by Michael Ryerson
He was an Annapolis grad, you know? Came home to San Diego. Came home before me. He was a lifer, a career man, but that made sense with that Annapolis business. Good officer. Maybe the best I ever knew. Forceful, fair, motivated. Always gave us the feeling we’d get a square deal and most of the breaks, as Dundy would say. But, of course, that career business meant he’d be back a couple of times and I just wanted out. No more for me. I went home, spent an irony filled year teaching at schools battalion and then grew a beard. Over the years. I thought about Captain Browne pretty often. Passed through San Diego frequently, was married in La Jolla, honeymooned in Mexico, family vacations, fishing trips, surfing, the big zoo, the Del Coronado. Long distance driving opens the synapses, floods the brain with free associative images, brings back the old days. From Los Angeles, San Diego lies beyond the twenty miles of Camp Pendleton and crossing that twenty miles brings back the old days for all of us, Basilone Road, Las Pulgas, Edson Range, 21 Area and finally Oceanside where generations of young Marines have been hustled, busted, talked too loud, gotten drunk, tattoed, postured and then gone away. It’s an old tired town, a dry hustle, a cynic’s town, seen it all, over and over. And the kids in uniform pass through in waves, noisy and improbably young. That stretch of highway is for wool gathering. I always wonder how many more times Captain Browne went back. Two tours? Three? He’d have been a thirty year man in ’89. He’d have made full colonel easy. Maybe even a brigadier’s star. That would have been cool. Good for him. Good for the Corps. I’d like to have gone to his retirement ceremony. I wonder what he did. People would have been drawn to him, he’d have been the guy to run the condominiun association, maybe local politics, yeah, politics, he’d be perfect. A city councilman maybe, a commissioner, mayor even, yeah even mayor. North San Diego County would have been where he’d settled, his kids would have flourished, he’d have had a sunburned nose and that big smile and he’d have looked people in the eye and told them the truth and they’d have flocked to him. And they’d all be the better for having him. I’d have voted for him. Even if he was a Republican. I’d have voted for him. Yeah, wool gathering. ‘Course, it’s all just day dreaming. You know he didn’t come back that way. He didn’t go back for another tour. He didn’t see his kids grow up. He never held his wife again.