I haven’t had time to miss Vernon yet. When my older brother passed away this month after grueling hospitalization and physical rehabilitation, I didn’t immediately realize the finality of it all.
He lived hours away from me, near where we had grown up, so I didn’t see him every day or week. I know he is gone, but the full impact might not come until the next time I go visit my remaining brothers and sister and he isn’t there.
Vernon was different from all of us. While the rest of us kids were thin as rails, Vernon was always heavier.
In a book about the aftermath of the 1968 Tet Offensive in Vietnam was a passage that described Sgt. Vernon Moore as “a stocky man made heavier by his helmet, flak jacket, ammunition and a two-quart canteen strapped atop his heavy rucksack.”
Vernon didn’t tell us much about his duty in the war for many years – the first thing he told me was not to join the Army – but an incident described in the book was among the first he related.
He had been set down by a helicopter and immediately drew such heavy fire that the copter zipped away. Vernon lay back in the rice paddy, unable to move because of the mud and bullets. All he could do was be as invisible as possible, not easy for a “stocky man.”
Vernon served his tour with few physical injuries, but years earlier, he had nearly died when his appendix burst.
The doctor said that if he hadn’t had so much fat in his abdomen, the poison would have spread and killed him.
His appendicitis nearly killed me. After that, anytime I developed a pain in my right side – such as when running great distances, as boys are wont to do – I would self-diagnose myself with appendicitis and await the painful end of my life.
Vernon was always good with his hands, which he used to resurrect ailing automobiles.
I still can see the chain hoist he suspended from the limb of our walnut tree, with which he swapped engines from one car to another. He was always buying, selling and trading cars, often in much different shape from when he acquired them.
When he went off to war, he left two steel rails lying under a shed at our house. After he returned, he turned those rails into a hand-built car. It resembled a 1932 Ford roadster, except that it had a short pickup bed. He sold that car and went on to the next project.
Where Vernon created cars from scratch, I get lost after changing my oil and plugs.
We all have our talents, but I always envied his.
After high school, he went to technical school and studied design. That served him well, because he later created and patented parts at the wrecker company where he worked. In retirement, he started his own business and would wheel and deal with people all over the country. Everyone knew Vernon.
Sometime soon, it will finally hit me that he is gone.