’s what the words, “For better or for worse,” mean.