|Keeping a Promise
Keeping a Promise
I slowly climbed the
stairs to the attic after the reading of the will. Dad had specified that I was
to open the trunk that now belonged to me. My parents weren't wealthy, but my
father guarded his trunk, especially these past several years, as though it
were filled with gold coins and precious jewelry. In my younger years I
imagined the trunk to be a treasure chest discovered in Blackbeard's sunken
pirate ship lost in a violent storm off the coast of North Carolina. I had
never opened it. That might have destroyed my illusion; that and the fact that
my father had locked it with a strong lock that would defy any attempt to
intrude upon the trunk's contents. As children we had been taught to be
respectful of the belongings of others.
Now grown, I wondered what was really hidden away in that
old humpback trunk. It likely held family papers or deeds or something less
exciting than those imagined treasures secreted away. I pulled the string
hanging from the bare light bulb at the top of the stairs. There it was. Tucked
away in a far corner, it was less enticing than it had been in my youth. I no
longer believed in fairy tales and fantastic stories of hidden pirate treasures.
No longer did that rusty old trunk have its former allure.
My father had been a proud man with strong principles that
he tried to instill in his children. Each of us respected his unwavering pride
in hard work, love of country, and family. He didn't care much for material
"...trappings and all that other ostentatious stuff". He believed in simple
things, kept pretty much to himself, and had few friends. Dad was a veteran of
the "Vietnam Conflict" as he called it. He rarely mentioned it and when we
asked what he did in the war, he would say, "Not much. Just did what I was told
and tried to survive." He kept in touch with his "Vietnam buddies" and
celebrated traditional holidays like Memorial Day, Independence Day, and
Veterans Day with reverence and phone calls with his old buddies.
As I thought about my dad and looked at that beat up old
trunk, I wondered what it was he wanted me to see. I reached into my pants
pocket and pulled out the key Dad had instructed to be left to me to open the
trunk. I was anxious to solve the mystery of what my dad thought was so
valuable that he kept it in a locked trunk in the attic. I unlocked the heavy
lock and lifted the trunk's lid. Immediately I saw an envelope with my name on
it written in dad's handwriting. An old flag lay beneath the letter. It was
folded in a perfect triangle just like the manner I learned in the Boy Scouts.
I began to read.
I know that you share my devotion to our country and the sacrifices of many to keep
our country free and our flag waving proudly. I'm leaving you one of my most
prized possessions. To look at it you might wonder why this old faded flag means
so much to me. I'll try to explain it the best I can. To do so I'll have to
revisit an important time in my life and one in which our country was seriously
at odds internally. We've talked about the close friendships I have kept up
with my friends from Vietnam. Over the years the other five guys and I haven't
seen each other much, but we have always called each other on Memorial Day,
Independence Day, and Veterans Day. You know that I have flown this tattered
flag on those holidays the past two years. What you don't know is why I flew
this old flag instead of using the newer one we have.
me explain first that this old flag doesn't belong to me. I'm just the keeper.
It belongs to a young soldier I knew in Vietnam: Private First Class Larry
Golden, Junior. He joined our infantry squad one morning as a replacement for
another soldier who rotated back to the states upon completing his tour. Larry
was a little guy that all of us used to tease and called our own "tunnel rat".
We'd tell him that he would be the first to enter any tunnel we came upon. We
said that he would get a flashlight and a pistol and we would shove him down
the tunnel to check it out for VC. Larry said that was okay with him although
we knew he was nervous about that possibility. I guess we kidded him about it
for weeks until he showed us that he could pull his weight in any task given
him. He dug bunkers and filled sand bags faster and better than the largest,
most muscular guy in the squad. He volunteered to be the point man on patrols
and never complained about being selected for the lonely and dangerous duty on
observation or listening posts. After awhile we all respected him and the
kidding stopped. He had earned his place in our little group.
evening Larry took out the flag he carried in his rucksack. He treated that
flag like it was his most valuable possession in the world. When one of us
asked him why he didn't send it back to base camp instead of taking up valuable
space in his rucksack, I remember his response. Larry said that that flag was
the one he and his dad always flew on certain holidays in his front yard. He
enjoyed seeing it wave in the wind and he and his dad carefully folded it
before storing it away until the next holiday. Larry told us that his father
was a fighter pilot who had been shot down over North Vietnam two years
earlier. He had survived the crash but was taken prisoner by the North
Vietnamese. They had beaten him and paraded him in the streets as a criminal on
the way to prison. Nothing had been learned about him during the next two
joined the service and vowed to carry that flag until the day he and his dad
could once again fly it on the flagpole in front of his house. Larry never got the
chance to fly it. He was killed shortly after he told us the story of the flag.
He was killed by a mortar round one night during a particularly fierce attack
by the NVA. The stain on the lower right corner is his blood. The holes are the
result of shrapnel that tore into his rucksack and ripped into the flag. That
night the remaining five of us decided to fly the flag for him until his father
could reclaim it. We would rotate it from person to person as our group got
smaller. I became the last surviving member of our squad when my last buddy
passed away a few years ago.
Golden, USAF, was not among the group of prisoners released upon conclusion of
the talks following the end of the conflict. He is still listed as one of the 2500
missing POWs or KIAs whose remains were never recovered.
son, I have fulfilled that promise until now. Since I no longer can continue, I
ask that you keep my promise for me until the day you can carry the flag to the
Vietnam Veterans Memorial in our capitol and carefully lay it at the foot of
the panel containing Larry's name. Protect it and treat it with respect. Wrap
it carefully before you leave it for Larry. I like to think all of us will be
there to pay our respects to Larry senior and Larry junior on that day.
flag represents the struggles that our country has gone through and, though
torn and stained, it still stands for those values upon which our country was
founded. I firmly believe that our nation, much like that tattered old flag,
will continue to weather difficult times and stand tall as a symbol of hope and
That old trunk did hold a valuable treasure after all. I
would ensure that Dad's promise to his buddies and his request of me would be
fulfilled. I felt a new sense of pride and respect for my Dad, and the
sacrifices he and many others like him have made to keep our flag flying.
I'll keep your promise with pride. Thank you for the gift you gave to us all.