Last November I was selected for jury duty. As I entered the courthouse I was greeted by a 38 foot, white onyx sculpture, a First Nation’s man with a pipe, bearing the title “Vision of Peace”. Having arrived early I escalated to the second floor to check out what was advertised as a Veteran’s memorial. The dimly lit walls were labeled with the names of our wars; below was listed the names of those who died in service.
I sought out the Vietnam War section and followed the alphabet down where my finger stopped at Lawrence Paulsen 1950-1969. I knew him as Larry. His name is on the wall both in Washington D.C. and Minnesota as well. We were born just a month apart. My eyes welled with unapologetic tears as they often do when I think of that war.
Moose Lodge 40 couldn’t have been prouder of its sponsored hockey team, a rag tag bunch of 17 and 18 year olds from St. Paul’s North End neighborhood and their coach George Paitich. From the funky ice at Front Recreation Center we rose to claim the Minnesota State Juvenile Hockey Championship and travelled to Houghton, Michigan to compete in the national tournament where the scruffy city kids were soundly defeated by a much bigger bunch of guys from Canada.
For our efforts, we were awarded the finest soft black leather sports jackets you had ever seen. I can still smell the new leather scent from the moment I first put it on. Crossed black and gold hockey sticks on the right sleeve and crossed Canadian and American flags on the left with a large gold figure of the state of Minnesota over our hearts, inscribed with “Moose Lodge 40, Minnesota State Juvenile Champs 1967-68”. We were so proud of those jackets.
The following season, with the cheers still ringing in our ears, several of us traded our skates and sticks and jackets for jungle boots, M-16’s and camouflaged fatigues and marched off to the arena of war.
We arrived in Vietnam almost at the same time, but assigned to different parts of the country. Larry, my left wing, died during his first firefight. All but I returned carrying shrapnel and bullet fragments in our bodies. I was lucky. But the freshness and joy of youth had been stolen from our faces by fear and Agent Orange defoliant. When I strap on my skates and push the puck across the frozen surface, I slap the blade of my stick on the ice and hear the words Welcome Home, Brothers !