We were closer than brothers.
He was David to my Jonathan. His name was, in fact, David.
Dave and I enjoyed 13 months as best friends. It was a prescribed and delineated relationship. He was a 23-year-old soldier from Detroit, and a huge lover of all things Motown. I was a 21-year-old GI from Orange County. A product of the sands of Newport, I was a fan of the Beach Boys and Righteous Brothers.
He was a non-observant Jew; I a lapsed Lutheran. Despite our seeming differences we saw much of the world through the same lens. Our fathers had defeated Nazism in World War II, and we were middle class American kids.
Our backgrounds differed, true. Our families were different. Our personalities were night and day. Our goals were different. But we connected.
It was kismet.
Dave had the most infectious, self-deprecating sense of humor I’ve ever encountered. We laughed. A lot.
I planned to return to the States after my three-year hitch and complete my undergraduate degree. Dave’s dad owned a furniture store, and it was his father’s intention that he take over the business.
We both had visions of living worthwhile and substantial lives. We were stationed in South Korea to thwart Communism; to do honor to our country and our families; to enjoy one another’s almost constant company; and to lay the foundation for our futures.
Dave and I were stationed together in Seoul from mid-1965 through mid-1966. We were attached to Headquarters Company, Eighth Army Support Command.
We were journalists in the public information office. Dave had taken journalism courses in high school and at Wayne State University. I’d taken them at Costa Mesa High and Orange Coast College.
Dave and I traveled to Korea on the same World War II-era troopship from San Francisco Bay to Incheon Harbor. With 4,000 GIs aboard, our paths never crossed … not until Seoul.
Then we were inseparable.
We were assigned to the Support Command’s newspaper. I was sports editor, and Dave was a beat reporter but, through winsomeness of spirit, became the office’s “driver.” For 13 months he drove a Jeep, chasing stories all over the peninsula. I was his passenger much of the time. We loved it.
We spent large swaths of time near the demilitarized zone. The Support Command’s football, basketball and baseball teams played games there against teams representing the 7th Infantry Division, 2nd Infantry Division and I Corps.
Outstanding athletes hotly contested those games. There were future NCAA, NFL, NBA and MLB players on those rosters.
Dave left Korea for reassignment to the States in June of 1966. I was at Kimpo Airport to see him off. I drove his Jeep.
I’d extended my tour of duty in Korea by six months, and he asked me to look out for his girlfriend until he could return to marry her. He regularly sent me money and gifts for her, which reached Korea more expeditiously through Army channels than by general mail.
I was discharged in December 1966 and returned to college. Dave returned to Korea on furlough in the spring of 1967 to marry his girl.
Dave and I saw each other only once outside the margins of the Korean peninsula. He visited me in Orange County in 1968. I was attending college and working part-time for the Orange County Register.
Dave was a staff sergeant on his way to a new duty station in Alaska. He’d reenlisted — a dramatic change in plans.
Our paths then separated, never again to intersect. But it wasn’t because I didn’t try. I attempted to track him down numerous times.
Recently, just before Veteran’s Day, I went on the Internet — for the umpteenth time — and finally struck gold.
There was Dave’s name … in a 2004 obituary. What? He’d “passed peacefully” of a lung disorder at the age of 61. I was stunned. I hadn’t expected Dave ever to die.
He’s been gone 14 years now but has always been alive to me.
In addition to his wife, he had a son and daughter, a granddaughter, and pursued a successful career as a sales manager. He also moonlighted as a deejay. That’s so Dave. He loved gardening and his was a full and wonderful life.
I’ve never forgotten him.