May 16th…“SHARE A MEMORY INVOLVING A WAR DURING YOUR CHILDHOOD OR YOUTH.”
Since the days of the Biblical account of when Cain killed his brother Abel, it seems that for every generation, there has been some sort of conflict or war. Whether localized or global, man’s struggle with his fellow man has darkened the pages of history.
The year was 1965 and I had just turned 11 years of age. With a bit more maturity setting in, I was beginning to be more cognizant of life out there in the wide world beyond the farm lands of Minnesota. I began hearing bits and pieces about some distant land called Vietnam. At the time, while helping Dad down in the barn, I’d increasingly hear news reports, over our old plastic barn radio, about more frequent fighting that was happening in this jungle-infested land. Up till that time, in my young life, I couldn’t have even shown you the location of this place called Vietnam on a map without adult assistance.
For many Americans of that era, including my father, to learn about this current war issue, they turned to the trusted journalist named Walter Cronkite, who was the leading commentator on the television program called “The CBS Evening News”. Almost every evening, it seemed, Mr. Cronkite revealed to us what was being called a “police action” in that distant land called Vietnam. Not a war, mind you, only a “police action”.
In order to provide a bit of a setting for this story, I’ll share that in our hometown of Kiester, Minnesota, there was no concept of Middle School (in my humble, personal opinion). If a young person passed the tests at the end of his 6th Grade year, then the next fall, he started High School in 7th Grade. As such, my first year of High School was like setting foot in a ‘new world’ of those long, hallowed halls of where the upperclassmen lived. Here was little runt, me, walking around in the company not only of the 8th Graders, but towering Freshman, Sophomores, Juniors and Seniors. I’ll gladly admit, I did really feel grown up to the point where now I could associate with these (mostly) mature young adults. Heck, we even rode the same bus to school and partnered in social and athletic activities.
The issues of the war (police action) in Vietnam began to take on a ‘closer to home’ feeling for me, as a preteen, while I’d listen to conversations among those older upperclassmen who were now mature enough to be registered for what was known as the military’s Selective Service System (also known as The Draft). Those young men, of those High School halls, were now, or soon would be, at the crossroads of being 18 years old and deciding to voluntarily join the Army, Air Force, Coast Guard, Marines or Navy. Or, if they did not voluntarily choose a branch of military service (including the Army), all 18 year old males would then have their birth dates put in a jar. As a date was pulled, all the boys with that specific birth date would be ‘called’ or drafted into the Army. As the United States committed more and more troops to that war (police action), locally, we began to see a growing number of our young men being sent to that far away land to assist the government of South Vietnam, and through military might, work to thwart the advances of the North Vietnamese Communists that were pushing down from the north half of that torn land.
One of those towering upperclassmen, that I have described earlier, was a fine young man by the name of Daryl Garvick. The Garvick family were farmers, like we were, and their two sons were brimming over with ebullience and vitality for life. Whether Daryl was drafted into the Army, or volunteered for that military service to our nation, I’m not sure, but, I DO know that the Vietnam War (police action) would now have a local face for me to identify with. Young Mr. Garvick was a tall, strapping man with blonde hair and a mischievous twist to his grin as he boarded my school bus each morning. This young buck was just overall fun to be around and many of us guys gravitated to his gregarious nature. Daryl and this farmer boy were team members of the Bulldog Wrestling Squad together. I often observed his strength in his ability to make his wrestling opponent ‘suffer’ on the matted arena as he’d drive his muscled mass into that poor guy, from the opposing team, and ‘bury him’ into the mat for a pin and a win.
I counted it a privilege to get to know this fine frame of a farm boy as we’d joke and jostle each other during wrestling practices each day during that time of year when the wrestling season came around. I found the bus rides to and from Wrestling Meets were actually more fun than the competitions themselves, thanks to garrulous Garvick keeping teammates laughing as we’d go bouncing down those graveled Minnesota roads. Daryl had the adulation of many an underclassman runt, such as I, and we looked up to him in our daily life there at Kiester High School.
My lanky farmer boy friend took on a new aura of respect in my eyes when I started to hear of his soon departure into the United States Army. That tall, muscular, blonde young man left our pastured Minnesota farm lands for Basic Training and then deployment, in June of 1967, to the rice paddies and towns of South Vietnam. Daryl was bound towards that mystical sounding land that resided on the other side of the world from all that he knew as home and family there with us in Minnesota.
A little over a month, from the time young Mr. Garvick left for the Army, our family had sold our farm and moved to Washington State. We all were busy settling in to our new life in that new State from August of 1967 until late February of 1968 when our hometown newspaper, The Kiester Courier, arrived in the mailbox at our new home in Battle Ground, Washington. We had kept up our subscription to the paper to maintain connection with our dear friends ‘back home’ in southern Minnesota. A page or two into the “Courier” and an emotional shock set in as we saw Daryl’s photograph and the article that shared how he had recently died in Vietnam from wounds sustained in street fighting within the city of Saigon. I was stunned to the point of tears!!! How could this be? My wrestling buddy……..GONE??? He was just 18 years old!!! His 19th birthday was just days away, yet he’d not see it come to fruition. It seemed so unreal, yet there it was, in black and white. The war in Vietnam became instantaneously personal and had ‘come home’ to me. Someone I had known personally had his life taken in that bloody engagement that would eventually consume the precious lives of over 58,000 of our young men and women in uniform. I was now keenly aware of that conflagration that was never officially declared as a war. It was a tumultuous time in our nation’s history and Daryl Garvick’s death caused a true mourning in the heart of this Norwegian Farmer’s Son.