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Friday, 11 November 2011

The Quiet Warrior

By Madonna Dries Christensen of On Worlud Pond

For Veteran’s Day, I salute my brother David, who served in Vietnam.

He’d been an easily frightened child fleeing anything noisy: airplanes, barber's clippers, food mixer. He outgrew those fears; his military record speaks for itself, as do his years spent tilting at windmills, public and personal.

He went off to war a boy, naïve and irresponsible. He came home a man; burdened by what he'd participated in and witnessed. His gray eyes registered a sad and frightened look. Like many veterans, David didn't tell war stories. His closest friend for many years was unaware that David earned the Bronze Star.

When prodded by an older brother for the reason for the medal, David said that although he had a desk job, he once volunteered to go out on patrol. There, he lay down covering fire while the rest of his group retreated.

David’s letters to me indicate that he supported the war while there. He later discarded his medals, joined Vietnam Veterans Against The War and worked for VISTA, United Farm Workers and other public service jobs.

The story goes that during his stint with UFW, you could ask any farm worker in southern Colorado where David was and they knew who you meant. I’ve written about David on my website and in a book, The Quiet Warrior. I do not make him out a hero; I simply tell his story.

At David’s memorial service, a young woman rose to speak. No one seemed to know who she was. She said, "I didn't know David well, but he seemed so kind."

I can't think of a nicer way to be remembered. Ironically, I believe David learned to be kind through his experiences in one of the unkindest acts known to man - war.

Here, David’s stepdaughter, Penny Tharp Ozinga, reveals the impression he left on her:

April 1, 2011

Today marks the 15th anniversary of the passing of my dad, David. He died young, at 50, of a heart attack. And while the years have continued to tick by since his passing, his spirit and talents live on in the paintings he did that are in my home; in the face and disposition of my sister Rosie; and in the love of art and all things musical and visual that exist in me. My dad was an artist and an avid music lover.

He painted on canvas, he was a writer and poet, he loved taking pictures and he was an avid music fan. I spent the years of my youth looking at his 1000 + record collection and absorbing the images of the 60s and 70s art and music culture.

I watched him paint on the weekends in his little makeshift studio in our house. We wrote poems together and talked about writing, philosophy, politics and how to be of service to those less fortunate.

As a child and teenager, I created my own artwork mainly pen and ink drawings and designs, and he would hang things up or give me his praise and critiques. I became serious about photography after he died, but I know that my style and sense of imaging are inspired by him and what he taught me.

I feel that his Bohemian spirit lives on in me and my desires to experiment, to find beauty in both the traditional and the strange and abstract and to create images rather than just capture them.

Even though the man, the father, the friend as I knew him is gone from this realm, I am blessed that he passed on his love and style and talents to me and it keeps him alive not only in my memory but in my heart and in how I choose to see the world and make sense of it. May all that I create bring honor to him.

Madonna's brother David

[INVITATION: All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. They can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, memoir, etc. Instructions for submitting are here.]

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 05:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post


What a lovely piece/peace and memorial to a brother and a father. Someone in my family always says when someone in our family or a close friend dies. They live on in the memory of others. Thank you for keeping your brother/father alive.
Michigan Grandma

I remember as a little girl walking with my Dad and all of a sudden the siren came on and everyone froze in place.

I remember my Dad taking off his hat and holding it over his heart and as I looked around all the other men and women in the park were standing with their hands over their hearts,too.

I asked Dad what it was about and he explained "Armistice Day" to me. That it was 11 o'clock on November 11,1918 that brought the First World War to a close and what that day meant to all of us and how grateful we should be to all the men and women who served out Country in the Military service.

He said that when we got home we would read a poem that had been written by a Canadian Doctor who was at the front in Belgium.This is that poem.

In Flanders Fields
by John McCrae, May 1915

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

I so enjoyed following your brother, David through his life. You told his story in such a loving way as he grew and changed. You helped us to understand him. Thank you for sharing this story with such dignity and respect.

This was sad but happy, too. I think we would all like to be remembered with such love.

Madonna - This is a wonderful tribute to an extraordinary man. - Sandy

Thanks, everyone. And thanks once again to Ronni, who makes this space available for our memories.

Lovely memories to share..my Brother Danny served in Viet Nam too..never talked about it, he was l7-20 U.S Navy medic..He died relatively young at 56..there were hundreds of Veterans there, from WWII, Korea & Viet Nam and sadly more recent men..he left his wardrobe to the local VFW where he had quite the following..my two sisters and I never knew this part of him..We are the modern scattered family, NY, Idaho, Providence & Danny in Ohio..Our Father was a WWII Vet, died very young when we were l7, l5, l0 and 8..Veteran's Day always a real day to us..we memorized that poem in grammar school I am sure, as soon as I was reading it, I was remembering it..we have grown up to know there is no war to end all wars..sadly..gentle brothers go to war.lovely to read about yours...

Thanks, Mary

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