Loss and the Layering of Lives on Memorial Day

A drawing that depicts a gentle spirit--sent to Danny Allen's brother, Lee and his wife Joyce.

A drawing on textured paper that depicts a gentle spirit. The drawing was recently sent to Danny Allen’s brother, Lee and his wife Joyce.

In writing my story about the time I spent with Danny Allen, the Vietnam War was raging politically in the background during the era–mostly by way of war protests–but we were not directly in the line of fire. The same cannot be said of Dan’s younger brother, Lee.

I owe a great deal to Dan’s siblings for providing additional information about Danny’s life and filling in blanks that had remained mysterious to me for decades. Dan’s brother Lee was very generous with his time, talking to me about his recollections of his older brother. Much of what Lee and his family shared helped to shape the book. But with this being Memorial Day Weekend, it seems appropriate to take a side trip to honor Danny’s brother, Lee Allen.

On December 1, 1969, the Selective Service System of the United States abolished the military draft which was akin to slavery. During the draft days, a man was told he was free–but if he chose not to answer the call of the draft and be placed in harms way to kill or be killed–he had to flee the country or face prison time. If he didn’t acquiesce to fight a war almost no one understood he was branded as a “draft-dodger” and a “traitor” to his nation. A lottery system was instated, and while no less unfair and amoral–it was merely more random.

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Lee Allen with his youngest sister, Christine.

Lee was a Vietnam veteran who passed away this past Monday, May 20th, 2013 at 7:10pm. During our interview for the book some months before, Lee and I discussed his service during the Vietnam War. He and I were the exactly same age–only a couple months apart–and Lee was also an artist–specifically a sculptor. Back when the draft was repealed and replaced with the “Lottery System” both Lee and I pulled very lucky numbers close to 300–which exempted us from being called. Lee confessed to me that he had been fooled–tricked by U.S. Army recruiters who convinced him–as a young, inexperienced man, that a high lottery number wouldn’t prevent him from being drafted. Lee was told if he enlisted he’d be assigned to a “cushy desk job” and avoid combat. Of course that turned out not to be the case. We all know that recruiters use unscrupulous methods to enlist soldiers–there’s enough hidden camera footage on that subject to be it’s own blog.

Lee–like most of us at the time–didn’t fully grasp the reasoning behind the Vietnam War. Nor did he believe in the war, but he wasn’t about to skip to Canada and turn his back on his country. The Vietnam War was being “sold” to Americans as “stopping the spread of communism” as if it were our responsibility to tell other nations how to govern. It turned out to be a war of profit with dark and murky motives much like the wars of recent years. And none of it should ever have happened. That in no way disparages the service of the brave men and women who fought and died. But like our recent wars, it does besmirch the character of our leaders who entangled us in these horrible and mishandled conflagrations in the first place.

While interviewing Lee, I had no idea that he was ill. I’m not sure Lee himself realized he was ill. But he did mention to me that he’d never owned a piece of his brother’s artwork, and I promised, as the “keeper” of Dan’s collection that I would remedy that oversight.

We all have a way of putting things off due to life’s endless distractions. And it wasn’t until my last visit to Rochester that I learned exactly how ill Lee was. His mother told me that Lee is suspected to have Agent Orange exposure–a lethal chemical warfare wepon–and lapse in America’s moral judgement that was produced by a company named Monsanto–who now wants to sell you the food you eat–but I digress…

I rushed back to Philadelphia to mat and frame an original piece of Danny Allen’s artwork so that it might pass through Lee’s hands before Lee himself passed. Sadly the drawing arrived one day too late. His cancer claimed him even before family could travel to the west coast to say their goodbyes. Lee is now with two of his brothers, leaving his wife and grown children behind–and a mother who has witnessed the cruelty of having three of her sons predecease her. Another of Dan’s younger brothers, Robert, was also claimed by cancer.

The Vietnam War is over–but it’s effects are not. We as a nation might best serve the memory of reluctant warriors like Lee Allen by never allowing our elected officials to mislead us into another war of choice. History is more than merely the past–it’s a reflection of the road map that leads toward the future. This Memorial Day, I honor and salute, Dan’s brother Lee Allen, and thank him for his kindness, generosity of spirit–and his service. I assure Lee’s widow, Joyce, his large and loving family–and especially his mother, Bernice, that while we all mourn the loss of her sons, we will never doubt that the world is a better place by remembering that they once walked among us.

In Memory of Leon James Allen – 1950 – 2013.

4 thoughts on “Loss and the Layering of Lives on Memorial Day

    • I agree, Laurie – It’s difficult to watch and be helpless while such good people suffer one tragedy after another.

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