He lived two doors down from us in a typical ranch style house in the San Fernando Valley, Pacoima to be exact. It was 1962, a time before the Beatles took over the airwaves, when the Tijuana Brass was blaring "The Lonely Bull" on the little transistor radios. Life was simple, we spent a lot of time outside playing and amusing ourselves with whatever was at hand. We lived at the end of a cul-de-sac, and each day after school the kids on the block would gather for a game of kickball. Herbie was two years older than I, and he had a tremendous "crush" on my older sister, which he never let on to anyone. He was just a kid who hung around with us, mainly after school and on weekends.
Herbie's father was a plumber and I remember that old truck loaded down with all kinds of pipes and fittings. We never saw him much, only when he returned after a long, sweaty day, he would pull into the driveway and disappear into their house. We would be playing kickball in the street when we would hear him bellow out, "Herbie, get in the house NOW!!!!" Herbie would look at us and sigh and then he would take off running. He never stayed an extra few minutes, and his father never had to call more than once.
Herbie was kinda shy and very respectful of any grownup around. Daily we all would gather there in the street to play or just hang out. In the winter of 1964 I returned to live with my grandparents in Omaha, but missed the camaraderie of those times in the valley. It wasn't until much later in my life when I bumped into someone from that time and asked about our old friend, Herbie. As kids, consumed with our own lives, we never paid much attention to what was really going on around us. I didn't know what went on behind closed doors at Herbie's house, only that his father yelled at him a lot. I didn't know that Herbie was beaten on a daily basis with a leather belt that had studs in it. But looking back now I remember his eyes after his father called him, that look of defeat. How much Herbie must have felt like a failure, never being able to please his father. When Herbie graduated from high school he grasped the first opportunity that came along. He entered the service and after basic training was one of the first to be sent to Vietnam. He must have felt scared inwardly yet happy that he was finally doing something positive, that would make him feel good about his contribution toward his fellow man. I knew Herbie well enough to know that his strong desire was to please and to be loved in return. He hadn't been *in country* very long when he was killed by the enemy.
On this beautiful autumn morning I am walking along the path that leads to the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C. I am thinking about Herbie, my childhood friend and wondering, "has Herbie's father ever been here to find his son's name on this wall?" Somehow the sun is shining just right and the slick, black surface is almost liquid, reflecting the passing throng of humanity .... the living perfectly mirrored against so much death and sorrow. I find his name there and gently my fingers trace each letter engraved ... almost reverently. Tears trickle down my cheek and I whisper aloud, "Herbie, I came, I cared .... thanks for being my friend and touching my life."
In Memory of:
... October, 1999