Way out in the Arkansas Delta, near the Mississippi River is the small town of Marvell, Arkansas. We went there last week, my ladies and I, looking for a house Brenda visited as a child. Two aunts lived there and she had a vague recollection that “it was the last house on a small road before you reached the creek.” We finally found it—a story for another day—and so much more.
When you get to Marvell you can keep going east until you reach the city of Helena-West Helena, a fine old struggling town where Robert Johnson used to perform in a local juke joint and which hosts, annually, the world-famous “King Biscuit Blues Festival.”
If you turn north, you can go to Turkey Scratch, boyhood home of Levon Helms, American rock musician, actor, and icon. If you go south, roads will lead you to the communities of Cypert and Watkins Corner. That’s where we headed.
We knew we were getting close when we found the Cypert Cemetery where her aunts and other relatives lie buried. That’s where my “moment of the day” occurred. While the women searched for the graves of relatives, I wandered around randomly reading the tombstones. There was the usual cross section of humankind, including veterans’ stones dating back to the American Civil War.
Oddly, the older tombstones included the exact number of years, months, and days their charges lived on earth. Some enjoyed a long stay, some a short one. The one that caught my eye didn’t state the months, days or years. It was easy enough to figure in my head, though. He died at age 21, in the bloom of manhood.
One can imagine his life. He was, it stated there, a Lance Corporal in the United States Marine Corps who died in October 16, 1966. The additional notes, “Vietnam” and “PH,” told the rest of the story. The details of how he got from Philips County, Arkansas to that foreign place and back are left for us to complete.
It was a nice tombstone, with a loving, personal feel about it. The government, no doubt, gave his family $10,000 for his service and perhaps that paid for it. It certainly didn’t pay them for the years not enjoyed or the joys not shared. But, I’m sure someone spent a good deal of time arriving at that figure—the exact amount of money that a young life was worth back then.
Nearly fifty years have passed since that tombstone was placed in a lonely cemetery in a nearly forgotten place on earth. We still argue about how to treat our veterans. One way would be to quit making their families bury them like this.