WAR GAMES AND GLORY
Peggy Hilbert Young e-mailed me from Virginia recently, and the message included this paragraph, which drove me to a box in the basement:
By Ed Lowe
May 03, 2007
"I was thinking it will be 40 years this May 8th that Eddie Asip was killed in Vietnam. Edward V. Asip, USMC, May 18, 1947 to May 8, 1967 ... Do you think it would be nice to [write] a little something in his honor? His parents are deceased, and I have lost contact with Jerry and James, his brothers ... I spoke with Jerry years ago when I was in Sarasota and he was living in Fort Lauderdale ... I wanted to have a Mass at [St. Martin of Tours, in Amityville], but I don’t know who would attend, and Roger and I are here in Reston ... Maybe you could do an article and include Eddie ... I will always have a very special place in my heart for Eddie and always will think of him in my prayers.
Eddie Asip was the only kid from Amityville Village killed in Vietnam. I knew I had written a piece about having played soldiers with him and other neighborhood boys in the 1950s, when the second "war to end all wars" was still fresh in our parents’ memories, and the Korean War was barely over. A fading writing award on my office wall hinted that I wrote the piece in 1980 or 1981.
"It is so hard to believe that 40 years have gone by. I can remember that day like yesterday when my brother Michael came home from Little League, when the Marines came to practice to give the news to Mr. Asip and then me running over to their house crying and not wanting it to be true! Sitting in the house with James and Jerry and being so scared, a life-changing event..."
The box in my basement contained tear sheets of Newsday columns from around 1977 through the late 1980s, when Newsday began storing old text in cyberspace, retrievable for a fee, but absent the dry, accumulated dust.
The search didn’t take very long, once I isolated the stacks of pages from 1980 and ’81. The inside cover of the May 24, 1981 issue of what then was a Sunday rotogravure section called "LI" bore a column entitled "Home of the Brave." It was accompanied by a hauntingly accurate illustration from the imagination of artist Ron Dilg, whose pencil had captured my soldier-playing childhood friends without his having seen them, ever.
The column told how "...in the still mornings of the steamiest summer days of the 1950s," my neighborhood friends and I "...crawled inch by sweaty, agonizing inch through almost 100 feet of thorny bushes, around the spindly trunks of two dozen wild cherry saplings and under whole square yards of tropical fernlike poison oak plants...until we machine-gunned or grenaded every last nest of enemy strength whenever we determined that we’d found it."
"When [Louis] Walsh commanded us," the story read, "I served as his squad leader. (‘You take him and him and him,’ he would order me, ‘and move around to the side of the house [then under construction, next door to mine on Hamilton Street]. We’ll cover you from here.’ He preferred me because I got shot better than anybody else. Billy Macomber staggered too melodramatically before he fell, and his brother Bobby refused to get shot. He thought it was stupid. Eddie Asip lacked credibility, yelling like a banshee when he got hit and then falling down in a fit of raspy giggles; and Tommy DeMarco would spend a whole day dying, if you let him.
"I poured my entire soul into getting wounded realistically, spinning around suddenly as an imaginary high-caliber round slammed into my shoulder or thigh, and then landing hard in the dirt, or mud, facedown for dramatic effect. On one of my best days, grimacing in pain and woozy with shock from getting blasted, I managed, limply, to toss the crucial pineapple through the window and into the room that housed the deadliest machine-gun nest in the war, thus allowing the rest of the gang to storm the house in heroic vengeance, while I lay dying in a puddle of self-sacrificial glory. We had glory all the time in those days. Glory was as plentiful as leaves."
Fast forward to Opening Day, 1967, for the Amityville Little League: Marine officers in full dress entered Amityville Police Headquarters and approached then-Sgt. Edward Lowe Sr., asking after the whereabouts of one Edward Asip Sr. They had visited the house, but no one was home.
Ed Asip had seven kids. Ed Lowe knew where Asip would be—officiating behind home plate at his son’s Little League game.
I can’t imagine what Mr. Asip was feeling, watching his friend, the cop, walking toward him across three baseball fields, accompanied by U.S. Marines, but I don’t ever want to feel it.
The Virtual Wall Vietnam Veterans Memorial page that pops up when you Google "Edward V. Asip" includes this entry:
"The 1st Battalion, 4th Marines, was among the Allied forces engaged in bitter fighting around Con Thien on 08 May 1967. Forty-three Marines and sailors died in the fight..."
Eddie Asip was 10 days shy of his 20th birthday.
"[Eddie] had been serving in Vietnam 18 days," my 1981 column read. "...The newspaper [clipping] said that he was killed in action in Con Thien while serving with the First Battalion, 4th Marine Division, and that just a few days before, the Asip family had received a letter from Eddie saying ‘that he was right in the middle of it...[and that] they were being mortar shelled."
"The glory days ended right there," the column ended, "with a dull ache."
Long Island Press
Used with permission