O Captain! My Captain!

We’ve all heard the phases, “Chain reaction”… “Ripple effect.”

In my life, at least, those words ring true!

When I wrote about my Brother Stan’s experience in Vietnam and his ultimate death there, a Chain reaction began in my small corner of the world. Ripple effect would be an understatement, more like a tsunami of events began. And, at the center was a handsome leader who rallied a band of young men, boys really, through life and death situations in the late sixties and early seventies.

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Cap and Top

“Captain, as all his men called him, was a man they had followed into battle, and taken strength from when they need guidance in a worn torn country, without the love and support of their own fathers, and families. A man, who himself, was a father back home to a small son and a husband to wife Joan.

 

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A southern gentleman, whose drawl and easy way put you at ease from the first moment he took your hand. A warm embrace always followed. You felt at that moment, like the most special person in the world!

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To me, and our family he was a connection with our brother. He knew our pain because he had witnessed it many times. He listened to us and his men, now adults with wounds that were not visible on the veneer of their being.

Captain McGinnis was a warrior, but you’d never know it until he’d stand tall and looked at his men. He would speak and every eye turned in his direction.

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They knew of his courage, and wisdom first hand, but what I heard them talk about, was his compassion—the way he made each one of them feel special. It’s hard to impart courage to another person. His boys, as he called them, felt a little safer when he was around. I heard the phrase, “If it hadn’t been for Captain…” countless times, from the men of Charlie Company.

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At our first reunion I met him in the hotel lobby in our home town, Mt. Pleasant, Iowa. I stood transfixed as he opened his arms to his men seeing them for the first time in 37 years—embraces of joy and sorrow for the lost years and comrades. Then it was my turn. It was like getting a hug from Stan. He then whisked me and my sister up to his room to meet his sweetheart and wife, Joan. And what a sweetheart she was, and is!

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At the farm later that day, I stood back as he approached my Mother and Father. I could see the compassion and sorrow in his eyes when he embraced mom and shook dad’s hand.

In October, at our last reunion, I asked him, “Is it still hard to talk about all of this?” He just looked at me and said, “Yes…yes, it is.”

I’m so blessed to have seen him one last time, got that hug and, “How ya’doin’ sugar?”

As Joan said to me a few days before his passing, “He’s going see Stan!”

He and all the other men who’ve passed on from Charlie Co. , will be there too! Benny Jackson, Tom Phillips, Tim (Obie) Oberst, Terry Wanner, Roger DeForest, Rod Sillanpaa, James Brego, Louis (Snake) Ruth, Dave Cherneski.

I will miss him at our next earthly reunion, but he’ll be there, you can bet, walking around, and through clustered groups catching the conversations that are bound to include, their Captain.

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Then he’ll sneak off, dig that round can out of his pocket, and take a pinch!

Farewell, Captain James McGinnis.

Your Lord, and men await you!

KRE

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I know Captain wasn’t a sailor, but I’ve always loved this poem by Walt Whitman

O Captain! My Captain!

BY WALT WHITMAN

O Captain! my Captain! our fearful trip is done,

The ship has weather’d every rack, the prize we sought is won,

The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,

While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring;

But O heart! heart! heart!

O the bleeding drops of red,

Where on the deck my Captain lies,

Fallen cold and dead.

 

O Captain! my Captain! rise up and hear the bells;

Rise up—for you the flag is flung—for you the bugle trills,

For you bouquets and ribbon’d wreaths—for you the shores a-crowding,

For you they call, the swaying mass, their eager faces turning;

Here Captain! dear father!

This arm beneath your head!

It is some dream that on the deck,

You’ve fallen cold and dead.

My Captain does not answer, his lips are pale and still,

My father does not feel my arm, he has no pulse nor will,

The ship is anchor’d safe and sound, its voyage closed and done,

From fearful trip the victor ship comes in with object won;

Exult O shores, and ring O bells!

But I with mournful tread,

Walk the deck my Captain lies,

Fallen cold and dead.

Source: Leaves of Grass (David McKay, 1891)

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