Five Weeks

I turned twelve the year Pat went to Vietnam.

Pat taught riding lessons at a horse stable. Every week my parents dropped me off at the small stables a few miles from our house, and for one blissful hour I would ride around a ring on the back of a horse that I wished with all my heart was my very own. Pat was icing on the cake. He was my riding instructor, but he was much more than that. He was also my first crush. But, truth is, Pat at nineteen had no idea I existed beyond the confines of the small circle of riders in that class.

That didn’t stop me from mooning over him. Pat stood tall and handsome in the middle of the arena—sporting cowboy boots and a cowboy hat. He had an easy way about him—one that horses and kids alike took to. All of us sat a little taller in the saddle when Pat gave a compliment. He was the kind of teacher that made you want to learn a little better. At the time I imagined he paid special attention to me, a dreamy look on his face when he looked my way, but now—looking back with an adult perspective—I can see that the look I mistook for affection was more likely teacher interest possibly mixed with weariness from breathing in the dry California dirt kicked up by class after class of horse hooves.

After Pat left for basic training then Vietnam, his mother took over teaching the classes, and—my love of horses still going strong—I kept going. But it wasn’t ever the same without him.

One week when we arrived at the stable, Pat’s mom wasn’t there either. A young woman introduced herself giving no explanation of where Pat’s mom was, and she proceeded with the lesson, picking up where we’d left off the week before. The class was more somber than usual, we were just going through the motions, and about halfway through, another young woman came into the ring to talk to the instructor. She looked like she’d been crying, and the two young women hugged for a long time. Our circle of riders slowed to a stop along the arena’s fence, watching, wondering.

Eventually the two women pulled apart and our instructor called us into the center of the ring—to tell us the awful news. Pat had been killed in action the day before.

I stopped taking riding lessons after that—to be honest I think the stable might have closed, I’m just not sure. My family went to live out of the country the next year, and after that I started high school. I found other interests, moved on to new crushes, grew up and lived my life. But every once in a while I’d think about Pat. With sadness. And just a few weeks ago, a conversation with a friend made me think of him again. His love of horses, his handsome good looks, his easy way—but mostly, his dedication to his country. His love of freedom so strong he was willing to put his life on the line.

Pat only fought in Vietnam for five weeks before he was killed. But I know that the five weeks he was there, he gave it everything he had. That was his way. To stand and protect and defend what he believed in—wholeheartedly—and in Vietnam he was defending what he believed in most of all: his country’s freedom. I didn’t wholly understand it then—my feelings of sadness and confusion overwhelming everything—but I understand it now, and I’d like to say what I never had a chance to say then: thank you.

Because Pat was and always will be my hero.

Cheers,

Julia

Comments

  1. Pam says:

    What a wonderful, touching story JP! Well done!

  2. Julie Luek says:

    Sigh– such a sad tribute. That poor mother. And so many tributes to be made since then. Thanks, julia.

    • Julia Munroe Martin says:

      Yes, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve often thought of Pat’s mom. Thanks for reading, Julie.

  3. Words could never express how grateful I am to those who serve our country, and their families. Thank you for sharing this, Julia.

  4. Wow. Speechless. And with wet, wet eyes. I can only think of my Dad and all he went through in Vietnam when I read this. Such a tribute to those who sacrifice themselves for our freedoms – in pursuit of the world’s freedom.

    • Julia Munroe Martin says:

      Thank you for that high compliment, Melissa — and to your dad: thank you. It’s hard to know where to start to thank and appreciate such sacrifice.

  5. Gosh, only five weeks. I read Unbroken (as you saw in my Great New Books post) and the loss of life in wars is staggering. Stories like this one make it personal and by sharing it with others, you honor his memory. Thank you, Julia.

    • Julia Munroe Martin says:

      I know… five weeks. It’s hard to think of that even now. I need to read Unbroken — yes, the loss is staggering and heartbreaking. Thank you for reading and for your kind words, Hallie.

  6. Shary says:

    What a lovely tribute. The loss of young life and all of those possibilities always makes me sad.

  7. Ann Mc says:

    Powerful, powerful words. I read it and cried…..then I read it to my hubby who also teared up. (BTW – Hubby served in Vietnam Nam and in the gulf wars – it touched him deeply). Both of us had Pat on our mind, in our hearts and prayers last night.

    • Julia Munroe Martin says:

      Thank you for reading, Ann — and for reading it to Hubby…. but more, please thank him, from me, for his service. It made me cry knowing that Pat was in your thoughts, heart and prayers. Thank you.

  8. This is beautifully poignant. Well done, Julia.

  9. Erika Marks says:

    Julia, oh this post…

    You captured so perfectly the innocence of youth’s vision of the world, and the giddiness of that first crush–then the heartbreak of tragedy when life steps in and dashes it.

    As you said, it is with an adult’s perspective that you understand so much about your time with Pat and what it meant for him to give of himself in every aspect of his young life.

    Thank you for sharing that personal piece, my friend.

    Hugs.

    • Julia Munroe Martin says:

      Thank you for reading, Erika. Growing up, gaining perspective, really gives us such different views of almost everything, doesn’t it? It makes me so sad thinking that Pat never had that opportunity…

  10. Thanks for sharing, Julia.

  11. Nina says:

    So touching, Julia. And well told.

  12. Barb Riley says:

    Gosh, lately I’ve been reading some novels heavy on the war stories… and I swear… it’s not anything that I’ll ever be able to wrap my head around. Some believe war is a necessary evil, but whenever there’s a personal connection to a soldier who is killed in the line of duty, I can’t even bring myself to examine the word “necessary” b/c it all seems so senseless. At any rate… very nice and loving tribute you wrote here. Thank you for this pause in my day; I shall acknowledge and remember Pat along with you. :)

    • Julia Munroe Martin says:

      Thank you, Barb. I am so interested in what books you’ve read. I’ve been reading some novels heavy on war stories, too. Thank you for remembering Pat.

  13. What a powerful tribute, Julia, and so beautifully done. You really have a gift for words, and you honored Pat through them. I know he must be touched….

    • Julia Munroe Martin says:

      Thank you so much, Jolina — your words mean so much. And after all these years, I’m the one who’s honored to write of Pat. Thanks for reading.

  14. This wonderfully written, bittersweet story made me cry.

    • Julia Munroe Martin says:

      Oh, Laurie, thank you for reading — but sorry to make you cry. I appreciate your kind compliments.