(Editor’s note: This story has been edited for punctuation and clarity.)
This story starts, to the best of my knowledge, in the fall of 1963 when a young man named John – fresh out of high school – joined the Army, as had his father and his father’s father before him. As with previous generations he found himself defending his country by going to another. No one really knows how Vietnam changed him, he never said, but it did.
Upon returning to the family farm, John used his savings to buy a new 1966 Chevy pickup, nothing fancy but practical for farm life. And life was good for a couple of years after he came “stateside,” as he would say.
Then it happened. For the first time, John heard on the family Motorola the man with the upside-down guitar, Jimi Hendrix. John would leave the farm for days, sometimes weeks, and return as if nothing happened. His dad never asked and John never told; that was the way with country folks.
Around July 1969, John rolled down the lane and his truck was purple! He explained that he painted it in honor of Jimi Hendrix’s song “Purple Haze,” and he proudly left the top white to honor the bald eagle as a symbol our fighting men still in “Nam.” John said he was going to Bethel, N.Y., to party on Yasser’s Farm. His dad said, “Well, at least you’re farming.”
The truck made it to Woodstock and back. John popped his last balloon the first of the following year – an overdose of chemical erased whatever demons remained. He was buried with full military honors in the local Veterans Cemetery. His dad, sad but proud, donned his own WWII uniform for the service for the first time since his own war. It would not be the last time.
Every year on Veterans Day his dad would take Purple Haze out of the barn, dust it off, put on his WWII uniform and go to town, sometimes for days. No one asked where he had been; that was the way with country folks.
For years I asked John’s dad if I could have the truck, and the answer was always the same: “Maybe next year.” You could feel the pain and grief, and see the sorrow that surrounded him …. like, well, a haze.
Last Veterans Day, the truck did not emerge from the barn as usual. John’s dad walked up to me and threw me the keys. “Sometimes in a man’s life it is time to look forward, not back,” he said. “All these years I was celebrating a life, not death. It is your turn – you make of it what it is, not what it was.”
As he turned to walk away, I said with a voice barely audible … “Thanks, Dad.”
John was my brother.