by Joe Shea
American Reporter Correspondent
May 28, 2001
Richard Marsh, Paul Roberts and Phil Ruminski
All Our Honored Dead
When the time came to fight the Vietnam War and I was called up, I could not allow myself to be sworn into the armed services for the simplest of reasons: I could not kill another human being.
I later found reasons that the war in Vietnam was something to oppose, but that was a matter of convenience. I am afraid that whatever war it was, I would not have been willing to kill anyone; I would rather be killed myself.
I have felt that way all of my life, and many bullets have whizzed around my head, many punches have landed in my eye, many objects from bats and flashlights to pipes and even dog crap have knocked me about my head, but t= here is nothing at all in me that would let me trade my immortal soul to kill another person. I will punch them, kick them, curse and threaten them and do everything I need to do or am compelled by my anger to do short of taking any object in my hands and using it to hurt another person. I will figh= t if you aggravate me sufficiently, and if you're not a very good fighter, I'll kick your butt down the street.
But I will not hurt you beyond the ordinary hurts of a black eye or a bloody nose or a fat lip, and I will not kill you. Those are my rules for life. I almost broke them two years ago when a man told me he hated America and hated cops and loved to see them killed, and then made the gesture of pulling a gun from his overcoat and pointing it at my face; I clocked him so hard that he fell into the gutter and lay there, still, long after I had walked away.
He lived and actually reformed for a while. In another instance on another day as I crossed at that same light but the other side of the street in the middle of the block a kid pulled a gun from his pocket and started shouting. Before I could think about it I had already pulled it from his hand and he was already running up Ivar Hill. I threw it at him but he was fast and I missed.
I am not a hero because a hero is a person who will do whatever it takes to achieve an objective that is for the greater good. A hero will storm a machine gun nest and risk his life without thought to save dozens of others.
I would have to find a way to storm the nest without killing anyone in it. I would risk my life for others but I cannot take a life. I would not kill Hitler; I would cure his hatred, remake his character and reform him and I would never put that well-deserved bullet in his head. It's not that I would not go to Heaven if I did; it's that some quantity of life would vanish from the earth' a tiny spark would vanish from the vast empty infinity of Space and I would be responsible; I once shot a sparrow in the barn, and I know.
Every year at this time I mourn the sparks, nay, the great, unbanked fires of life that were burning in the lives of my friends Richard Marsh and Phil Ruminski, and in my young and wonderful cousin, Paul Roberts. As I have done this in these pages for six years now, and explored every aspect of our relationship and sought every encomium to their courage my creative mind can muster, I have kept a dark secret.
I have never revealed this truth to more than two or three people, not even my mother or fasther or my brothers and sister and first and present wives. I have obviously not let on my weakness to any of my enemies; but I have run out of things to say about my friends, and now I have to speak of them and myself.
I am not a hero and they are, and not because they killed but because they were willing to risk their immortal souls for the country and the people they believed in and I was not.
And they died, and although I followed them to Vietnam as a journalist and manage!d to get shot at in a plane that managed to shrug it off, and even though I got a dying Vietnamese soldier angry enough to almost get up off the tarmac at Hue and kill me, I didn't get to die. I am no hero, and that is part of why.
They are heroes, and again on this Memorial Day I grieve their loss.
I of course know the mother of Paul Roberts, who was my mom's sister Helen, my dear Aunt, and without saying so in my mind I always knew that Stephen Crane had written of her when he wrote: "Mother, whose heart hung simple as a button on the bright blue shroud of your son, do not weep: War is kind." I am not a hero: I could not take his life.