He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother.

photo(6)He was my brother, and sometimes he got pretty heavy.  ~ Pat

The Korean Peninsula is perhaps the most talked-about item in the news nowadays.  At least that is the case here in the United States.  And all the chatter about North Korea/South Korea has caused me to think a great deal about my late older brother.

Jack was his name and he spent about fourteen months in South Korea with the US Army.  I can’t remember the exact dates of his tenure there but I do know that a part of it would have been in 1961, about eight years after the so-called end of the Korean Conflict.  I think of it as one of the many “conflicts” the US should never have entered. Peninsula-Korean-001

My uncle fought in Korea.  Like many veterans of war, he wouldn’t talk about it.  I remember one time when he had been drinking heavily he said, “It isn’t fun seeing your buddies’ arms and legs flying through the air.”  That’s the only time I ever heard him mention it.  He received a bullet wound in his wrist.  I used to ask him about the scar but he would make up some joke about how it might have happened.

Back to my brother.  Jack used to say that the best he could tell, he and the other GI’s were in South Korea to play war games at the border from time to time, and to sit around playing cards and drinking beer the rest of the time.  He told me the North Koreans and the Chinese would line up their tanks at the border and aim them toward the troops.  Then the US Army would do the same, aiming at the North.  The North would retreat.  Then the US troops would retreat and go back to their beer.  I realize that not all American soldiers were sitting around drinking beer but that would have been important to my brother.  He had the genetic predisposition to alcoholism which has been the demise of many of my relatives.

I was listening to the Diane Rehm Show on NPR as I was driving home from Chapel Hill this week.  The first hour Diane and her guests discussed the scary young President of North Korea and his irresponsible threats.  A guest on the show talked about the war games that are going on now at the North-South border.  The description sounded almost exactly like the one given by my brother more than fifty years ago.  I think my jaw dropped.  Are we still doing that!?  Should I take heart in the fact that there’s now a woman in charge in S. Korea?  I can hope.

The black and white photo at the top of this post is my brother surrounded by children while he was in Asia.  Jack is the tall one with blond hair.  😉  This is my favorite shot of him.  I’m not sure where he was at the time but wherever he went the children gathered around him.  Dogs liked him too.  The ubiquitous but vague they say that anyone who’s loved by children and dogs can’t be all bad.  Many times that thought comforted me.

My brother died at the age of sixty-one of an alcohol and drug overdose.  That was almost eleven years ago.  I still miss him.  When I think of him I try to remember his charming smile, his sense of humor, his big heart for animals and children.  My daughters loved him, as did the older grandchildren.  The younger ones either didn’t meet him or were too young to remember him.  It gives me pleasure to show them this snapshot of him and to tell them they would have loved him.  RIP Jack T.

He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother by Neil Diamond

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16 thoughts on “He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother.

  1. This really got me, especially the alcohol part..He was only 61. I am so sorry. I’ve often thought about what it must be like being someone who saw all those terrible things…the images that could never possibly fade. It’s a very touching piece.

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  2. Hi Pat! This is another of your beautiful well written posts. It’s lovely the way you write about your brother and express your love for him. Wars can have a lasting effect on people. I have a brother who’s similarly effected by alcohol. He turns 75 this year, he’s still alive, but only just. Alcohol can destroy people’s lives. It’s very sad. I have very fond memories of this younger brother from the years when we were little. I couldn’t say what brought my brother down. He was never in any war. We were once in the cellar of a house that was destroyed by several bombs during an air raid. We were only children then. Other then this we never experienced anything bad during the WW II or postwar years. The worst thing that happened to us was that our parents separated during the postwar years.
    I am so sorry about what happened today during the Boston marathon. We received the news here in Australia early in the morning a few minutes after it happened. For hours we watched reports on TV. Such an unnecessary waste of lives. This is awful! It must have been a shocking experience for a lot of people, mostly Americans but people from all over the world also.

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  3. The photograph captures him perfectly. Loved not only by dogs and children, but by almost everyone who knew him. Great tribute to a brother who had so much to give.

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  4. For me Pat the photograph says it all. Yes there is the political stuff, which is so, so important , particularly as in this world we don’t really move on and our politicians don’t seem to facilitate that in any way (OK that’s as political as I get for now). There is a reason that for me, on a particular level, I didn’t read this post as political. What came through for me was loving and losing your brother and maybe, how it could have been so different. I don’t mean that to be disrespectful – we can, I believe, all look back on our lives and reflect. Life takes it’s toll and we all deal with that differently. To be loved, missed and remembered is a blessing and a real measure of the people that care about us – despite the difficult situations, because the love takes over. I loved this post Pat and the photo of Jack is just wonderful. Life changes and sometimes we have a job keeping up.

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    • Thank you, J, for understanding what I was trying to say about my brother. I didn’t intend to get too political either. It’s just that the constant chatter about N/S Korea reminded me so powerfully of him that I had to write it.

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  5. Pat that is a lovely tribute to your brother And yes we in our small corner of this wonderful world are very concerned at the posturing of this demi-god in the North This will surely end in disaster

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  6. I am watching Korea with interest, but now China has come down on the side of common sense I am more optimistic. As for your brother, these memories of him filled me with emotion. That he should have had such a sure touch with the defenceless and yet been unable to protect himself from his own demons and memories is a sad and tragic tale repeated in many lives. He was loved by many, and by you, which is beautiful. It shines out of this post. Beautifully and movingly written.

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    • Thank you, Elizabeth. My brother was my best buddy growing up. I guess I’ll always miss him.

      I’m glad you like the Neil Diamond version. I know it was The Hollies who had the hit but I’m such a huge ND fan that I couldn’t resist this one.

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  7. M & I are quite concerned about N. Korea…ominous and we pray this blows over w/o fatal decisions.
    My awesome husband of 60 lovely years was in Korea during the conflict…he was in the 45th Nat’l Guard that was activated for that action. So young…20…he was a tank commander/on the front…day after he left the frontline rotating back home, his tank was hit. Being the only one who knew its exact location he went back to retrieve it and the crew. We married two weeks after he rotated ~ our sons and all the g’children love for him to talk about those times. Michael retired w/32 yrs of service…the buddies from the tank company (plus their families) meet each year in a different state for a reunion. Of course the numbers are rapidly shrinking but we’re like a big, wonderful family.
    Your post stirred memories and is quite touching…your brother looks happy. Best that you are remember the good things! My youngest brother, John, died the same way as your Jack.

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    • Thanks for your comments, Vasca. It’s hard to imagine someone that young in a tank. Please tell him I thank him for his service. I think it’s wonderful that you have reunions.

      I’m sorry about your brother. We sisters wish we could have saved them, don’t we?

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