“My Soldier Boy…”

May 27, 2013

vietnam-wallSteve was my first love.  I met him at a high school dance – he went to Keyport High and I was at the new Raritan High School, built for all the new families who had moved to the most Northern part of the Jersey Shore.  He was two years older than I; he was handsome, and sexy, and very, VERY, cool.

I was crazy about him.

We were “serious.”  We talked about getting married, even as he made plans to join the Air Force and I was thinking about what colleges to apply to.  We never gave any thought to how that would work, but we knew we were in love and we knew we wanted to have sex – and people who have sex get married.

There were steamy nights at the drive-in theatre, speaker in the window so we could get the “gist” of the movie in case either of my parents asked what the movie was about.  I’m not sure we heard much of anything.  I don’t recall one film I saw that summer.

He had a car shaped like a cartoon whale – big bulbous head and tiny rear fins — drab green, with a stick shift.  Steve taught me how to drive in that car, and I still remember the grating gears and how the car lurched forward and then back again because I couldn’t quite get the clutch and the gas in sync.  I was persistent — even as Steve sat beside me, hands covering his face with every jolt — and, finally, I got it right.  To this day, I prefer a standard shift to automatic – and I have Steve to thank for that.

Steve picked me up from school the day that John F. Kennedy was assasinated.  He hugged me and then walked me to my side of the car.  We rode home in silence.  When we arrived at my house, I burst into tears and he held me as I cried.  I saw a few tears in his eyes, but he wouldn’t allow them full expression.  He was the man in the relationship — and, in those days, men didn’t cry.

Six months after he graduated from high school, he enlisted in the Air Force.  He told me he wanted to serve his country.  He wanted to do something great.  He didn’t want to wind up “selling stuff,” he said.

He went to boot camp at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas.  He was gone for what felt like forever, but I think was more like six months.  When he came home, we couldn’t wait to be together.  I saw him in his gorgeous blue dress uniform and I all but swooned, I tell you.

But, something was different.  All he could talk about was his career in the Air Force and how he wanted to go to Vietnam – that was the only way to really get ahead, he told me.  I was shocked.  “How can you go to war and maybe get killed when we are going to get married?”  He tried to explain, “This is what I want to do with my life.  I want to serve my country.”

Many of our classmates and neighbors had been drafted and were in South Vietnam – the boy down the street had gotten killed there and everyone knew his parents were devastated.  No one came in or out of that house for weeks.  No one answered their phone.  That boy died, and his parents died their own kind of death right along with him.  They moved away a year later.

No one wanted to go to Vietnam.  It was a scary day in every family when the draft lottery was announced.  I remember that my mother cried tears of  relief when we found out my brother’s number was at the very end – he probably wouldn’t have to go.  The only person I knew who wanted to go to Vietnam was Steve.

At the end of his two-week leave, he was scheduled to be stationed in Hawaii.  I went to Newark airport to see him off with his mother and father and Steve in his beautiful dress blues and cap.  There was a moment when he was walking with his father, ahead of me and his mother, and he was just glorious – everyone turned to look at him, his gorgeous face, his dashing swagger.

I knew I would never see him again.

We wrote all the time.  I ordered college pamphlets from the University of Hawaii – and even applied.  But, as the weeks and months rolled by, the letters grew fewer and further apart.  I got accepted to the University of Hawaii, but closed the letter up right after I read it.  I put it in my drawer and never looked at it again.

We did finally have a letter exchange in which we admitted that this long distance relationship wasn’t working and it would probably be best if we broke it off.   We said that if we still loved each other when he came home, we’d get married.  Even as I wrote it, I knew he wasn’t coming back to Hazlet, New Jersey – and, I also knew that, even if he did, I wouldn’t be there.  My dream to live in New York had already taken hold of me.

A few years later, I heard he’d gotten married and had a baby.  I felt no twinge of regret.  “Good,” I thought.  “That makes it final.”

I went on to college and moved into Manhattan two weeks after I graduated – to work at Bloomingdale’s for the first of two times that I would be there.  My fashion career was launched – I rarely thought about Steve.

I heard he went to Vietnam.  I knew Steve wanted to go, that it was his choice, and he was proud to serve his country by going to war – a war that I thought was wrong, that I marched against in Washington, DC.  Even so, there was something in my heart that smiled, knowing he got what he wanted.

My mother called me one day and told me that Steve had been killed.  It was 1971.  He was 26 years old.

I came home to go to the funeral.  His wife and child were at the funeral home.  His mother and father looked dazed.  I had to remind them who I was – when I did, his mother stood  up and  hugged me.  He was laid out in those beautiful dress blues, looking as handsome as ever.   I remember thinking it was such a waste and what would happen now to his wife, and what about his child?  But, my thoughts and my sadness were still tempered with knowing how much he wanted to be there; he felt it was his destiny, and how many people in life get to die doing what they wanted to do, how they chose to live their life?  There was comfort in that for me.

Years later, my husband, Fred, and I brought Josh to Washington, DC and we visited the Vietnam War Memorial.  I looked up Steve’s name in the big book they have there and found the panel number on which his name is engraved.  The wall is not engraved alphabetically, but chronologically, by date of death.

I walked to the wall and found  the right section:  Panel 2W, Row 81, Stephen C Ruby.  As I ran my fingers over the letters, the tears came – for him and for us.  I realized that people die to protect this country and many of  them really live it as their duty.  And, what there is for us to do is to be grateful.

I do believe there’s got to be a better way than war AND I believe that as long as we’re human, we’ll find ways to continue to be at war, whether it’s in Vietnam or Iraq or Afghanistan or — with our neighbors, or kids in schools.  And, there will always be men and women who will take it on as their life’s work to protect and defend our country.  Steve Ruby was one of those people.

I am grateful that there are human beings that courageous.  I am blessed to live in a country where people would give their lives to keep this country safe.  I’m proud that I knew one of them.

Today is the day we remember the ones who died.  Those aren’t just words:  “The land of the free and the home of the brave….”

Thank you.  Thank you to all who serve.  You have my love and tribute.  Always.

Happy Memorial Day!

Deliciously yours in the Majesty of it All, Linda

STEPHEN CHARLES RUBY is honored on Panel  2W, Row 81 of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC.


© Linda Ruocco and “Spiritual Chocolate”, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Linda Ruocco and ”Spiritual Chocolate” with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. Thank you.

Date of Birth: 10/3/1945
Date of Casualty: 11/29/1971
Home of Record: UNION BEACH
County of Record: MONMOUTH COUNTY
State: NJ
Branch of Service: AIR FORCE
Rank: SSGT
Casualty Country: SOUTH VIETNAM
Casualty Province: QUANG NAM

4 Responses to ““My Soldier Boy…””

  1. Linda,

    What a beautiful touching post. I have friends who died over there too, but no one this close. I hate wars! But you’re right. I suppose we’ll always be at war with somebody.

    • Dear Sunni, Thank you for reading… This was a hard one to write, even so many years later…. But, Steve is my person to remember on Memorial Day and so I decided to write about him… xo Linda

  2. Jeri Walker-Bickett (@JeriWB) said

    Thanks for sharing, and what an appropriate post in honor of the day.

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