Winston Tharp: To Doug

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It's Memorial Day and Winston Tharp has this tribute to a veteran whose promise was lost.

Well, it's been over 50 years since we hung around together, Doug. We had great plans for life after high school, didn't we? You were going to search for the holy grail of physics, the unified field theory, and I was going to design elegant electronic devices. I remember that you kidded me that I would end up building better refrigerators. But I think that if anyone was likely to have found that theory, it would have been you.

I'd spent the summer before our sophomore year working as a library page at MIT and was all afire to go there. I talked with you so much about it, I think I put the notion in your head, too. Anyway, when MIT rejected me and took you, I gave you the MIT pennant I'd had up over my bed and wished you well. It was only fair: I was smart, but you were brilliant.

We drifted out of touch when I went off to New Orleans and you to Cambridge. I started down a path that led to a hitch in the Air Force in Germany, and you stayed the course at MIT. When I got your letter saying that your Navy Reserve Seabee unit had been activated and sent to Vietnam, I scratched my head and wondered what that had to do with the unified field theory, but I was preoccupied with getting ready to try civilian life again.

Then in September 1967 I got the letter from my mother with the newspaper clipping: "Sailor killed in Vietnam." It seems you were in your bunk when that artillery round dropped on your tent. I'd like to think that you were like the soldier the World War I poet Wilfred Owen described:


"There, in the happy no-time of his sleeping, Death took him by the heart."

I'd also like to think that in that "happy no-time" you found your own unified field theory.

With a Perspective in memory of Douglas Carroll Coker, I'm Winston Tharp.

Winston Tharp is a retired broadcast engineer who narrates audio books from his East Bay home.