Ralph M. Markowicz
HERE’S THE WAY IT HAPPENED
It was November 1968 and I was in my senior year at Loudon High School. My best friend was a guy named Scott Thornburg. Scott had been out of school for the first three days of the week and I had been too busy to try to get in touch with him. Finally, on Thursday, he returned to school.
I knew we’d see each other at lunchtime and I could ask where he’d been. Scott and I didn’t eat lunch, we took the lunch money that our moms gave us and bought cigarettes. You could smoke at school back then so we spent our lunch break on the balcony over the lunchroom, smoking.
When lunchtime rolled around, we met outside and I asked where he had been. “I’m quitting school,” he said “what?” I asked.
“Sunday was my birthday, I turned 18” he said “I joined the Marines, went to take my physical this week. I’m tired of school, tired of this little town, I want to go places and do things. I’ll be leaving for basic after thanksgiving.” And that was that. He left after Thanksgiving, just as he said.
Six months later, on May 31, 1969 Delta Co. spotted five NVA moving near Giang La and opened fire. The sweep of the area revealed two VC killed with weapons. Scott was injured also and died later that afternoon of multiple fragmentation wounds; he was 18½ years old.
The night we had our high school graduation, when he should have been standing on that stage getting his diploma, his body was being flown into McGhee Tyson airport in Knoxville, TN. I ended up in the US Army later, after graduation.
When I heard about Scott’s death, it was a shock. I didn’t even go to the funeral. I couldn’t face it. I started drinking; taking pills and doing everything I could to erase the memories from my mind. I succeeded to the point that I eventually forgot everything, I mean EVERYTHING!
I tried to go on with life but never could hold things together. I got married and couldn’t deal with it, went into the military and had trouble there, ended up divorced, had an affair with a married woman, tried to be a dad to my kids but to this day I have no relationship with them. I just had a job and went through life.
I was living in Lenoir City, in the mid-eighties when the Moving Wall came to town and I decided to go see it. I thought it would be interesting and knew I’d probably never get to Washington to see the real thing. So one afternoon after work, I went over to the cemetery where it was set up. As I went in through the gate, I could see The Wall set up on a hill gleaming in the sun. And suddenly I had this strange feeling but didn’t know what it was.
Parking my car, I started to walk forward toward the wall but the feelings inside me got stronger and it became harder and harder to take steps. Finally I stopped and stood there as the tears began to flow, just as they’re flowing while I write this. One of the Vets, who had volunteered to help, saw me and he knew, yes he knew what was happening. Coming over, he put his arm around my shoulder and stood there with me, not saying a word.
As the tears flowed, the memories and pain I had blocked out for so many years, flowed back into my mind. When I was finally able to continue, the Vet standing beside me helped me over and helped me find what I was looking for. Ever since that day, it’s been burned into my brain. Look on Panel 23 west, Line 32: SCOTT W. THORNBURG.
It was sometime after that when I started waking up about 2:30 AM each morning. I never knew why, I just accepted it. But after talking to my buddy, Fred, a couple years ago, I started doing some research and found that I wake up each morning around the time Scott died…
©Copyright May 2004 by Ralph M. Markowicz