David L Hollingsworth and Dwight Lutsey USN 1963
Every Memorial day I am brought back with startling clarity to that time when I was in the service. I was in the Navy. A lot of that time is just a blur of places, travel, events, people. But some parts of it are etched so deeply into my soul that I can instantly bring back every moment, every sound, every smell and I am transported back there. Completely. I can feel that hot sun, smell the salt in the breeze off the ocean and feel the presence of the best friend I have ever had. His name was David L Hollingsworth and that’s what everyone called him. David L Hollingsworth. It wasn’t required. It just happened naturally. When you saw him it was perfectly normal to say “Hey, David L Hollingsworth, What’s happening”. Even some of the officers did it and they didn’t like anybody especially enlisted men.
We were stationed on Guam in the Mariana Islands, part of the Trust Territory and overseen by the US government. The Mariana’s trench, the deepest place in the Pacific ocean, was just past the reef and it was always a test of will power to swim out over it knowing there were miles of water between you and the ocean’s floor. The time was 1963 through 1965. The war was Viet Nam.
David and I were Hospital Corpsmen in the Navy. We both went in as “kiddie cruisers”. That was when you went into the service the day after you were 17 and got out the day before you were 21, and we were stationed at Agana Naval Hospital there on Guam. It was also the home of Anderson Air Force base where many of the B-52’s that flew into Viet Nam were kept. I had just turned 19 when this picture was taken, so was David, still teenagers. Our peers were juniors in high school when we joined. We were attached to the psych unit of the hospital there and it was the place where many of those servicemen from the entire Southeast Asian theater, but mainly from Viet Nam, who had mental problems, or had physical injuries that affected their brains, or had fallen prey to the drugs that were so prevalent in Viet Nam, were brought to for treatment and care.
Our friendship started because of the way our names were spelled. His last name started with ‘H’ and mine with ‘L’ and the Navy would assign you to the various schools or duty stations by the first letter of your last name. All the ‘A’ through ‘G’s, were a group, all the ‘H through ‘O’s were a group and so on. Both of us being in the ‘H’ through ‘O’ group, we were sent to the various schools and Duty Stations together until we finally wound up on the island in 1963.
Being on Guam was very much like that opening line “In A tale of Two Cities”.
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way –”
Living on an island in the South Pacific is not the Paradise everyone thinks it is. Yes it is beautiful, yes you are disconnected from everyday life, yes it is the getaway that you want, but only for a short time. After a while reality sets in. The constant heat, humidity, the unrelenting trade winds that drive you crazy. The boredom, the smallness of the island. You could ride a bike around it in a couple of hours. The tedious yet dangerous aspect of the work, all combined to make it a place you wanted to be away from. And right now. It was why we put in for every opportunity to get off the island, whether it was for extra duty, or leave, or any excuse you could think of, you wanted to be gone.
We all handled our time there in different ways. I bitched. I bitched about it constantly. I know it’s not the most flattering way to describe yourself but it is accurate. I hated it there. I couldn’t wait for any opportunity to leave and pulled every string I could to make it happen. I also spent my time thinking about the future, how long did I have before I could get off this rock, what I was missing by being there, everything I could do to make my stay there more miserable, I did. David on the other hand lived in the moment. He took each day as a new one, bright with promise. There was always something that made the day exciting, fulfilling, adventuresome. It didn’t matter that it was Guam, why sweat it, we were alive. A lot of guys weren’t. He was the most serene person I have ever known. I used to call him Buddha because of it. That and his round, bowling ball shaped head.
It was due to him that I was able to finish my time there and finally leave and come home. Come back to the world we called it. Every time I felt like I was going to lose it he was there and in a few simple sentences would talk me down and I was good for another little while. He never needed that. He was a rock. He could find something new and interesting to do when all the rest of us just saw the endless days on the calendar with the x’s marked through showing how long we’d been there and how long we had to go. David didn’t have a calendar, he didn’t care. “Let’s go diving”, he’d say. Or “lets get a beer”. We were lucky, we got out of there, we made it through, we lived, and we returned to the world. We stayed in touch.
I remember the first night I got the phone call. It was 3 in the morning. I was asleep with my wife. He was crying so hard that I couldn’t understand him. He had just recently gotten married to the love of his life, they were starting a family. He had finally finished jumping through all the hoops to become a doctor and had just joined a prestigious practice where he was an oncology resident. His life was pointed forward in the best way it could be, And he was dying. Dying from Hodgkin’s. It was the first of many late night calls. Nights were hard for him. I used to wake up in the middle of the night thinking I heard the phone ring. Sometimes I would lay awake waiting because I knew he was going to call.
We talked of many things. In the beginning it was usually about treatment. Then when it became apparent that there wasn’t going to be any treatment that would work we talked of other things. We talked about our time together on Guam, and the liberty we pulled. The women we knew. We remembered his visit to the house when I was first starting out with my family and he wanted to see my son. “So I can remember him like this when he is a man” he’d said. And we talked about the one thing that we’d never talked about when we were together and that was the future. David’s whole life philosophy was, if you’re not happy with your self or your life now, what’s going to make it better in the future.
I won’t go into those discussions because even now nearly 30 years later, they’re too personal and too difficult to set down on paper. For someone who was able to handle every difficulty life threw at him by being able to be positive in the present, the future was the one thing that terrified him the most. Not for himself so much but for the ones he would leave behind. It seemed like our late night calls went on forever and his dying lasted an eternity but they were really very short. He died in just a few months.
I was asked to be a pallbearer and we flew out to California for the funeral. Of course the airline lost my luggage and I showed up in jeans and a leather jacket to perform my duties. It seemed like everyone in the world was there. David made friends by the busload. All the doctors he worked with, some of the team from our service days, personal friends of the family, he had a big send off. He was just 41. One of the guys asked why I hadn’t worn a suit and I told him the airline lost my luggage. He said ” Oh, I thought you were just making a statement” which I probably would have if I’d thought of it. Dave would have thought it was cool.
So Memorial day for me is a sad kind of day. I think about all the guys that didn’t make it. Those that I knew and those that I didn’t. When you see a lot of death at a young age it changes how you think about it. You get callous. That changes as you get older though. The callouses rub off. Now I have to be careful how I think about those things because all the emotions I didn’t have or hid, as a young man, I have in spades now. It doesn’t take a whole lot to bring me to my knees. One of the hardest things for me is realizing that my best friend in the world didn’t have a future and if anyone on this earth deserved one it was him.
Usually you think of Memorial day as one in which we remember the ones who fell in the war, serving our country, and that is a big part of it for me too, but also as one who spent the most formative years of my young adult life in the service, in a place where nothing was permanent, where when you said good-by to someone you meant it, it was the relationships, the friendships that were formed and carried forward for the rest of my life that are the most memorable. David didn’t die in the war like so many others we knew, but it was where we met. And our bonds were forged during that time when people we knew were fighting and dying, and dealing with it was the basis of our friendship. I know it played a crucial part in who I became and who David became. It made us brothers. And when he died it didn’t matter that we didn’t share blood. The grief was the same. Every Memorial day I remember and so far the memory has never faded, we were brothers, once and forever.
Rest in Peace David L Hollingsworth. I could use your friendship again. I miss you.