You know, folks, I’ve led a happy, carefree life being blessed with supportive, cheerful parents and siblings; which likely led to the choice of companions I chose in my youth. My coming-of-age years were an absolute lark. From that early time, I know of no other individual who has glided through life with the comparative ease than I have. Oh sure, during the journey there are the counted sorrows we all experience: death of loved ones; being dumped by one you adored (at the time); idiotic financial investments, etc. I am not bragging, but life has been a hoot. I am over-the-top thankful, and express it every night before I fall asleep. I mean, what’s better than experiencing one more day before Sleep’s big brother comes to call? |
Last week I lost a portion of joy. I thought I’d be over it by now, but an overwhelming sense of loss still nags. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still a contented dude, but a part of me has changed; has been affected by a biological reality that none of us will avoid.
Lawrence Herbert Livingston, Major General, USMC (retired), succumbed to multiple myeloma September 28, 2018; his wife Karen's birthday. One look at his name brings to mind a stuffy Englishman with a monocle going around harrumphing a lot. Larry was nothing like that. He was a rugged, muscular chap (see what I did there?) who was the toughest SOB ever to walk the Earth, yet the most gentle, supportive, and humble person you could ever meet. Mainly, he was a protector—of friends, family, and country.
Sure, I felt loss when family members passed beyond the veil of this life, but they were of the generation preceding mine, and I was prepared for the days that came. Livingston, on the other hand, was robust and indestructible; oblivious to pain and the frailties of we mortals. He took a baseball bat to the face and barely blinked; he was a one-man wrecking crew on the football field; he was frequently wounded in battle earning five—count ‘em—Purple Hearts. Nothing stopped him. He was an irresistible force. Those who served with him and under him described him as a “machine” in battle. I can only imagine the horror that filled those who faced him in hand-to-hand combat. His superior officers were in awe, and gave him the nickname, Combat.
We called him, Gut.
Three of us, Larry, Barry Rupp (himself a former Marine Lieutenant and CIA operative) and me began hanging out in grade school. We always tried to top each other in “acting up” though the other two did it with a degree of stealth that I never seemed to master. That is, I got caught and punished with a greater degree of frequency. They also knew how to get me to laugh at inopportune times in the classroom. As we continued through junior high and high school our maturity level never seemed to develop partly because we were natural smart alecks (versus having to be trained), and partly because many of our classmates were similar. Oddly, the princesses in our class didn’t date us. I guess we were maybe too high profile. Yeah, that’s it. The administrators claimed we were the worst graduating class in the history of the school with respect to athletics, scholarship, and citizenship. I have a brother six years younger than me who said they were still talking about our class when he went through high school.
How bad were we? Check this out: Livingston became a decorated war hero and a two-star general; Barry founded the magazine Entrepreneur, purchased American Educational Television, and became the publisher of Financial World. One of our ladies, a preacher’s kid, but still a funster was in the original class of 14 ladies to graduate from Harvard Law School; and my next door neighbor became a prominent surgeon, and the director of medical research at Vanderbilt. Finally, at least five of us have had books published. What a bunch of screwballs!
Even after life happened, Larry, Barry, and I remained unchanged—still the same goofballs trying to get away with something. We loved life, viewed it with potential opportunities for humor, and enjoyed each other’s company immensely. No matter how long we were apart, nothing changed; it’s like we were perpetually in the fifth grade. I’m not sure how Larry got the nickname Gut, it happened when we were 12, but not to be outdone, Larry was responsible for most of our childhood nicknames that stayed with us through high school. Examples: Tear Gas (a girl who could rip off a loud belch); Sack-A-Bee (a thin girl); Garbage (an overweight friend); Ears (Barry); Elmer (me); Golden Delicious (a guy whose forehead resembled an apple); Beanhole (a guy with intestinal control problems); and on-and-on.
When Larry was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, even when taking chemo twice a month, I never gave it a second thought. I mean, what the hell, the guy couldn’t be harmed; he was like immortal, you know? Bullets bounced off from him; he was a certified Navy Seal; on a battlefield he was an invincible Goliath. Multiple myeloma, my ass! MM was dealing with Livingston, and in my mind didn’t have a chance. Larry reinforced my perception every time I talked with him. He sounded and acted like always, and poo-pooed the cancerous plasma cells destroying him from the inside courtesy of Uncle Sam and Monsanto.
Multiple myeloma has been positively connected to Agent Orange, the defoliant spayed over Laos and South Vietnam upon the request of the South Vietnamese President Diem to John Kennedy. Between 1962 and 1971, 20 million gallons of AO were distributed from helicopters and low flying airplanes. Larry Livingston leading the South Vietnamese Marines into intense firefights was often at ground zero.
History has shown that war to be incredibly stupid and costly. The conflict was run from Washington, D.C. by gutless politicians, but the politicos didn’t take the brunt of misguided American liberals led by Hanoi Jane Fonda and John Kerry. The returning warriors did. Their reward was to be spat upon when they arrived home; and called baby killers. I grieve for the unnecessary loss of life, even hundreds of the “enemy” who died at the hand of my friend, Larry.
The Vietnam War Memorial wall has names of those who died in battle on the front, and shows those who have or are dying (since returning) walking into the back of the wall. All are needless deaths, but I especially grieve for the returned warriors dying at the hand of our own government. Larry has walked into that wall, soon to be followed by my brother, Thom.
I guess you might say I’m angry, and I am. I still tear up when I realize I’ll never again hear or be with my friend again. Larry had a great career with the Marines doing what he loved—being a warrior; a protector. He led the Marines into Desert Storm. Some years ago I read an account of his charges taking out most of the Iraqi tanks. Somehow, all of that doesn’t help. I think of his wife, Karen, two sons, and a daughter.
More than that, I’m selfish. I still wake up and deny reality. Through the day, reality returns. I loved the man, and every night when I hit my knees, I ask God to love him too. He told Karen that he’ll meet me in Heaven, but I’m not sure either of us rate that. I do know if he made it, as my boyhood protector, he’ll make sure I get in too.
By Gene Myers, still in a greasy black funk.
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Lawrence Herbert Livingston, Major General, USMC, multiple myeloma, decorated war hero, Agent Orange, Vietnam War Memorial, Desert Storm,