Lines for Eternity, Lines for SGT Major Pendergrass
LINES FOR THE GINGER MAN, LINES FOR ETERNITY:
REMEMBERING SERGEANT MAJOR THOMAS PENDERGRASS
He flew to Seattle to be with me on my birthday.
50 years ago tomorrow. Career soldier.
The Ginger Man, Hemingway. James Jones.
Father, too. Like Writer-Dad.
Pendergrass by the Hemingway statue in Pamplona
in the black & white photo in my hand.
But before that. SFC Pendergrass,
already in Panama, when I arrived.
I was 20. And how lost?
Heaven help the ginger man.
He gave me that book.
The Ginger Man: I'm sick of people.
The less I have to do with them
for the rest of my life the better.
I don't care if I die. Had I found
that book? Pendergrass put it in my hand.
And then brought James Jones'
From Here to Eternity. Just months
before, in basic training, I was locked
into my uniform by Army chaplains,
saying, We believe in this war.
P-Grass, drinking 15 cent beers with me
in the Em Club while I learned
my way in the government hospital.
I hadn't only lost as a pacifist.
I'd lost Karen by being a fool.
I found myself in Robert E. Lee Pruitt, Jr.
Pendergrass cancelled his own writing
to listen to mine. I memorized Stevens
and Eliot, reciting; I found the difference
between triage and evacuation. Only way
to Karen went through Viet Nam.
We could drive. With orders, in a VW
through Central America--crossing
into Mexico from Guatemala on a Sunday.
Border closed until we paid la mordita.
Seeing Oaxaca from the South.
Where are we? The career soldier
would get us to Texas, where we
would both go home. But this soldier-
writer GI, would fly to Seattle,
50 years ago today, to be with me,
with Karen, with family on my birthday,
my 22d, born the day Fat Boy
dropped the bomb on Nagasaki,
making me sicker now than it did then.
Mom and Dad were at that dinner.
But it was the soldier who flew
with me to California to ride the 747
to war. Heaven help the Ginger Man.
Get out and push like the rest.
The war would come to us at Tet
at different places. Evacuation
would become sustaining marrow.
Evolving, organic. Hand carried,
hand delivered, by a soldier carrying books.
8 August 2017