The Real Meaning of Courage

I listened to "Teenage Wasteland" today, the "Who's" mega 60's hit about the Vietnam war.  As I listened, my mind drifted back to my first boyfriend.  He was such a cutie.  I met him at the Surfside Community Center in Miami Beach, Florida.  It was my very first dance.   I was all of 12, he; 13 or 14.

 I'll never forget the nice, starched white shirt he was wearing, and his red and black vest, black pants, and black boots.  He was just a vision for a girl of 12. His blond hair, softly framing his strong face, was the perfect accessory to his wiry, tall body.  Anything Beatle was the rage, and he definitely had the British vibe going for him.

I knew I had to meet him, or at least introduce myself.  I don't actually know how I finally did meet him.  Being rather shy about meeting boys at that time, I must have done something right because by the end of the night we were fast friends.  During the weeks that followed, he invited me to meet him at the beach, and so,  my first crush blossomed.

We'd  meet on weekends and go to the ice-skating rink at the Fountainbleau Hotel. We would delight and walk around to all the hotels of the day that lined  popular Collins Avenue.  But it was a the Deauville Hotel, that he whispered softly into my ear, "do you want to go steady?"  How excited I was to have someone so interested in me.

There were other groups of teens that frequented the Beach, some of them we called "hooples."  These were the rebel without a cause group, always looking for fights, and still sporting the greased back 50's look, rather passe' in the swinging 60's. A couple of these teens must have said something to set my beau off, because the next thing I saw was two or three of them beating him up.

My poor guy had his hands wrapped around his head - it was obvious he wasn't a fighter - and could not protect himself.    At that time, I am ashamed to admit I thought less of him because he didn't fight back and defend himself.

I was a child at 12, at every sense of the world.  However, I was in for one of life's greatest lessons about that incident.  I would not know what the lesson would be, or that it would take 7 years to learn it. 

The Vietnam war was raging on during the 60's.  I went on to meet another young man in my late teens, who was going to be a true boyfriend, not the "puppy love" I experienced with this lad.  During this time, everyone I knew held there breath about the draft.  It was a lotto, and whoever drew the lowest numbers was called to serve.  "Ronnie" wasn't so lucky.  He was shipped off in 1968.  I prayed that my current boyfriend did not get drafted.  As it turned out, he didn't and we all breathed a sigh of relief.

So, I was shocked when, in 1969, the phone rang, and it was my good friend Linda.  She was calling to let me know that Ronnie was killed in Vietnam.  There was a viewing and she wanted me to be there, and even bring my current boyfriend, Tom.  I sighed, and said I couldn't do it.  She was relentless, reminding me that he was my first boyfriend, a friend I had for two years, prodding me even more.  Insisting that I show up- out of respect to him- and our friendship.

I asked her what happened, how did he die?  She explained that he was anxious to get home.  His troop had the option of getting home early, if they volunteered for a reconosance mission.  Ronnie volunteered and tragically stepped on a land mine.  

When I went to view his body, the poor boy was dressed in his army uniform, with a glass enclosure over his body.  A mutual friend was standing over his body, pointing out that his right arm was obviously missing, as the uniform hung flat on his right side.  Tom and I slowly kneeled over the casket, and said a prayer for Ronnie.  It was a strange and very odd feeling, being there with my current boyfriend, and honoring my first.

While it was a terrible experience, I didn't think back to the incident on the beach, at least not at first.  It was, over the years, that I most reflect back on that day.  I frequently reflect on, the joke was really on the "hooples".  Because he was the real hero.  I thought of the "toughs" and how they looked at him, full of arrogance and pride.

Could they man up to what he did?  Would they have taken on that mission?

The old adage that "youth is wasted on the young" couldn't be more potent.  It is life's lessons like this that are truly wasted on the young.  It was inspiring to first become aware, that Ronnie was a hero, and getting beat up on the beach paled in comparison to giving up his life for his country.

Life has it ironies, doesn't it?

I can't help but drift back to that day every time I hear the Who's Teenage Wasteland.  I still can't make sense of that war.  But I will never forget Ronnie and all the other men who fought for what turned out to be a senseless effort.

I will never forget Ronnie, nor will I forget the lesson I learned about courage, and what real courage is.

I wouldn't want to ever forget.

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