A good soldier never dies

Clarence Money Spencer

June 24, 1992|By Clarence Money Spencer

An unusual event will take place at 6 p.m. today at the Fells Point branch of the Pratt Library. It is the introduction of "By Our Own Hands," a collection of stories, poems and reflections by 33 writers in Learning Is For Tomorrow (LIFT), the adult literacy program of the Southeast Community Organization. The event, a fund-raiser for LIFT, will feature a reading by the authors, book signings and guest speaker Linda Shopes, co-author of "The Baltimore Book."

"As you read 'By Our Own Hands,' " writes LIFT coordinator Cinder Hypki in the introduction, "we hope you'll imagine the frustration and insight, intense concentration and animated discussions, mutual support and 'carrying on' that are part of our daily work. We hope you'll also glimpse the larger picture of which the book is a part: people encouraging each other to believe in the power of their own knowledge and abilities and the value of their own stories."

Following is one of the book's stories, reprinted with permission.

I WAS about 6 years old when I asked my mother for a G.I. Joe, and Joe became my friend. A friend of mine had a Joe, too, so we went to war together, and it was always fun. My imagination was very big. I believed that my Joe could talk and walk, and that was the best part. So let the war games begin.

We fought in many wars together, in the jungle and out to sea, watching the hill for the enemy, which was sometimes a bird. My mother called my jungle and sea the backyard and the swimming pool, but it was all-out war. Sometimes it was like the movies because Joe got killed many times, but he kept coming back.

I remember one of the saddest parts that Joe ever played was when President Kennedy died. I didn't have a horse and buggy, so I used a roller skate, and Joe played a good role of the president . . .

One day my brother told me I was getting too old to be playing with Joe. He said, "Ask Mother for a BB gun like mine." My brother thought that the war would be over, but it wasn't. I wanted the gun, but Joe needed me, too. So I asked my mom, and she got me a BB gun and the war went on.

This time, though, we had a real cannon, and now we would win the war shooting at the enemy. It was fun until I hit a window. Then I did have some enemy. The enemy told General Mom and the general almost killed me. I was wounded, and the cannon was captured, but Joe was lucky -- he escaped. This was one war I lost.

I didn't get back to war for a couple of days. But then my father took me along when he went to the beach to pick berries. Joe and I were there because the enemy was trying to come in from the sea. So Joe and I dug foxholes because this war was different. They were flying and coming in from the sea.

This time I was careful where I pointed the cannon. I would shoot the tanks that the enemy had, which were beer cans. Planes -- better known as sea gulls -- flew overhead, and ships were coming in on the sea. . .

The war went on for hours. I turned to Joe and said, "It looks like we won't make it this time! There's too many of them!" Luckily, just then, Sgt. Dad from the 23rd Division had finished his berry-picking and said, "Pull back to the car!" We retreated this time, and this battle might be lost, but another time, another battle -- maybe after lunch.

General Mom said school would take up time, so Joe went on leave until the weekend. I found Joe in the jungles of Backayarda. He'd been shot. Things looked bad. He knew, and I knew, the end was near. I thought he deserved a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star because he was so brave, and I pinned them on his shirt. I could hardly hear him as he said real low, "We won, old buddy."

Oh, what could I do for Joe? He was gone. But he deserved the best, so I gave him a hero's funeral. He said he wanted to be buried in the jungles of Backayarda, and that's what I did.

I placed Joe in a glass coffin along with all his gear and his medals, and with his gun at his side, and screwed the lid on. The jets flew over and he got the 21-gun salute with my trusty BB gun. I played "Taps" while he was lowered into the ground: "Ta ta tah, ta ta tah, ta ta tah, ta ta tah, ta ta tah, ta ta tah, ta ta tahhhhh." I covered Joe's glass coffin with dirt, tied Popsicle sticks in a cross and put that as a marker over his grave.

I will never forget my friend Joe. It was a lot of fun. It is time now to move on. But I know we will meet some day.

See you, Joe.

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