The latest round of emails traded with my cherished journalism teacher Neal Bandlow brought tears to my eyes.
Coming on 40 years since the guy taught me how to put my five W’s and H together at Morrisville College in the Cherry Valley of upstate New York and I still never know what emotion Bandlow will bring forth from my heart.
Yeah, sports, for us to haggle about my Maryland Terps now in the Big Ten against his Michigan State Spartans. Yeah, newspapers, for him to rail against the big daily specifically for the big layoff and a personnel decision that affected his reading habits and us to lament the state of the industry in general. Family, always, to brag on and ask about our wives and kids and now his grands.
Which brought him to point out a letter to the editor that he’d written to his hometown Oneida Daily Dispatch, which they published shortly after Memorial Day.
It’s about war. And it’s quite a letter. Against. Most definitely, against.
Neal Bandlow, the guy who taught me so passionately about career and life and entwining the two as the Vietnam War era ended, didn’t talk about THAT with us back then. As I recall, we all knew the swoop-haired, intensely focused guy a dozen years our senior had been there. But not much more than that.
Let me let Neal explain, as he did to me in his email:
it first to 60 (emails) of my family/friends/MSU dudes/my Vietnam buddies and got back a ton of thought-provoking replies. Wrote it from my
heart after my 8 year old grand kid, Evan, whom I adore, suddenly
said to me one day, “Popa Neal, what was war like?” I quickly told him
when he was older I would explain it to him, I went into the next room with
tears rolling down my cheeks, cause I never want him to know the answer.
Then…I wrote the Memorial Day letter to the editor and will stand behind
it “forever and a day!” Oh, FYI, only three people in my life ever heard
the account on the day I was wounded: an uncle and aunt (special people)
and my dad. No one else, even 46 years later it is too emotionally painful to
describe. For just a preview, I tell people when they ask: Check out the
final battle scene in the movie “Platoon!” Then I say no more …
No more needs to be said, my friend.
But later, Neal did, sending another email:
And … even though I have been an anti-Vietnam
activist, etc. since 1969, I am still very proud of the medals awarded to
me — I did my job over there, fighting for the American standing next to
me and hoping that both of us would go home again — not in a body bag!
And recall, old friend, these are issues I never discussed with any of
my students for 20 plus years, until around 1990 or so, then on a very
limited basis too!
This is why I am so damn glad that Neal Bandlow taught me so well about words and deeds and matters of the heart those two years from 1975 to 1977, and shows me still about life and love and what can be put into words all these years later.
Do you have friends and relatives who’ve painfully shared their war thoughts, and if so, how did the telling unfold? Do you have young people in your life that bring out introspection and definitive stances, and if so, please share. Who’s the teacher you remember most in your life, and why?