Let me first say that I didn’t know the man. In fact, my only experience involving him was casual and accidental, although our ages were only two years apart. Our lives were different though. Mine has been long and lucky. His was short and tragic.
His name was Perry Lee Poole and he was a Lance Corporal in the United States Marines, First Platoon, G Company of the Second Battalion, First Marines. He was born on January 05, 1945 and died on October 16, 1966 from small arms fire during a mission in the Quang Nam province of Vietnam on October 02, 1966. His hometown is listed as Helena, Arkansas. His name exists on the wall of the Vietnam Memorial in Washington at Panel 11E, Line 80.
That’s not much to know about a man, is it? How did I come to know that much? A few years ago I drove my wife and mother-in-law to the small town of Marvell, Arkansas in the state’s eastern delta, not far from the Mississippi River. They were searching for the gravesite of relatives and this led us to the nearby community of Cypert, and the Cypert Cemetery where they located the gravesites they sought. While they searched, I wandered, and I stumbled upon the tombstone of Perry Lee Poole.
From the designation of the USMC and his rank, along with his date of death, I had no doubt as to how he ended up at this site. It was just one of more than 50,000 such places scattered throughout America. As a veteran of that tragic chapter in American history, I could only stand in silent gratitude that I had been one of the lucky ones.
I photographed the tombstone and, after filing the photo, decided to see if I could find out anything about this man who never lived to fulfill his potential. Finding the cold facts was easy. Finding about the man was harder. It was as if history had hidden him away, from shame, or sorrow, or both.
Once, I did find comments from a childhood friend left on a website for fallen veterans. It seems that Perry Lee might have been the very model of a young man growing up in rural Arkansas, loving the outdoors, loving his country, and believing the glory of war. He lived to fish and hunt according to his friend who recounted how it wasn’t unusual for Perry Lee to appear before sunrise to plot an adventure.
His friend also recounted sadder times. From the letters Perry Lee wrote from Vietnam, we learn that he had been wounded, sent to the Philippines to recover, and returned to service. His last letter stated a poignant reality, “War is not like they show it in the movies.”
Why does the fate of this man and the scant bit of information about him intrigue me so much? I don’t know, but I think it lies in the knowledge that he may have been as accurate a depiction of a type of young man coming of age during those trying times as one might find. Also, it serves us as a reminder of the real cruelty of war. Perhaps it might convince some of us that we should have no more of them. Somehow, I think Perry Lee would have agreed.