After the Fact: Veterans’ Day

Today is Veterans’ Day. So far, I’ve started writing this column about four times. I wanted something with fifes and drums and flags and fireworks but my mind kept going back to memories of my friend and classmate, “Turk” Griffith. Our parents were friends even before the Griffiths moved to Los Alamos (my home town) so I guess I thought I’d known Turk and his brother “Dud” simply forever. I remember that his Uncle Dudley and his wife lived with my grandparents for a while during WW II: Dudley was a traveling salesman, but, when he’d come “home,” he would sit with me on the sofa and read the newspaper aloud. By the time I got to kindergarten, I’d been reading for a couple of years already.

We went on picnics with the Griffiths, went to their house for dinner or they came to ours. Micki and I were told that we had to be “nice” to the boys. It wasn’t a problem since they didn’t want to have much to do with us anyway. Not to mention, they actually liked my little brother, Lonny. If we were at their house, they were mostly outdoors, playing baseball or throwing snowballs; they really liked coming to our house because we lived across the street from a park that had a “real” baseball diamond. And there were always neighborhood kids in numbers sufficient to work up a couple of teams for some game or another. Turk was almost always the one to decide who would be on which team. As a matter of course, I was always put on the opposite team.

It wasn’t bullying. It wasn’t that he didn’t like me. It was more that I was (oh, mercy!) a GIRL. Things never changed between us. Micki and I always sat on the side of the table apart from Turk and Dud. If left alone, we could flip peas out of a spoon with deadly accuracy across the table.

Mr. Griffith, also “Turk”, was in a restaurant in Springer, a little town outside Las Vegas, NM, when a gas-line explosion occurred. It was really difficult to know what I should say to the boys though I had no such problem talking to their mom, Lulie, after Mr. Griffith was gone. Looking back, I’m sure the boys cried, but they wouldn’t have done so if Micki and I were there: We were in high school by then, and Turk just naturally stepped up to the plate as “the man of the family.”

Turk was a pretty decent athlete and participated in most sports, and he was an even better student. Even I was impressed when he received an appointment to West Point (though I knew he’d really thought about going to Annapolis.) We didn’t write letters, but I knew what he was doing because I’d stop by to see his mom when I was home. The coolest thing he ever did, though, was to take his mom as his date to one of the big dances at West Point. Wish I’d been there because Lulie was probably the best looking girl on the dance floor!

A little over a year after graduation, Turk was sent to Vietnam. I was married by then, had a daughter and was living in Colorado. Lulie had remarried and was in Albuquerque so I hadn’t seen her in a while but had “indirect news” about Turk from mom or my grandmother.

On New Year’s day, Turk was reported missing in action. Many of our classmates were there when he came home that last time to the National Cemetery.

I couldn’t make the trip back to Santa Fe, but I’ve stopped by to visit. He still doesn’t say much, but he always was a good listener.

When it was dedicated, the “new” gymnasium at Los Alamos High School was named for Turk and I think about him whenever I drive past. Actually, I think about him every Veterans’ Day and a lot of days in between. 1st Lt. Thurston A. Griffith Jr. 1940-1965. A short life well lived. Thank you, Turk, for your service and thanks for the memories!