Before we started school we called him Ronnie. That's him second from the right. At that time in my life it seemed we visited Maw maw every weekend. It wasn't of interest to a six year old why Mom would pile us boys in the back of that '51 Willys Jeep Wagon and drive 90 or so miles every Friday afternoon to spend the week end and leave Dad behind to fly his little seaplane in the oil fields. But as soon as we got there, off would come the shirt and shoes. Ronnie and his little brother, Jr. lived next door and my brother Pat and I wouldn't see my Mom until Sunday afternoon when she dragged us kicking and screaming back into the Jeep for the ride back home. We were the "Four Horseman", the "Sheriff's Posse"...we played hard and Ronnie was our leader. When Ronnie got old enough to start the little country school his Mom told us we couldn't call him Ronnie, any more, (Ronald was his middle name) but Joseph or Joe from now on. "What, can she do that?", my little brother Pat asked when we were alone. We all turned and stared silently at him. "All right, but they ain't changin' my name!" From that day on he remained Joe...Joseph R. Valentine. When we played cowboys he was the Sheriff, football he was the quarter back, army he was the sergeant, our leader, not at anytime did he demand it, it was just understood. He always encouraged civility in our play, word and action. Our best times were when we were young and as we grew older we saw less and less of one another. Our interest took different paths and we didn't know how to maintain a relationship just 90 miles apart.
Vietnam heated up and we both enlisted. He in the Army and I in the Air Force. He was still single and I was married with our first child on the way. He was shipped over first and we got the word he was missing in action the same day I got my orders to 'Nam. They buried him the day of my daughter's birth. Before I shipped out I visited with Papa, my Mom's dad. I always saw him as a hard man, but that day, just he and I, he wept silently. I visited Joe's grave maybe three or four times on the occasions of other funerals. I don't believe in grave sitting...they just aren't there. But there are times when little instances in life bring his memory back. On our last vacation up the east coast I sat and relived some special moments at the long granite wall where his name will live forever with other fallen leaders.