The Good Son

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I recently relayed a tale  from a veteran who witnessed the first Atomic Cannon test-fire in Nevada in 1953.

The retired vet who told that story is now 86, and I met him at my local YMCA a few months ago.

Bent over, he came in with a rolling walker, hooked up to an oxygen tank, with an Asian fellow I took to be his trainer, or maybe a paid physical therapy specialist from the retirement center where he probably lived.

Because he always had a cell-phone tuned in to a local classic rock station, which livened up the locker a bunch..at least for us old guys… I got to know this old fellow, just by reminiscing about Danny and the Juniors and Connie Francis.

Turns out he was retired Army Sergeant Major Frederic Barnett, retired since the mid-80s, and his specialty wasn’t artillery or ordnance, but rather as an expert in personnel matters from the pre-Modern Volunteer Army days. He  actually has some interesting history to share later on about those times which the post 9-11 soldiers may not know. History.

But it also turns out that Asian trainer was in fact SGM Fred’s adopted son, Yong Pak.

In my 70 plus years I don’t know if I’ve ever met anyone who more cheerfully met the standard “the Good Son” than Yong.. A 7-year Army veteran himself, Yong, now 50, was one of three children belonging to Kwi, a Korean lady who married SGM Fred on his last tour in the Far East, bringing her grown children to the states. Yong is the youngest of the three, and when his mother became ill about two years ago, he and his wife moved with Fred and Kwi  to take care of her. She passed away earlier this year, and Fred tells me during her long illness Yong was her sole caretaker, bathing her, cleaning her, rarely leaving her side.

And now he does the same for SGM Fred, now, 5-6 days a week, I see them come into the Y. Every day Yong diligently goes about dressing his father, then taking him into the work-out room, helping him strap himself into a stationary sitting-bicycle, then go off for about 30 minutes to go through his own weigh-lifting regimen, then return to undo Fred, then take him out to the front lobby, where he will sit and palaver with others, including me, and these days, draws a crowd, while Yong will do another 15-20 minutes of weights, then come back to take his dad to the shower room.

I’m always at one of those stations so stop to talk every time, sometimes to Fred, sometimes to Yong.

For awhile Yong was distant and reserved, then he lightened up when on a day I was only doing stretches, he rubbed by back, and snickered, “No sweat?” I faked mock outrage, and he laughed. Joke, no?.

Yong is philosophical about the hand he’s been dealt. A caretaker for his parents is what he does. His mission. I’ve never heard him sound peevish or wish he were doing something else.

He’s also very religious, can quote Scripture with the best of them.

Back in the shower room Yong reverse engineers everything he did in getting Fred ready an hour over so earlier, helping Fred undress, then soaping and rinsing the hard-to-reach parts, and grabbing a shower for himself in between those soapings, washings and rinses.

In another 10-15 minutes, Fred is skipping-to-my-Lou out the front door, with the Good Son, Yong, walkijng beside him.

Two more congenial men you’d never want to know.

I’ve been lucky to know them.

Oh, did I mention, Yong’s a veteran, too?



About the Author:

Vietnam era Army JAG, Asia, 17-yr Cold Warrior in Soviet-China Bloc green zone, Been shot at and hit, but in crime, not war; twice-broken nose for lying (same fellow) hence good law school candidate; Could have been Somebody in Corporate world and politics, but at every crossroad chose to be a man with a tawdry past instead. Gave up law and am now a redeemed American.
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