Seeing Willy's Kid Run

by: Forrest Brandt
War-Stories LM 11
© Copyright (1999)

 

Sp/4 Willy Johanson (Di An, Feb 1969)

I'm up at the crack of dawn,
cup of black coffee and out the door,
Just more than an hour of freeway and back roads,
cruising along, the fields still brown from planting,
the tree tips red with buds.
Heading to a college track-meet to see your son Willy,
a kid I've never met except through Christmas cards and graduation announcements.
A kid we may have talked about,
sitting on that reviewing stand in Di An,
plotting out our lives after Nam,
watching the freedom birds streak across the lonely night sky.

I drive along,
my mind remembering our phone call two nights back,
You talked and it was as if we were back,
thirty years and fourteen thousand miles ago.
I heard that friendly voice,
the quick jokes,
the un-suppressed laugh,
the voice that made my mad world tolerable.

I round a bend eight miles shy of Oxford,
a place where farms and suburbs collide in an unhappy mix,
I remember how you listened as I exploded with frustration and anger,
all aimed at incompetent superiors,
petty regulations,
bureaucratic shenanigans,
the soul depleting lies and truths of war, government and people that we discovered,
the bloody sacrifice our eyes absorbed.
I remember the soothing way you would talk of home and family,
changing my emotions,
letting me know I wasn't the only one lonesome, frightened, deceived.
God, what a gift your friendship was.
Then.
Now.
A young lieutenant and his enlisted man buddy,
stuck in a war we didn't want,
a tour we never sought.
Just trying to do our duty.
Diligent sons of the Midwest,
longing to survive and go home.

The morning sun warms the cab of my truck,
the red brick and limestone of the college comes into view.
Again my mind drifts to the call, you ask me, "Is Miami University close by?"
"Would you like to see him run?"
Forgive my laugh, my sturdy-legged but always plump friend,
I cannot imagine your son a sprinter,
But I WILL go
I would not miss this.
I owe you more than time itself.

I arrive at the stadium, suddenly shy, unable to barge about and locate your son.
What do they call him?
Will he be embarrassed if I use the name found in our infrequent correspondence: Bubby?
I go with it, tentatively, because it's all I know.
I see a pretty blonde hurdler in Western Michigan sweats stretching for her prelims,
"I'm looking for Bubby Johanson. His dad was my buddy back in Nam. Do you know where he is?"
"Bubby? He's a great guy. He's somewhere working out with the sprinters. Sorry, don't know where they are."
Well at least I know it's Bubby.
I walk around the track, sure I'll see a face, an unmistakable likeness.
Nothing.
The meet moves on.
The day speeds by.
Again I ask.
Again he remains elusive.
Always somewhere else.
The hands on my watch move too fast.
Other commitments tug at my arm.
"Let's go. Too bad, but let's go."
Then I spot a coach.
I repeat my story.
His eyes brighten when I say "Vietnam."
"Great kid, Everybody on the team gets along with him. I'll get him for you. You were with his dad in Nam?
Wow!"

I stand with a group along the fence watching the long jump.
I spot a brown haired kid with soft brown eyes,
your welcome smile and earnest look rests on his handsome face,
the sun glints off his clear young skin,
his racer's body hidden by thick plush yellow and brown warm up,
He stares at the crowd and somehow picks me out,
walks up and reaches out an open hand,
"Are you the one who served with my dad?"
The question causes me to blush with pride.
I look straight at him,
I stare into his face,
but I can not speak.
The emotion,
the beating of my heart,
the screaming buzz in my brain,
the thoughts that could not find my tongue,
I could not find a word for it all.
Not one.
I stood there, mute; nodded, swallowed, and then found my voice.
"Yeah," I finally sputter, "I'm the one. It's great to meet you."

I stayed on.
Appointments would have to keep themselves today.

I watched him run,
smooth, strong, relentless in the open 4, and the 4 by 4, spirited, sure, swift as the wind,
Your kid Willy.
Running with the blood of our friendship deep inside.
Running with the dreams we shared in Vietnam.
Running.

P.S. Willy is alive and kicking. We got together at Bloomington, Indiana in late October to catch the Ohio State - IU football game. Our wives endured two nights of slides, music and BS as we caught up on things. Hoping to see him this summer at the BRO reunion in Louisville. Willy works for Consumer Power of Michigan, doing much of their in-house communications in video. Bubby: his son, is the runner on the right in the second photo.
Forrest Brandt
November 11, 199
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