Monday, February 1, 2010

A Belated Thank You


PFC - E3 - Army - Selective Service 4th
Infantry Division Born on Friday, October 10, 1947 From SMOCK,
PA Length of service 1 year. His tour began on Jul 21, 1968. Casualty
CASUALTY MISADVENTURE Body was recovered Panel 39W - Line 33

Everybody in Smock knew Tommy Kubica. He lived in the house right across the street from St. Hedwig's Church. If you went out the side door of the church, you'd end up on Tommy's front porch. So as an altar boy, his "commute" to the church was a snap.

Tommy had several sisters, Irene being the oldest and the same age as me. He also had two younger sisters who may have qualified for the "whoops" award since they were so much younger than Irene and Tommy.

All the kids had black hair. And Tommy used to put some kind of "product", to use a 2010 word, in his hair which made it really shine and stay in place.

Like all of the wives who lived on Smock Hill, Tommy's mom stayed at home and worked as a housewife, which is a pretty major job. His dad worked in the coal mines, like so many of our fathers.

Tommy was two years older than me so he was considered one of the "big kids". He ran fast, could play excellent baseball, and was a very kind boy. Mostly. I remember the time when Tommy provoked our even bigger friend, Jackie Rafter, who chased Tom for over a half hour. "Kubba" was able to evade a pretty strong whipping from Jackie by hiding in some tall grass which allowed Jackie to miss stepping on Tommy's head by about 2 feet. (It was dark.)

To paraphrase John McCutcheon's great song Christmas in the Trenches, the Vietnam war was waiting for Tommy after graduation from Uniontown High School. And his rather low draft number didn't help either.

I remember when Tommy came home from the Army all decked out in his dress uniform. I looked into the Sunday morning church crowd from my altar boy perch and saw this handsome man in uniform, black hair now virtually gone. He even looked taller. It was after church that he told me of this place that he was being sent. I said good-by and thought how I might look in a military uniform.

He wasn't gone more than a few months when word came that Tommy was killed by friendly fire. "Friendly" fire? I remember attending his funeral. And on each visit I make to Smock today, I stop by and say hello to Tommy and everyone else that I miss.

Tommy got his "welcome home" but a welcome that was draped in black with an honor guard. But for many returnees from that awful war in Southeast Asia, our welcome home was different. Some of us were spat upon and were called baby killers. Some were denied membership in the Uniontown VFW because Joe Vicites, their Commander, thought that Vietnam wasn't WORTH membership in the VFW. Soon the Uniontown VFW will be closing their doors because of lack of membership funds and donations. One guy told me that they don't even have enough to pay the electric bill. My suggestion is to go dig up Joe Vicites and ask him for a loan.

But people who were in military uniform were respected in Smock. I think that the reason is because so many of the old timers wore similar uniforms at one point in their life. And they realize that our freedom came at a price.

Too much of a price for Tommy Kubica and all of those people in the Smock cemetery who get a flag on their headstone twice a year.

What do we say nowadays? "Thanks for serving"?? I even attended a free dinner at Applebee's on Veteran's Day for people from all branches of the armed services. The looks of anguish and stress on the faces of those who may have gone to Desert Storm were sad. "Stress acquired disorder". Also there were the faces of the people of my generation who knew about jungle warfare and also knew that at any instant, they could be blown to bits by a hidden land mine. Faces that are still back there and have yet to return.

But the curious ones are those faces of Korea and even a few from World War II. They appeared relaxed and uncommonly content. Maybe it was because they knew who their enemy was? Maybe time does heal all?

Time will never erase my memory of my down the street neighbor. Or my grandfather who proudly wore his World War I campaign hat on "Decoration Day".

One of the few memories that I have from my military service that my father's "new" wife didn't throw away in the trash was a tiny badge that states the purpose of all pararescue specialists everywhere; "That Others May Live".

I sure wish I could have saved Tommy.


genevit said...


Tom took sis out the night before he left for Nam. When he dropped her off she said I'll see you later. His response was: No Mary, the next time you see me I'll be in a box......

been there said...

Hi Bob I read your story about your friend Tommy and I must say you did a great job on it... THANKS... I grew up in a large city in Michigan so its hard for me to relate to living life in a small town such as Smock... Big city life changes so rapidly you seldom keep in touch with old friends and many memories seem like they never existed... It has to be so different than life in your situation... I have been to Smock on a few occasions , the last time being two years ago... Except for the newer automobiles parked in front of the houses, I really don't remember it much different than when I was there the time before, in 1963 for Tommy's fathers funeral... Tom Kubica was my cousin... Sadly, the last time I saw Tom was at the funeral when he was 15... That was one of the problems with growing up in a big city, you lose contact with even relatives... I was getting ready to go in to the Army when I heard about Toms death... Shortly afterwards I was in Vietnam... I couldn't tell you how many times I thought of him during that year... Two years ago while driving thru Penna., I made it a point to come to Smock and visit the cemetary where Tom and his parents are buried... After all these years I finally got around to visiting my aunt and uncle and thanking Tom for his sacrifice... Once again Bob... Thanks for the story on Tommy... Tim M. Kubica