of July: An American Tale
2017 by Robert Flournoy
My name is Bobby Marchesi. I used to be somewhat of a nobody. I was not an athlete in high school. I did not even play in the band, but sat, usually by myself, at the football games, after which I did not go to the drive through for a hamburger. I never went to a dance or had a girl friend. I was pretty much invisible. My grades were ok but my family did not have the resources to send me to college.
An army recruiter visited our high school during my senior year and I learned about the GI Bill for veterans. I signed up the day I graduated in 1968. I was in basic training in the blast furnace heat of Fort Benning, Georgia, one month later.
There, I got my first taste of belonging to something and had friends for the first time in my life as we struggled with the physical demands of that grueling eight weeks, driven by hard nosed drill sergeants that we hated but came to love. In those days there were no stragglers, no quitters or criers. When I graduated, a band played and I marched with the pride of belonging to something for the first time in my life, knowing that I had met the standards of the greatest army in the world.
Johnny from Chicago, Rick from Birmingham, Jerry from Nashville and about a dozen more names belonging to every skin color there is. I remember their faces, their laughs, and the looks in their eyes to this very day, because I was laughing with them.
After advanced basic training, another eight weeks, I had a short leave during which time I went home, so proud, so very proud that my parents and neighbors could not stop looking at me and smiling. They saw, they felt the change. They could see me now. I was hard as a rock physically, with a clear mind. I was headed for Vietnam and would be there in two short weeks.
And so I was. An 11 B (Eleven Bravo) rifle man with B Company, 1/7 (First of the Seventh) Cavalry, 1st Air Cavalry Division. We used to say that when death smiled on the battlefield, we smiled back: we were Air Cav. Custer's Little Big Horn streamer flew from our standards, and while the butt of wry jokes, we thought of ourselves as something special because we were under the same colors almost 100 years after his demise on a Montana battlefield, defeated by warriors just as fierce and determined as we were. I mention this only because it added to the mystique we felt that we owned, soldiers who swept on swift birds of war called Hueys into remote areas where we would engage our enemy.
Unlike our cavalry predecessors on horses, my first combat assault in a gaggle of 18 choppers carrying 96 men in our company occurred on December 15, 1968. I was still pissing stateside coffee I was told, as a new comer, but I was embraced by those battle hardened 18 year olds like a brother from day one. I was not in the stands, alone, at the games anymore. I was a part of a dance that I would not trade for a Prom experience for all the money in any bank. I was the Prom King, I was a soldier, dancing with brothers who shared the fiercest love, never dreaming to let them down. I would die for them and they would die for me. Despite, even because of the wound that broke my back, I carry that love in my heart now, almost fifty years later, thankful for the chance to have done a heroic thing, something that we all aspire to.
Vietnam was a disaster for our country, and I lament the loss of one million lives, both American and Vietnamese, but I would not trade the experience of it all for anything. I have never met a Vietnam combat veteran who would. They may cry at some memory, or go off someplace far away in their mind in the middle of the day, caught up in some distant thought of swirling colors, smells, and sounds, but they are always proud.
They showed up. Three simple words that carry a weight known only by the brotherhood who wear the patch. On the first Fourth of July, their kind was to be found in the volunteers of the Continental Army under General Washington, with him at Valley Forge and Yorktown, forging the birth of our nation.
And I, Bobby Marchesi, wall flower and once a nobody, am one of them. I fly a flag on this day, proud to know that I was a part of those who have always tried to do the right thing so that we can live in the greatest nation that the history of our world has ever seen. We are not perfect, and we have made mistakes, but our heart is big. It is in no way necessary to serve in the military to feel proud of this day, but it is special to me, for reasons I have tried, however clumsily, to express.
Today, Bobby Marchesi is a proud American who greets everyone he passes with "happy Fourth of July".
P.S. I earned my degree on the GI Bill after the war, and I have two sons. One is a star on his high school's hockey team and the other plays trombone in the band. I make sure that everyone knows who they are. Everyone. Both of them.
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