A NAME TO REMEMBER
Cecilia Simon walked out of the library into the warm spring sunshine. She stood on the steps for a few minutes, chatting with several members of the San Diego Literary Society. The group soon began to break apart, with promises of meeting again the next month.
Cecilia headed toward the parking lot with her friend Lorraine. A band was playing somewhere in the distance, faint notes of the Star Spangled Banner drifted over to the two women.
Lorraine strained to see over the roofs of the parked cars. "What's all that commotion going on over there?"
Cecilia stood on her tiptoes, straining for a look as well. "I don't know." The woman caught sight of several men in Marine dress uniforms. "On second thought, I bet I do know. I read in the paper that sometime this week they were going to dedicate a memorial to the veterans from San Diego who died in Vietnam."
"That's probably what's going on then," Lorraine agreed, unlocking her car. "I'd better get going. I've got a dentist appointment at four. Let's plan for dinner and a movie one evening next week, Cece."
"Sure,” Cecilia promised. “I'll give you a call."
"Great. Talk to you later."
Cecilia waved goodbye as Lorraine's blue Ford Tarsus pulled out of the parking lot.
Cecilia unlocked her Mercedes, deposited her library books on the seat, then began to climb in behind the wheel. She hesitated, looking toward the distant crowd once again. A public address system was broadcasting a man's voice, but the strong breeze off the ocean was carrying it away from Cecilia, making his words impossible to understand. After a moment of indecision, Cecilia decided to walk over and see what the ceremony was all about. She gathered up her purse, relocked the car, and headed across the well-manicured lawn of Library Park.
A Colonel in Marine dress blues stood at the podium. Off to his left stood three men of equal rank, all in the dress uniforms of their particular branches of the service, Army, Air Force, and Navy. As Cecilia got closer the man's words became clearer.
"We come here today to honor those brave young men from San Diego who perished in Vietnam while in the service of their country. Myself, as well as the officers standing up here with me today, were all born and raised in this city. We all fought in Vietnam. No matter how far we may have traveled, we still call San Diego home. You can't imagine how good the word home sounds to a young soldier fighting a war on foreign soil. It gives me a great sense of pride to know that the citizens of San Diego felt it was important to erect a memorial to their sons, brothers, fathers, nephews, cousins, and friends, who died in an unpopular war. The two hundred and forty-eight young men who are listed on this wall are gone from you, but today, through your efforts and hard work, they will live on forever in the memories of all of the citizens of San Diego."
The somber crowd was quiet as the officer stepped away from the podium. A young man stepped out of the regiment of the Navy band, placed his bugle to his lips, and began to play Taps.
Cecilia saw tears roll down the faces of several of the people standing near her. She, too, had an odd fullness in her throat and moisture sprang to her eyes.
One of those two hundred and forty-eight young men could have so easily been Rick, Cecilia thought. She offered up a silent prayer. Thank you, Lord, for sparing my son.
Without intending to, Cecilia found herself drawn into the line of people that formed to view the memorial up close. It wasn't that much different from The Wall in Washington D.C. Cecilia could recall having read in the paper that the basic concept and design were similar, only on a much smaller scale of course.
The crowd, young and old alike, moved slowly and orderly. There was no pushing or shoving, and those that spoke did so in hushed tones. Cecilia came to the first section, scanning the names engraved on the smooth gray slate.
Edward Vincent Avery, Thomas Carter Barlow, Dennis Charles Barton.
Dennis Barton? Why that must be the Dennis Barton that was valedictorian of Rick's senior class. Cecilia thought further for a moment, trying to put a face to the name. He went to West Point right after graduation. I remember the write-up about it in the local paper, something about ‘Star Athlete Heads For West Point.’ And then when he was killed in Vietnam there was another write-up about him.
After a moment longer of staring at the engraved letters that formed Dennis Charles Barton, Cecilia moved on, silently reading names as she walked along.
Arthur Franklin Evans, Michael Gregory Faust.
Michael Faust...Michael Faust. Now why does that name sound familiar? Cecilia suddenly thought of a woman in her garden club. Why I'll bet that's Gloria's son. When she found out Rick was a Vietnam vet she told me she had lost a son over there. I'm sure she said his name was Mike.
Cecilia slowly walked away from Michael Gregory Faust, feeling a sharp stab of pain for the woman she knew. She moved on, not recognizing any names until she came to Robert Patrick Johnson.
Images of a young man with a large afro filled her mind. She hadn't known Paz very well, Rick had taken up with him after high school, but her oldest had spoken highly of him. Paz always been quiet and polite the few times he'd been in her home.
Cecilia read on.
Eugene Harlowe Munson, Ramsey Evan Nagel, Kenneth John Nichols Jr.
Kenny Nichols? Little Kenny Nichols.
Cecilia had forgotten all about Kenny Nichols. She reached up and rubbed her fingertips over the name. Kenny Nichols had lived three blocks behind the Simons. He and A.J. had been the same age. Whenever a group of little boys was gathered in her back yard playing baseball or football, Kenny Nichols was among them. Cecilia could recall two things about the youngster quite vividly. He had long brown bangs that were always hanging in his eyes, and he was painfully shy. By the time A.J. entered high school he and Kenny Nichols had drifted apart. Cecilia couldn't recall him ever being among the teenagers that came and went from her home during later years. The family had moved away not too long after Kenny was killed in Vietnam.
I think his father was transferred to Chicago or somewhere. My goodness, I haven't thought about the Nichols family in years.
Cecilia's fingers lingered over Kenny's name a moment longer before she reluctantly moved forward. She continued her silent roll call as she walked, reading off each and every name to herself.
Roger Gerald Peterson, Jay William Portsen, Terrance Allan Samuelson.
Terry Samuelson. A.J. went to high school with him. They were on the track team together. He was a tall, red headed boy. He threw the javelin and did the high jump. Terry died while A.J. was in college. I remember A.J. mentioning it one weekend when he was home. Some of his friends had heard about it. Terry was shot by a sniper. It’s hard to believe that's been
twenty-four years ago now.
Sadly, Cecilia continued her slow trek. I can't believe I knew that many of the young men on this wall. It just doesn't seem possible.
Cecilia began reading names once more.
Burke Randolph Schmidt II. David Steven Shannon, Richard Lawrence Simon, Brian Louis...Richard Lawrence Simon!
Cecilia looked again.
Richard Lawrence Simon. It's spelled the same. Each and every letter. I wonder...could there have been another Richard Lawrence Simon from San Diego?
Cecilia quickly abandoned her place in line, looking around for someone who could help her. She approached a young Marine and began explaining her dilemma.
"I'm sorry, ma'am, but I don't know anything about that. If you talk to Mr. McNeal over there he may be able to help you. He was the one in charge of this project."
Cecilia looked in the direction the young man indicated. "Thank you," she offered absently as she hurried away.
Cecilia waited impatiently as Mr. McNeil shook hands with, and accepted accolades from, various people. When it was her turn Cecilia said, "Mr. McNeil, my name is Cecilia Simon. I need to find out about one of the names on your wall."
"Yes, Mrs. Simon, how may I help you?"
"A name that's on your wall could be my son, except that he returned safely from Vietnam. I realize it could also be a coincidence, but the spelling of that young man's name is exactly the same as my son's."
"Let's go check it out then." Royce McNeil led Cecilia over to a card table where he picked up a clipboard.
"What's your son's name, Mrs. Simon?"
"Rick Simon. Richard Lawrence Simon."
The graying, curly headed man Cecilia guessed to be about Rick's age, nodded. "Yes, we do have a Richard Lawrence Simon engraved on our wall." He gave Cecilia a smile of self-deprecation. "But you already knew that, didn't you?"
"As of about ten minutes ago I did. How I can determine if this is a mistake, or if there really was another Richard Lawrence Simon from San Diego that was killed in Vietnam?"
Royce tore a piece of paper from his pad. "I'll see what I can do from this end. But it might help if you called the Department Of Veterans Affairs in Washington. They may be able to straighten this out quite easily if you can provide them with your son's social security number, date of birth - those kinds of things. I'm putting my phone number on here as well. You contact me if you find anything out. In the meantime, I'll take your number and contact you after I've done some investigating of my own."
Cecilia nodded her agreement, writing down her phone number for Royce.
"If there has been a mistake, Mrs. Simon, I sincerely apologize for it. I'm a Nam vet myself, and certainly wouldn't want my mother to run across my name on a wall that it wasn't supposed to be on."
"You don't need to apologize, Mr. NcNeil--"
"Call me Royce, please."
"All right, Royce. You don't need to apologize. If an honest mistake was made, then it can be corrected, am I right?'
"Yes, ma'am, we can have the name removed in that case."
"And if there is another Richard Simon from San Diego who was killed in Vietnam, then his name certainly belongs up there with his comrades," Cecilia finished. "I'll make this phone call tomorrow and let you know what I find out."
"Okay. And as I promised, I'll look into things from this end - confirm our information regarding Richard Simon, and that type of thing."
Cecilia and Royce shook hands as they parted.
"Thank you for your help," Cecilia said before turning away. She looked at the memorial for a moment, but didn't have the heart to continue where she had left off. Cecilia tucked the piece of paper Royce had given her in her purse and walked to her car. Suddenly she knew how it felt to be a mother with a son's name on a memorial wall. This was not a feeling Cecilia wanted to grow accustomed to.
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The brotherly discussion that was occurring in the Simon and Simon office the next morning caused Cecilia's entrance to go unnoticed.
"I swear this is the dumbest idea you've come up with to date! Rick, do you realize how much trouble we could get in if we get caught? Not only would Abby be breathing fire down our backs, but so would the F.B.I., the C.I.A., and God knows who else! Not to mention what Mom will have to say when she comes to visit us in Federal prison."
"Ah, don't worry about Mom," Rick dismissed. "I can handle her, and as for...”
Cecilia loudly cleared her throat. Her sons turned from where they were huddled over A.J.'s desk.
"Oh...hi, Mom," Rick greeted weakly.
A.J. smiled brightly, enjoying Rick having gotten caught with his foot in his mouth once again. "Hi, Mom."
Cecilia approached the desk. "Hello, boys. And just what is it I don't need to worry about, Richard?"
"Uh...nothin', Mom. Nothing. Not a thing."
"Then if that's the case, how come you have the same look on your face that you did when you were seven and I caught you lying about who pulled the spinach out of my garden?"
"I thought you said you could handle Mom."
Rick grimaced in his brother's direction. "Oh, shut up."
Cecilia let the subject drop there, moving on to the reason she'd stopped by the office to begin with. "Rick, what's your social security number?"
"Uh...look, Mom, I know you're still upset about that dent I put in your car two weeks ago, but I'm going to have it fixed just as soon as Dave gets back to me with that estimate. I'll call him today and put some pressure on him. I promise. There's no need to press charges or anything like that."
Cecilia rolled her eyes. "I wasn't planning on pressing charges, Rick. But yes, I want that dent fixed as soon as possible." Cecilia picked a piece of paper and a pen up off of A.J.'s desk. "Now what's your social security number?"
Rick was baffled by this request, but recited from memory nonetheless, "337-65-9276. Why do you need to know that?"
Cecilia debated for a moment on whether or not to give Rick an honest answer to that question. She finally decided she might as well. First of all, she couldn't think of a fib that sounded believable, and secondly, maybe it would be better if Rick heard from her that his name was on the memorial wall, as opposed to him seeing it for himself. Cecilia had no doubts that Rick would eventually visit the memorial site, just like she had no doubts that when he did he wouldn't mention it to her or A.J.
"I was at the ceremony yesterday for the dedication of the Vietnam War Memorial in Library Park."
Rick merely nodded his head. Gently, Cecilia said, "Your name is on that wall, Rick."
Typical of Rick, his high-pitched laugh burst forth. "So what are you goin' to do with my social security number, Mom? Investigate me to make sure I'm really your son, and not some other guy that came home in his place?"
"Oh heaven forbid," A.J. moaned, joining in Rick's light- hearted spirit concerning this matter. "Don't let me find out now, twenty years later, that I've been putting up with an imposter all this time. It's one thing to deal with my own brother driving me insane, but it's an entirely different matter all together if you're not the real Rick Simon."
"Yeah, and if I'm not the real Rick Simon, then I guess you can't be too mad at me for that dent in your car, Mom. I'm sure your real son would have had it fixed by now, but I'm just an imposter. And about that dish I broke at your house last week—“
"I'm glad you two find this so funny, because I certainly don't," Cecilia interrupted. "I wanted your social security number so I could call the Department of Veterans Affairs and get this whole mess straightened out."
"Mom, you don't have to do that. You'll just get the run around from those bozos in Washington. Just forget about it." Rick urged. "It's no big deal."
"It is to me," Cecilia insisted firmly. "I want it straightened out. If that is your name, I want it off of there. If it belongs to another boy from San Diego named Richard Simon then so be it, but I have to know."
Rick could see that his mother was becoming increasingly upset over this issue. He put aside the jokes and walked over to her, taking her into his arms. "I'm sorry for kiddin' around about it. You go ahead and do whatever you think is necessary."
Into Rick's blue work shirt Cecilia whispered, "I just didn't like seeing your name on that wall."
Rick hugged his mother even more tightly, exchanging looks with the contrite A.J. over the top of her head. "I know you didn't, Mom," he intoned softly. "I know you didn't."
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At eight o'clock that evening Cecilia's doorbell rang. Through the locked oak door she inquired, "Who is it?"
"It's me, Mom," returned a familiar voice.
Cecilia opened the door to her youngest son, accepting his kiss on the cheek as he entered the house.
"Hi, honey. What brings you here this evening?"
"Oh, no special reason. I had to run to the grocery store so thought I'd pop in and say hello."
"Well, I'm glad you did."
Cecilia and A.J. settled themselves on the sofa, making small talk for the next few minutes.
When their chatter died down Cecilia offered, "Can I get you something? A cup of coffee? I have some pie left from my Bridge club the other day."
"No, Mom. No thanks. I'm fine," A.J. declined. "Uh...listen, about today in the office...about what you came by for?"
Cecilia looked at her son, puzzled. "Yes?"
"Are you okay with all of it? You seemed...upset, and I know it didn't help matters any when Rick and I started joking around about it," A.J. said in way of apology.
"Don't worry about it, honey. I'm used to the quirky sense of humor you and your brother share. Your father possessed it as well."
"Still, are you okay with this?"
Cecilia looked away for a moment. "Yes...yes, I'm okay with it. It was just somewhat of a...shock, to see Rick's name up there."
"I'm sure it was," A.J. agreed sympathetically. "Did you find anything out regarding that this afternoon?"
Cecilia shook her head in frustration. "I'm afraid Rick was correct when he referred to the people in Washington as bozos. I spent an ungodly sum of money on long distance phone calls, only to end up with no answers. I finally got a name of a woman who I was told could be of assistance. I'm supposed to call her tomorrow morning."
"If you need any help let me know. Sometimes Andrew Simon, United States Justice Agent, can get answers from people no one else can."
Cecilia gave her son a skeptical look. "What is a United States Justice Agent?"
A.J.'s eyes twinkled and he shrugged his shoulders. "I have no idea. Somewhere along the line I made that up. All I know is, it usually starts people talking real fast."
Cecilia just shook her head. "It's a wonder I haven't bailed you boys out of jail more times than I have."
A.J. chuckled, his mother joining in after a moment at the never-ending antics of her grown sons.
When their laughter died away, Cecilia asked, "Did Rick say anything after I left the office about my intentions regarding this little problem?"
A.J. shook his head. "Not a word."
"Do you think it bothers him? Finding out his name's on that memorial, I mean?"
"Yes, I think it does. He was quiet after you left. Not his usual self. But you know Rick, he'll never let on to either one of us that it upsets him."
"Yes, I know my Rick," Cecilia agreed thoughtfully. "I don't suppose he's mentioned whether or not he plans to go see the memorial."
"No, he hasn't. I was half expecting him to go to the dedication ceremony, but he never brought it up. I know it had to be on his mind. There have been write-ups about it in all the newspapers for the past month. I have a feeling that at some point in time he'll go see it, but I don't think he'll ever tell either one of us when he does."
"Those were my exact thoughts, sweetheart. I wish Rick wouldn't keep so much locked up inside. I worry about him."
A.J. reached over and pulled his mother into a warm embrace. "I know you do. But don't. Rick's okay. He can handle this whole subject a lot better now than he could have at one time. He's okay, Mom."
Cecilia's smiled at A.J.'s confident words. "I know he is. Rick's strong. He always has been."
Cecilia stood up, pulling A.J. with her. "Now come on, help me finish off that pie."
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By two o’clock the next afternoon Cecilia's frustration level was at its breaking point. She was on hold, after having been passed around to what seemed like every single employee of the Department Of Veterans Affairs.
A voice finally came over the other end. "No, Ma'am, I'm sorry, but Miss Wolcott isn't in her office right now. You can call back later if you wish, or leave a--"
"Young man, I am Cecilia Simon, United States Justice Agent. This matter is of the utmost importance. Now I have been on hold for fifteen minutes, and prior to that have been bounced around your bureau from person to person like a ping pong ball. I do not have the time to call back later. I'm sure President Clinton will want to hear about this. What is your name, young man?"
"Uh...uh...I think I can connect you with Miss Wolcott right now." .
Cecilia smiled as she waited for Denise Wolcott to pick up the phone. "I'll have to tell A.J. that his ‘United States Justice Agent’ bit works like a charm."
Five minutes later Cecilia was explaining her situation to a stranger for the twentieth time in the past two days. Miss Wolcott took down Rick's full name, social security number, date of birth, branch of military service, the years he served and where he served them, then promised to call Cecilia back as soon as she had any further information.
It was late in the afternoon before Cecilia got that return call.
"This is Denise Wolcott at the Veterans Department."
"Yes, Miss Wolcott."
"I'm sorry to report to you, Mrs. Simon, that your son was killed in Vietnam in 1973."
Cecilia held back a laugh, but couldn't keep the irony out of her voice. "Miss Wolcott, I assure you that my son was not killed in Vietnam. My son is, in fact, very much alive at this moment, living here in San Diego, and a partner in his own business. Now while I realize there may be a number of Richard Simons in the United States, my Richard Simon is very much alive."
"And the social security number you gave me is correct?"
"Yes, it is," Cecilia assured. "And did you say the year of death was 1973?"
Cecilia could hear papers being shuffled.
"Yes. June 3rd, 1973."
"My son wasn't even in Vietnam in 1973. He came home in August of '71."
"And no family member has ever collected any death benefits in the name of Richard Simon?"
"No. I was the beneficiary of all of my son's military benefits in the event of his death. I can assure you that I haven't collected any money from the government on his behalf."
"Okay. Well, there's not much more I can do here this evening, but in the morning I'll look into it further."
"And you'll call me back?" The exasperated Cecilia questioned.
"Yes, ma'am, I'll call you back. You have a nice evening now."
To the buzzing dial tone Cecilia said with sarcasm, "Yes, dear, you too. Why shouldn't I have a nice evening? After all, it's not like I didn't just spend the entire day on the phone talking to people who have no idea what they're doing, while being told time and time again that my son is dead."
Cecilia sighed and headed for the kitchen. "I think I need a glass of red wine and a long soak in a hot bubble bath."
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Cecilia spent the next day sticking close to her phone, only to be embroiled in frustration once again as Miss Denise Wolcott kept insisting that, yes indeed, Richard Lawrence Simon, social security number 337-65-9276, had been killed in Vietnam. By the time evening came Cecilia was past being frustrated and was on the verge of tears.
Just when those tears were threatening to spill over, the phone rang. Cecilia quickly composed herself.
"Hello. Mrs. Simon?"
"Mrs. Simon, this Royce McNeil, from the Nam vet's memorial."
"Yes, Royce. How are you?"
"I'm fine. I'm calling to find out if you've had any luck with the Veteran's Affairs department."
Cecilia quickly relayed to Royce what she had found out and her mounting frustration over it.
Royce chuckled, then said, "Forgive me, Mrs. Simon, I can tell you've had a rough couple of days with those people, but it doesn't come as any surprise to me. They're a bunch of bozos."
Now it was Cecilia's turn to chuckle. "You sound just like my son Richard. He said the exact same thing when I told him I was going to be in contact with them."
"Believe me, Mrs. Simon, only a vet knows what a pain in the as...butt, those people can be. The reason I'm calling you though, is to tell you I've been able to solve our mystery from this end."
"Oh, thank heavens."
"There was a young man from San Diego who died in Vietnam whose name is very similar to your son's. Richard Laurence Simons. Simons has an s on the end, of course, and in this case Laurence is spelled L-a-u-r-e-n-c-e. The Department of Veterans Affairs in Washington was the bureau that gathered the information for us, first by retrieving the names of all the Nam vets who were from San Diego, then by narrowing it down to those San Diego vets who were killed in Nam. I imagine the similarity in the name Simon and Simons caused the problem to begin with, and from that point there are some other similarities."
"Your son's social security number and the social security number that belonged to Richard Simons only differ by one digit. They share the same birthday as well, though your son was born in 1944, while Simons was born in '47."
"Was this young man killed in 1973?"
"Yes, on June 3rd. Why do you ask?"
"That's the date of death the woman from the Veteran's Affairs Department gave me. Only she kept insisting that this was my son."
"It makes sense that she would, considering they're the ones who gave us our information. She probably read everything right off the list they gave us, as opposed to doing a thorough check into the matter to see if an error had been made."
"What's going to be done about this, Royce?"
"First of all I'll contact the Veteran's Affairs Department myself and get this straightened out for you. I have an acquaintance that’s a bigwig there. I'll contact him directly."
"Thank you," Cecilia said gratefully. She didn't think she could take another all day telephone session with Miss Wolcott.
"As far as the memorial goes, I've already made arrangements for someone to come out tomorrow and make the necessary corrections to the stone. Ironically enough, the mother of Richard Simons pointed it out to me, as well, not that long after you left here the other day. That's why I was able to figure out what was wrong so quickly."
"Thank you, Royce. I appreciate your help."
"Thank you, Mrs. Simon. And again, I apologize for the inconvenience and upset this has caused you and your family."
Cecilia hung up the phone, her mind occupied with thoughts of the mother of Richard Laurence Simons.
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It was one week later when Cecilia visited the San Diego Vietnam Veterans War Memorial again. She approached the section of stone that held the latter part of the alphabet. A small woman of about Cecilia's age was standing in front of the S's, her fingers running back and forth over one name. As Cecilia moved closer she could see that the woman was crying.
The woman caught sight of Cecilia standing behind her. She turned, brushing at her tears. "I'm sorry. I'm standing right in your way."
"No, no, you don't have to move," Cecilia told her gently. "It's okay."
The woman looked up at the stone, swallowing hard. "That's my son."
"Richard Laurence Simons?"
The woman's tears prevented her from answering Cecilia. She nodded her head yes.
Quietly, Cecilia said, "I understand. It was my son's name that was up there by mistake."
Mindless of her tears, Mrs. Simons looked at Cecilia. "Richard Lawrence Simon?"
"I'm sorry," Mrs. Simons apologized, as if the error had been her fault.
"There's no need for you to apologize. I'm just sorry another woman's son had to take my Rick's place. I was praying that count could go down to two hundred and forty-seven and stay there."
"I wish it could have," the woman whispered before holding out her hand to Cecilia. "I'm Evelyn Simons."
"Cecilia Simon," Cecilia smiled and introduced. Instinctively knowing what would help Evelyn Simons at just this moment, Cecilia encouraged, "Tell me about your Richard."
Evelyn smiled in fond remembrance. "He was my first born. Our star athlete and scholar. The kind of boy who worked hard to set a good example for his classmates. Yet he could cause me to pull my hair out, too. He was always up to no good. Not in trouble with the law or anything like that, just always pulling some prank on someone, or dreaming up ways to disrupt a boring class or family get-together."
Cecilia smiled fondly. "He sounds a bit like my Rick. He's always been a handful. How many other children do you have, Evelyn?"
"Just one son. Tim. Thank heavens he went to college right after high school. I don't think I could have gotten through those years if both my sons had been over there."
Cecilia nodded her understanding. "Rick is my oldest as well. Like you, I just have one other child, my youngest son A.J., so I know exactly what you mean." Thinking of A.J. made Cecilia ask, "How has your Tim handled all of this through the years?"
"It's been hard on him. He and Richie were close. He looked up to Rich like most young boys look up to their older brothers. At first...those first few years after Rich's death, I worried terribly about Tim and how he was handling it. Or wasn't handling it rather. Things finally seemed to come together for him three years after Richie's passing. He met a wonderful girl, got married, and today is the father of my four beautiful grandchildren. He teaches sixth grade over at Bayshore Elementary. He named his oldest son after Richard. I think that's when the healing really began for Tim. My husband's another story though. He's never come to terms with it. He came down here with Tim's family and me for the dedication ceremony and simply fell apart. Tim finally helped him back to the car and stayed there with him. He's in poor health as it is. I guess this was just too much for him."
"I'm sure it's been very hard. I know I'm one of the fortunate ones. My son came home. But I do know, as well, what it's like to lay awake nights wondering if your child is safe, wondering if tomorrow's the day a chaplain will come knocking on your door. No mother wants to send her child off to war."
Evelyn reached over and took Cecilia's hand, squeezing it. "It's nice to talk to someone who understands. Someone with whom I have so much in common. I need to leave now. I have to get supper ready for my husband. Would you like to meet me for lunch sometime soon, Cecilia?"
"Yes,” Cecilia smiled. “I'd like that very much."
"Maybe we could talk some more about our sons. Our Richards. And our younger sons as well."
"That would be nice, Evelyn. You call me whenever it's convenient. I'm in the book."
Tentatively, Evelyn added, "And maybe someday I could meet your Richard Lawrence, as well."
"You certainly can. Whenever you want to."
Evelyn moved forward to embrace Cecilia. The two women clung to each other for a moment, both thinking of boys named Richard.
"I'm so glad I met you," Evelyn whispered right before they broke apart.
"I'm glad I met you, too," Cecilia said sincerely. "Please call me soon for that lunch date."
"I will," came the promise from the retreating woman.
After Evelyn left Cecilia stood staring up at the name, Richard Laurence Simons. She was momentarily startled when she felt someone's arm wrap around her shoulder.
"Hi, Mom," Rick greeted softly.
"What are you doing here?"
Rick shrugged. "Just came down to see what this thing is all about. I see you got the name situation fixed."
"Yes, though it kind of...fixed itself."
Rick gave his mother a puzzled look, then asked, "Who was that woman you were talking to?"
"Evelyn Simons. Richard Laurence Simons’ mother." Cecilia nodded toward the wall.
Cecilia gazed up at the name on the wall. "I wish it had all been a mistake. I wish they just could have erased that name for good. I wish they could erase all these names."
Rick hugged his mother. "I do too, Mom."
Tears suddenly streamed down Cecilia's face.
"Hey now, come on. Don't cry, Mom. Why are you crying?"
"Because I'm so glad that your name's not on this wall, but yet I feel so bad for all the mothers who do have a son's name on this wall."
Rick continued to hold his mother, letting her cry against his chest. When she was done he handed her his hankie. "Here. Wipe your eyes. I don't want to be accused of making the prettiest girl in San Diego cry."
Cecilia couldn't help but smile at her son's flattery. "A girl I am not, Rick. Nor have I been for quite some time now."
"Oh, come on, Mom, you still look great. That old guy over there on the bench has been making eyes at you ever since I got here."
Cecilia stole a look at the nearby park bench where a gentleman of eighty tipped his hat to her and winked.
Rick smiled. "See. I told you. The guy's got the hots for you, Mom."
Cecilia took note of the man's walker. Dryly, she told her son, "I don't think he could keep up with me, Rick."
Rick laughed. "I don't know of anyone who can, Mom."
Cecilia and Rick walked the entire memorial together that day. Sometimes Rick would grow very quiet, like when he came to Robert Patrick Johnson, while other times he'd have a comment or two to make, like when he came to Kenneth John Nichols Jr.
"Geez, Kenny Nichols. I haven't thought of him in years. He was that shy kid that ran around with A.J.'s crowd in grade school, wasn't he?"
Rick reached up and laid his fingertips on Kenny's name, saying softly, "I'm so damn glad A.J. didn't have to go. I don't know how I would have survived if his name had ended up on this wall."
When they were done, Rick walked Cecilia to her car with his arm resting lightly on her shoulder. As they came abreast of the Mercedes Rick looked at his watch.
"It's about supper time. Have you eaten?"
"Let's go somewhere then. My treat. You pick. You can drop me off back here by my truck when we're done."
Cecilia handed Rick her car keys. "That sounds wonderful."
Rick began backing the car out of its spot, Cecilia scolding as he did so, "Now be careful, Rick. I don't need another dent in this car. No reckless driving this time. I don't care who it is, you're not chasing anyone."
"But, Mom, that wasn't my fault. I already told you that. The guy was worth ten thousand dollars to me and A.J."
"I don't care how much he was worth to you, save your high speed chases for your own vehicle. Speaking of which, when is my car going to be repaired?"
Rick kept his eyes on the road, refusing to look at his mother. "Well...uh...Mom, funny you should mention that. I got a call from Dave today with the estimate and everything, and he really is kind of high priced. Even A.J. thinks so. Now I don't want this guy rippin' you off so--"
"Ripping me off? Ripping me off? I am not paying for these repairs, Richard, you are. I don't care how much it costs. I want it done, and I want it done as soon as possible."
"I know that, Mom. And because of that fact, I called Carlos today. Now Carlos knows some people who do this kind of work real cheap." At the look of complete skepticism on his mother's face, Rick hastily added, "But they do great work. Beautiful work. The only problem is, you'll be without the car for a while."
"How long is a while?"
"Uh...two...maybe three weeks."
"Three weeks! Where is this body shop? In South America?"
"Well...not quite, but you're close. Now I'll have to take it down in the middle of the night, and that's probably how I'll have to pick it up. These guys don't exactly do their work during the daylight hours."
"I see," Cecilia said knowingly.
"But it's good legitimate work, Mom. Really it is."
"And which one of the ex-cons assured you of that fact?"
"Oh, come on, Mom, Carlos's cousin isn't an ex-con. Well...I guess he did serve time that once...or was it twice...well, maybe it was three times, but that's beside the point. I really believe the guy's on the straight and narrow path now. So anyway, I can get a good deal on fixin' the car if you're just willing to put up with a few inconveniences. Now A.J. and I will have to take off the Mercedes emblem, and...uh...anything else that could be easily...uh, removed by some of the less-than-honest people that might work there. But that's really just a small matter. I promise that nothin' will go wrong. I'll..."
Cecilia shook her head while smiling to herself and listening to Rick once again try to weasel his way out of trouble...or possibly in to even more.
Thank you, Lord, for bringing my Richard Lawrence home safely to me. Please continue to watch over both my boys. They are the light of my life. Stay close to the women who have a son on that wall. They need you, Lord. They need you.
Cecilia focused back in on her son, not caring nearly as much as she let on as to where her car got fixed, or how long it took. She was simply grateful that they had been afforded this moment together. Cecilia thought of Richard Laurence Simons and his mother Evelyn, and knew she had more to be thankful for than she could ever put into words.
Richard Laurence Simons, a name to remember.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~