When Johnny Comes Marching Home

It is the mid-sixties and Rowe Hill is still the sleepy little hamlet. Wilmer Bryant milks his cows morning and night; Eunice Brooks makes her delicious butter every week; Winnie Hanscom and I exchange news and recipes on the telephone. Sun comes up in the morning and goes down in the evening and so the days go.

It is a different story outside our little world; the war in Viet Nam is raging and several of our young men from the village of Bryant Pond are in that country, so unlike their little home town.

Every morning the children of Rowe Hill gather at the rustic “bus stop” at the bottom of our driveway, awaiting the bus to carry them away for another day at the local schools. Among them are the “kids” from on top of the hill, who have to walk the distance no matter the weather.  One of the “kids” is older than the others, but he seems to delight in standing with the youngsters. My four come home with tales of “John saying this ” and “John saying that” and particularly, in the winter time, how he divides the kids into teams for snowball fights before the bus arrives. Oh, it is so much more fun now that John is waiting at the bus stop with them each day.

This was pretty much the same conversation each day upon their arrival home. Then came the time when one of the four remarked, “John isn’t at the bus stop any more.” I figured perhaps he had moved or had decided not to attend school any more and let it pass in the business of the day. The second time it was mentioned I asked if anyone knew where John had gone. “Oh, he went in the Army,”  one offered.

Not another one, I voiced silently. Later on,over the crank phone I consulted with Winnie down over the hill, who confirmed that she had heard John had enlisted. 

Months passed, another school year gone and September rolled around again. The questions began. “Do you think John will be at the bus stop this year?”  “I don’t think so.” Then a chorus of “why?” echoed around the farm kitchen.

This was new territory for me. I could explain pretty much any farm life questions, but how to explain why their friend was still away. I tried but there were still four concerned faces when they left for school that first morning.

Gradually the questions faded; another year went by and apparently the four had decided that John left and would never be there for another snowball fight. Meanwhile, the little hamlet was whispering that John was missing in action in Viet Nam. At this point, the four had grown to an age where they understood what it meant to be at war and that John was fighting, and so I broke the news to them gently and told them we had to pray that he would be coming home soon.

Months roll into years; years into decades and I never heard the status of John…was he still missing; had he been killed…who knew.

Fast forward forty years.  Alan, the youngest of the four, traveled with his step-father to Washington, DC, to see the Fourth of July fireworks. As always, when they traveled, they sought out other interesting things.

Two days after returning home, Alan came to me. “We visited the Viet Nam Wall, Mum.” 

I asked what his impression was of the Wall. “I found him, I found John.” It took a minute for me to comprehend what he was saying. ” I found his name, Mum.  John Brooks. I found John.”

The grown man had not forgotten. He found his childhood friend at last…among so many other names on the Wall. Johnny would never come marching home, but he stayed in the hearts of everyone who knew him.

(I never knew the official ending to John’s story. I do know that for years relatives could not find out what happened to him. May he rest in peace.)

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