Another Memorial Day had come and gone. John had attended the community Memorial Day service at the local cemetery Monday morning but melancholy gnawed at his soul in the days which followed.

On his way into town for a tractor part on Thursday morning, John felt an inexplicable urge to stop by the well-groomed cemetery again and visit the grave of an old high school buddy.

Parking his pick-up truck a few yards uphill from the grave, John unfolded his lanky frame from the cab and walked slowly to the granite stone. At the grave he lowered himself to his knees and set upright a plant someone had left. It had been a while since he had visited this grave and now his melancholy gave way to a sense of sorrow.

“Peter R. Kloster, PFC.” John touched the engraved letters on the stone. A lump grew in his throat as he thought back to the great times he and Pete had enjoyed together since they met in junior high in 1960.

John remembered Pete’s first car — a ’54 Chevy — and recalled the first time they double-dated in that car. Pete asked Diane Godfrey for a date but only after John had double-dared him. The foursome went to a drive-in movie. John smiled as he recalled Pete’s awkward attempts to get his arm around Diane that night.

For Pete and Diane, it was the first date of many. Most of their classmates assumed the pair would marry someday.

John recalled the afternoon he and Pete were sent to the principal’s office for shooting spit wads at each other across the study hall. Mr. Wilson, the tough old principal, gave them each three swats with his infamous wooden paddle. John was worried his parents would find out but Pete bragged about “getting the board” for months.

John sat down, cross-legged, at the base of the stone. “Pete,” he said quietly, “you were one crazy guy.” John recalled the evening Pete climbed the town water tower while Diane watched in tears, begging him to come back down. “I didn’t know if you’d lose Diane that night,” John thought aloud, “or if Diane would lose you.”

As graduation approached and classmates discussed their plans for the future Pete was uncertain. While John had already been accepted at Northern Colorado, Pete was “waiting to check out all my options.”

Pete was driving truck for the local farmers’ co-op when John left for college. On his way out of town that morning, John stopped by the elevator to say good-bye. As John was about to leave, Pete revealed he had received a letter from the county draft board ordering him to report for a pre-induction physical.

“Vietnam’s a nasty place,” John said as they shook hands. “If you get drafted, try to get sent to Germany or something. Whatever you do, take care of yourself.”

“Aw, heck, you know I will,” Pete replied with a confident grin.

A couple of weeks later Pete wrote John a letter advising he had been classified I-A for the draft. In his next letter, Pete announced he had been drafted.

“I think this war stinks,” Pete wrote, “but what am I going to do? My dad fought in World War II; if I get sent to ‘Nam I’ll do my duty. Don’t worry, we survived Mr. Wilson; I’ll survive this.”

John was not an emotional man but tears welled in his eyes as he thought about his friend. Pete was home on furlough during the next Christmas break. On New Year’s Day they watched football together and talked about girls, cars, politics, Vietnam and the future. That was the last time he saw Pete.

A few months after Pete was shipped to Vietnam his letters stopped and John began to worry. One evening John’s mother called and broke the news to him: Pete had been killed by sniper fire in a Vietnamese jungle.

“Pete,” John said in a whisper, “I still miss you. You were the best buddy a guy could ask for.”

John returned to his feet and, seed corn cap in hand, looked down at the grave. “Even though I don’t stop by here often,” he said softly, “I think of you every day. And I thought you should know — Diane and I became grandparents last weekend. Our oldest son and his wife had a baby boy. They named him Peter, Jr.”

Arvid Huisman can be contacted at huismaniowa@gmail.com. ©2024 by Huisman Communications.


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