Monday, May 25, 2009

Callen Courtemanche a life to remember today

For those who have not been touched directly by the losses in war, I'd like to give you a name to think about today. When I put my flag out this morning, it will be in honor of Callen Courtemanche, a high school classmate and friend, who lost his life in Vietnam on January 31, 1968. (For newspaper editors who love birthday connections, it was five days after his 21st birthday).

The several times I have visited the Wall in Washington, D.C., or the traveling wall when it comes locally, I always look for and pray over Cal's name.

I'll also give a salute to my brother, a Vietnam vet, who died of an infection on New Year's Day. A lot of my brother's medical problems were believed related to his service and he was just days and weeks short of getting his disability payments for them when he died.

My grandfather served in World War I, my uncle, father and stepfather all served in World War II, so service comes naturally to our family.

At the same time Cal was shot and killed, I was aboard the relative safety of a Navy destroyer in the Gulf of Tonkin rescuing Navy fighter pilots and providing shore bombardment support for Marines like Cal. Cal and I were not close friends in school, just the kind of friends who had known each other through elementary, junior high and high school. We would stop and talk or each lunch together if our best friends were not available.

My mother and stepfather knew the Courtemanches and I heard the name in our house frequently. So it came as a bit of a shock when I received a letter from my mother, about a month after Cal died (remember no e-mail and only snail military mail - which had to be where snail mail got its name) telling me of Cal's death. He was one of two men (William James Burke was the other) that I knew personally who were killed in Vietnam, but Cal was the one I was closest too. I left a message on a Virtual Wall message board a couple years ago.

Sometimes I think how much Cal missed. He and I were the same age, graduated from high school in 1965. I've enjoyed a short police career and a long newspaper career and have seen two of my boys raised and my two stepchildren grow in to maturity. I have the joy of two grandchildren with another on the way, and a wife to love and grow old with. Cal had none of that. His life ended in an inhospitable jungle in a war that probably should never have been fought, could have been won, but that people and politicians simply tired of.

My fellow Vietnam veterans are universally adamant that our current military will never suffer the disgust and hate we did when we arrived home. But to put things in perspective, I may not have had a big parade or welcome home, but at least I had a life, that's something Cal and 55,000-plus did not have. Give that a thought today.

So when I don my American Legion outfit today and salute, I'll have the names of two men firmly in my mind. If you have someone in your life who was lost due to war, please post them in the comments and let us all remember them today.

The top picture is Cal after his graduation from boot camp. The second picture is his Crescenta Valley High School senior picture and the third image is a tracing down of his name at The Wall.

This will be the only post today.


Pam said...

Excuse me just a moment while I grab some Kleenex...seems to be a year of free flowing tears.
Ok, think I can see again now. Wow, what a beautiful, thoughtful tribute to your friend, our brother, our family and to our veterans.
I will spend my day honoring all the amazing men in our lives. My dearest friend has a son in Afghanistan and we hold him close in our hearts and prayers.
Fortunately, I have no names to add to the list today. All the vets I know have come home safe and sound, thank you God.
Again, thank you for honoring these men. I'm proud to have you as my brother.

Jim of L-Town said...

Now I can't see....

Love, Bro

Anonymous said...

Thankyou Father! I love the fact that you served our country. I will never know what thats like. 1. Im too old. 2. I have a disability.3. I could never give that much control of my life over to anyone. Thanks.

Jim of L-Town said...

You serve and could serve in other ways.

Happy Birthday tomorrow William

Love, Dad

Anonymous said...

Thanks Father! Its all because of you. Love ya

Anonymous said...

Thank you for writing this.

Cal was one of my best friends at CV and I think of him especially every Memorial Day. Today I decided to google his name to see what came up & this was it.

It is a year later now and your tribute persists . . .

Thank you so much . . .

Jim of L-Town said...

Thank you, Anonymous. I wish I knew who you were since we were likely classmates as well.

You can reach me by e-mail at:


Joseph Courtemanche said...

Thanks for remembering my cousin Cal. I never met Cal, he was gone before my family met his family in the late 1960's.

It was only as an adult that I learned his story - for I had enlisted in the Navy as a linguist - just like my cousin.

I honor him today as one of my brothers in arms. And you, gentle editor, honor my family by remembering Cal.

It is good for all of us to remember. I try to do so from time to time at my blog as well. A military friendly blog.

God Bless you for your service.

Joe Courtemanche
Saint Paul, Minnesota

Jim of L-Town said...


I should also let you know that since this tribute to Callen I have been asked every year to do a class with another Vietnam veteran at Lapeer East High School.

Instead of telling just my story to the class I always bring my high school yearbook, turned to Callen's photo and I explain to the students the true cost of war. So Callen lives each and every year in my presentation to the class.

I'm glad you found the tribute and each month when I serve on a funeral Honor Guard and firing squad at the National Cemetery in Holly, Michigan I serve in honor of Callen and other Vietnam veterans.

This is something I do nearly every first Friday of each month as a volunteer.

May God Bless you and your family,