Today is your birthday (June 20)…all that I want to is to sit in here at my deck, and sort through this box of pictures, and letters, till the day is gone.
Larry is my cousin. He was born 13 years before me. On June 20, 1949. By the time that I was 5 years old … Larry had been drafted into the Vietnam War. By the time I was 15…I saw him once or twice at his parents’ house, which was just west of my parents’ home.
Most the time, us younger brood of cousins kept our distance from him. His family quickly discovered upon his arrival home serving three years in NAM that Larry was in a fragile state of mind. If you started a vacuum sweeper without warning him, or a loud truck drove by, he would DIVE under a coffee table and start yelling for his comrades to take cover. Larry would not speak of the horrors that He saw over there, and normally he wore a beautiful smile, and no one would have guessed the damage within his mind.
When I was 16, He had a wedding and was married. A little boy was born of that union. Then another marriage to a wonderful gal, two little boys were born from that union. And I believe there were 2 other marriages after those two. Eventually Larry moved out west to Nevada and bought a mountain. His own mountain and he was very proud of it. It had no electricity, no running water, but he LOVED it. He used generators for power and He carried a 300 gallon tank in the back of his black Ford Ranger pickup that once a week, after work he would fill up in town at his Brothers home and drove it out to his mountain to offload it. He used a gravity feed system to supply his RV park model trailer with water for showering and such. He also had a poly take on the roof of his little cabin, to heat the water for showers. He was inventive.
I saw him in 1989 He flew home to Michigan for the funeral of his sister-in-law. We spoke a few words to one another but nothing long or meaningful. In the summer of 2000, through another cousin I was given his email address. I touched base with Larry then and we began to visit via the net on a regular basis. Larry invited us to come out and see his Mountain, see where he worked and how he lived. His mountain he said, 4 miles off the road, and clear around to the top. By March of 2002, I was making plans to visit Nevada with my 18-year-old son, who had recently graduated from high school.
On June 17, 2002 We landed in Reno, Nevada. From the moment we saw one another Larry and I instantly became “like Twin”. We were so similar in our actions, and thoughts and feeling. We used to joke and say …. isn’t it funny how much alike we are, do you think it’s our spirits meshing or just the fact that we have the same DNA. We would be talking about our childhood memories and suddenly be reminiscing about the same room at Grandmas house, or the red hip roof barn that we were not supposed to go into, or all of Step Grandpa George’s Rose Bushes in the garden, that we were not allowed to disturb. We would laugh at the fact that we were both talking about the same grandparents, same home, but our memories were 13 years apart. He could remember a more young and vivid Grandma than I could. He had a small Golden book about the lone ranger sitting on his bookcase. He said, my Grandma gave me that for Christmas when I was four. It was signed to Larry, Merry Christmas 1953. Then he would laugh and say….well OUR grandma.
While we were in Nevada, we visited many of the area sights. Silver Springs, Fallon, The Ponderosa and BEAUTIFUL , HISTORICAL Virginia City. Where we walked on old, weathered, boarded sidewalks. I loved the sound of boots walking across it and just about everyone man out there wore spurs that jingled when it walked. I was mesmerized by the sound. My Son spent a lot of time missing his girlfriend, and that cell phone bill when we got home is something we laugh about today, but didn’t find it funny in 2002. ($350.00 roaming charges. On a side note, He married the girl and they have 5 beautiful children today. First, they had a son, and four girls followed close behind him.)
A few days after our arrival to Nevada, Larry’s celebrated his 53rd birthday. One afternoon Larry told My son and I that there was a mountain he had still never climbed since he moved out west almost 20 years prior and he wanted to drive out there. So, the three of us did just that. Out west, it’s always dry and everyone has a cooler in the back of their truck or car. It will have water, beer, pop, tea, etc but no one travels without a cooler because it is hot and dry out there.
I remember that morning well, Larry packed the cooler, told Thom and I to each grab a gun belt off the lamp post, which always had several guns loaded and ready to strap one on. In Nevada everyone carries a gun, where ever they go. Thom was all about this. We stopped at a gas station on our way out of town with holsters on and guns loaded we walked into the gas station and picked up a few more drinks and snacks. It was just the oddest feeling to me to walk around armed….in public….lol. I am a dead aim with a 44. Loved it.
As we traveled closer and closer to the distant mountains and then began our climb around the outside perimeter, it was hair raising to say the least. The roads were narrow at times and very nerve racking to look over the edge but we continued our pilgrimage up this unclaimed mountain that Larry had always wanted to conquer. When we arrived…We got out to stretch out legs and Larry let out a yell of celebration. It was amazing, and beautiful and you could literally see for miles and miles and miles.
There was a large rock formation that would make a cool picture but there was a 3-foot-wide crack we had to jump to get to that rock. If we fell or lost our footing it would have been an absolute death sentence. Ask me today, why I ever made that jump, and I could not tell you. I wouldn’t allow my son to jump it, but I did. I was 40 years old…. should have known better but thought I had already had 40 good years, so why not. It wasn’t a smart move. Today, I realize how awful it would have been for Thom to have to find his way back to a town some 98 miles away and live with what he might have seen, that could have happened. I will blame it on the elevation and lack of oxygen in my head.
On the way home from that celebration, Thom and Larry wanted to get a rattle snake hide for Thoms hat, so we all stopped on the Carson River and Larry and Thom hunted for rattle snakes from the banks of the river. They poked in holes and around rocks. It was crazy to me….but the two of them were having a blast. (they never did find a snake that day, and Lord only knows how I would have taken it …if they had.)
Thom and Larry
Larry and I spent a lot of time drinking coffee in the early morning hours. We tried to catch up on one another’s lives, what we had done as kids, as adults, as parents. We talked about the family reunions at our Grandmothers house or Aunt Mary Helens home, and all annual Christmas Eve gatherings there. He had more fun stories to tell about our family, again, because he was older.
One morning, while the two of us were drinking coffee, He started talking about Nam and told me several stories about the time he served there and how so much of it haunted him daily. As he told me some of those horrors, I was in shock. I couldn’t move. My body was frozen, as if a rattler was crawling across my boot. I didn’t speak, I didn’t interrupt. I just tried to listen without an expression on my face. I could see it was hard for him to talk about it all but for some reason He was recalling it all and talking about it. A little while later Larry stood up and walked over to the kitchen sink. He was crying hard, struggling to catch his breath. He blew his nose a few times then turned to me and said…. “I have never told anyone those stories. I can’t believe they just came out like that……. It’s so hard to talk about them, but it’s such a relief to let them out”. I stood up out of my chair, and approached him slowly, then wrapped my arms around him and hugged him tight.
I understood after that why He Ask God to NEVER give him a daughter if he had children. And GOD never did. The images he carried in his mind haunted him daily, all that killing, the horrible things that he had witnessed. Among the stories………He and 5 of his comrades were sleeping in a tent, there wasn’t enough room for all them on cots, so Larry said he would sleep underneath one of them in his sleeping bag. When he woke up the next morning, all 5 of the men sleeping above him had been killed with complete silence. Man after man, he had to find them, and radio of help to get them lifted out, or picked up, all the while wondering if the Vietcong had moved on or were, they waiting a few hundred yards away.
He turned to drinking to dull the pain and bury the memories but he told me, once his body hit its limit, he would pass out, no matter where he was, but he could never DRINK AWAY the memories, and that they never gave him any peace. When he came too later, they were still there haunting him.
It did not help, that upon arrival home these men were greeted with less than a hero’s welcome. He said as they boarded planes for home they were all excited, but once they landed on American soil they could see civilians gathered waving signs that called them baby killers, and murderers. They had invectives hurled at them, people spit on them. Finding a job was more than difficult if you could try to function normally again, people would see you were a Vietnam vet and they were met with a veil of disgust and discrimination.
The VIETNAM War lasted longer than any other war before it.. From 1964- 1973 and it claimed 58,000 American service people, and wounded over 150,000. Men came HOME…they returned HOME, but it wasn’t the warm, welcoming HOME they remembered. They were broken, bleeding, and wounds that weren’t visible with the human eye and they were told to go home, with no psychological elevation or help.
GOD, AMERICAN DROPPED THE BALL during that time. WE WERE ILL-PREPARED TO GIVE THESE SERVICE MEN ALL THAT THEY DESERVED. They didn’t need a parade; they just needed our love and support, a universal embrace for all they had endured. They didn’t ask to go over there, they didn’t get to vote on it, they were drafted and shipped out to the very PITS OF HELL!!!
The rest of the day we did more exploring and now and then he would shake his head and say “I can’t believe I told you all that stuff about Nam this morning”. I soaked it all up and still today I feel that God placed me there, at that time, in that moment, so Larry could release and heal from a few of his scars …move forward. And He did. From then on, when he would call me He would tell me little things like…”I haven’t dreamed of Nam in months, or he would say I stopped seeing the horror movie in my mind. He felt the relief and he was grateful for it. And I was thankful to be there for him.
GOD did give Larry a Granddaughter. And one day while we three were in town Larry wanted to stop by and show her to us. He stepped inside that door and yelled “Haylie Marie come see your Papa” and just like that a little 4-year-old girl with long brown pig tails wearing only her panties and a little t shirt came running down the hall and leaped into her Papas arms. It brought tears to my eyes just watching him with her. She has no idea, the healing she brought with her when she was born.
Larry saw many beautiful, young Vietnamese children that the Vietcong strapped and concealed bombs to their small bodies and made them walk into the American soldier camps. These poor children had no idea what was happening, or what they were being used for. The first few were met with love and aw, as the bombs then exploded killing or wounding the American soldiers who stepped forward believing the child was lost or needed help. After that, a child that wondered into their camp HAD to be considered an enemy and ……..well imagine being that soldier that has been commanded to take them out. HORRIFIC.
Larry and I became the best of friends. There was no subject we couldn’t talk about….and we loved so many of the same things in life. We left that weekend to return to Michigan…and it was an emotional, sad, good bye for me. It felt like I had just found a long-lost brother and now I had to leave him. Was it our similar DNA, or was it the fact that he had shared the darkest, haunting, secrets of his soul with me, and now I felt connected to him? I carried the weight of his confession for a long time.
Three months later, Larry invited me back out for a 3-day gun show in Reno. I had inadvertently scheduled the flight out of Kalamazoo to Reno for September 1st …the anniversary of the 9-11 attack. I was scared to fly, scared to leave my little farm, and yet I hated to miss the opportunity. Me, a person had never flown, never gone anywhere except to have a baby at a hospital was now going to fly for a second time. Alone. (A cool story about my fellow flying passengers, I will save for another time.)
We attended a 3-day gun show in Reno, where I met Neil Armstrong, we fished on the banks of Topaz Lake, we used a brown paper bag as a cutting board as we ate cheese, bologna, and crackers, and we drank Coors Light off the tailgate of his Black Ford Ranger. He pulled his dog tags from his tackle box later that day, and said back during the VIETNAM war you were only issued one pair of dog tags, and he had kept them all these years, but now he wanted to leave them with someone who would care about having them.
Sweetest coincidence. I have My dad’s army tags, my uncle Fred’s army tags, Burt’s army tags and now Larry’s. How I became THE KEEPER OF THE TAGS, I am not quite sure, but I treasure them all just the same. I hang them on the Christmas tress every year and then they go back into the lock-fireproof box and leave me wondering, who will care about them when I am gone.
Here we were at HAAS center, there is a bunch of signs here. After I was home, I noticed one sign said Wayne’s Gun. Larry’s Dad, (my dad’s oldest brother) was an avid gun collector and selling his whole life.
This is Larry fishing in Lake Topaz. Here is where he passed on his dog tags to me. What a great day fishing we had. I fished from the shore. He walked out clear up to his belt, and at one point ask me to bring him a beer. I rolled up my jeans to my knees, waded out only that far and yelled “Haas, if you want this beer you are going to have to walk this way, because I don’t aim to soak myself and wear wet clothes the rest of the day” His brother and sister-in-law just roared with laughter. He met me but filled both his front pockets with cans of beer.
After I came home, He and I talked via emails every day, and about once a week or so by phone. Larry was the plant manager for Northern Kenworth where they made Allison Transmissions. For a short 15 months Larry and I shared a beautiful, powerful, deep friendship and then late one night on November 14, 2003, Larry was killed in an accident. In that same black truck, we had explored the countryside in, and had picnic lunches on. He was turning into his driveway off the main road, and turned in front of a young man going 90 miles an hour in a silver Jag. Both drivers were killed instantly. It is believed that Larry, saw nothing…that he began to turn into his driveway in the same way he did everything, slowly and methodically and this young man flying at 90 m.p.h. was on top of him before he knew. Investigators said that even if Larry did look before he began to make his turn, the kid would have been on top of him that fast. . …And just like that Larry was gone.
I felt like someone had just crushed my chest and all breath was gone. It was impossible to believe. I could not wrap my mind around the fact that He and I would never talk again, I would never hear him say my name again, or hear his laughter.
I had agreed earlier that week, to take my daughter and her boyfriend (now hubby with four beautiful children) hunting for the first time on Opening Day of deer season. I went forward, I smiled my way through it, and once we were back in my woods, and I knew that I was alone, I sat with my back against a large oak tree and cried and cried and cried. The blow was so hard to take. If the biggest, most beautiful buck had walked right up to me, I couldn’t have lifted my gun to shoot it. I was devastated.
I flew out to Nevada one last time for his funeral. My Dad and Uncle Fred also flew out with me. Nothing…..,NOTHING ,,,,,,prepared me for seeing him lying in a coffin. I stared at him, till it hurt too bad to breath and took the nearest exit out of that little white church. It was hot and dry outside and his sister was standing to my left smoking a cigarette. It was the first and only time in my life that I wished I smoked. Can’t even explain why, perhaps it was because I subconsciously remembered at that moment that he was a smoker too.
In the hot, Nevada desert sun, we attended his memorial service. Through a flood of my own tears, I had to laugh and whisper “OH Larry, you would get such a charge out of seeing all these women here crying over you”…and the men in wranglers and Stetsons never stopped walking up to the graveside. It was an awesome sight. Couldn’t help but wonder if this was the same scene that we would have viewed at the funeral for Wyatt Erp or Tom Mix. It was that real, that authentic, that true blue western saga. The stuff that legends are made of and books are written about.
Larry died at 54. He was much too young to leave this world. Much too young.
LIFE IS SO FLEETING, SO SHORT. ACCEPT THE LOVE THAT IS OFFERED, GIVE LOVE IN RETURN AND REMEMBER :
ENJOY THIS DAY TO THE FULLEST…..BECAUSE TOMORROW MAY NOT BELONG TO YOU.
FIFTEEN months wasn’t long enough, why did it have to happen, why did God created it so that we would be so close just BEFORE he passed. I don’t know. I do know I miss him, I miss his smile, his laughter, the sound of his voice when I would call and he would answer “Hello this is Larry”. He LOVED my soaps and kept himself and half his workers at ALLISON’S TRANSMISSIONS stocked up with it. He heard me when I spoke, there was nothing too silly or ridiculous, or unimportant to him…He wanted to hear anything and everything I had to say, and it was that way for me when he would talked. The beauty of the memories, the strength of the bond will live on.
Whenever we walked down the street in Virginia City, He would never say a word but would just step behind me and end up on the “Street Side” of me, saying ” Out here, woman don’t walk on the curb side of the road, same with planes. No matter what the ticket says…. the women always give a man the aisle seat.”.
Larry Served His country proud in Nam, and he truly is one of the last REAL COWBOYS that I had the PLEASURE and BLESSING of getting to know. He fit the bill of everything a cowboy was.
Today He would have been 67.
HAPPY HEAVENLY BIRTHDAY MY DEAR COUSIN. I love you always…look forward to having another cup of coffee with you one day. Save me a seat, and get a large table. I am sure that our friend Burt and your Dad, our uncles, aunts, and other family members will be joining us for a great visit together
Larry Karl Haas June 20, 1949 – November 14, 2003
Garth Brooks sand it best:
“And now, I’m glad I didn’t know, the way it all would end, the way it all would go.
Our lives are better left to chance, I could have missed the pain, But I’d have had to miss the dance.”
(I Wouldn’t have missed our time together Larry…not for all the world. Lots of love and laughter, no regrets, no goodbyes, I will see you on the other side.)