Monday, May 26, 2008

Memorial Day

Eugene J.Hedkampt. Gene or "Butch" to his many friends, was a Vietnam Veteran, and on this Memorial Day I find myself thinking of him. I met Gene at an Illinois estate auction in 2003, and he was such a fixture at them it would be hard not to notice him. I first noticed he would often buy toys and give them away to the children present, and one day when I was furiously bidding on an old lot of costume jewelry he winked at me. Of all the people present, he was the only one that recognized my bidding strategy and let me know he recognized it. In any case, over the two years I lived in Illinois we became very good friends, and I heard a lot of stories about his years working special operations in the U.S. Military. He even taught me how to make a really cheap bomb with household items, in case the need would ever arise for me to use it. (You never know when that could come in handy...LOL) It was always hard to juxtapose his very violent military history with the man he was when I met him, as even though his bark was totally lethal he was actually one of the most kind and compassionate people I have ever known. The kind of man who walked through life and when he saw a need didn't hesitate to deal with it. I can not count the many children who needed glasses, or bags of food for elder neighbors, or any manner of quiet acts of kindness I personally witnessed. He just knew people, accepted them and the places they were right then, and did what he could to make things better or give a little hope.

Yes, he was a Republican, but an "old school" Republican. The kind who considered himself a patriot, and was against "big" government and fiscally conservative. But it was this Republican that took me out to dinner the day of Kerry's defeat to console me, and admitted for the first time in his life he had actually voted against his own party. He was angered by the Bush administration, felt this war was was motivated solely by economics, and thought the party had been hijacked by religious zealots.

Gene had spent years after returning to private life working as a union labor negotiator at Anhesier Busch brewery, and could size up a person or situation with a very keen eye that I really admired. When I met him he was in the process of dying a slow death by leukemia, that he always attributed to being exposed so heavily to "Agent Orange" in Vietnam. The last year of his life we spent a lot of time together as friends, and I took him to art museums and discussed classic art with him as he seemed hungry to understand it. He tickled me by always buying postcards of the fine art he had seen in the museum to remember the artist and piece, and he made notes on the back of each. For his birthday that last year I surprised him with a double portrait illustration, "Gene as Devil and Angel" and he was as delighted as a child with it. I always knew he had a crush on me, but he was clear I was a lesbian and as a gentleman never acted on it. We truly became the best of friends, as odd as it might have seemed to others. When he died in December 2006, I got a manila envelope full of scribbled museum postcards to remember him by.

So today I honor my friend for his service to this country. Just one small story about one solider, one of the countless men and women that generously gave us this life by their service.

Miss you Gene-O.

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