Updated: Dec 13, 2019
Memorial Day is a holiday where we remember our loved ones who died in military service.
On this day, we also remember those we lost to the war.
Uncle Larry was one of those people. He never was the same when he returned, so I’m told.
I wasn’t born yet when Uncle Larry served in the Air Force. He was stationed in Libya and saw his share of trauma.
Grandma said his letters to home started getting strange.
He always wrote, but she could tell his voice in the letters was changing, becoming more distant.
Grandpa, a Korean War Vet, chalked it up to, “Aw, Fran! He was prob’ly drunk when he wrote that!”
I heard the stories mostly from Dad and Grandma, not so much from Larry himself. It must have been really hard on them seeing him so changed from the man he had been before the war.
Even years later, I saw enough from his bouts of “nervousness” (the family word for when Larry had a bout of Schizophrenia – paranoia) to get the gist.
Larry was always outspoken in his beliefs, but when his illness came over him, he became agitated and argumentative – prone to violence in his younger years especially when paired with alcohol.
Normally he was really friendly and outspoken, but when he got “nervous,” he became moody, tense, and quiet. He would go for a day or two without shaving or taking a shower, something he would normally never do. He was so clean cut and handsome.
By the time I was old enough to remember, Larry was a teetotaler who ran 5 miles a day “to keep him sane”. It worked very well for him, and he was well able to manage in society.
Larry was well liked by men, and women adored him. He befriended the local governmental candidates and went door-to-door campaigning for them, and every candidate he supported won.
He usually kept 3 to 4 ladies in regular rotation on his arm, but he was always respectful to them and gave them his full attention while they were at his side.
The real appeal to Larry for both men and women was the fact that when you were talking to him, he was really present.
He listened and really cared about what you were telling him.
It was as if he consoled himself deeply by listening to the troubles and ponderings of others. He was unconditional in his praise, and was eager to have the same praise poured back on him.
He always thought there was something wrong with the way he saw the world, I guess because he had been hospitalized because of his view of it in his youth.
Back when Uncle Larry was hospitalized with schizophrenia, the conditions in mental hospitals were atrocious. He told me of being chained to the radiators, having water poured on him, being beaten and other abuses.
The military officers had sent him to NYC, and he lived in Tennessee. I guess they didn’t realize how bad off he was, because it took him several months to make his way to Tennessee from all the way up there.
Dad and Grandma told me stories about how he was when he finally did make his way back to Tennessee. He’d be riding in the car and suddenly crouch down in his seat saying, “There they are! They’re watching me!”
When Dad would ask him who was watching him, he wouldn’t talk about it. Of course, there was nobody in the field where he was pointing; he was hallucinating.
Who’s to say, maybe Uncle Larry would have found his way crazy with or without the war. Maybe it was genetics, and the circumstances he encountered were the trigger to push him over the edge of sanity.
Uncle Larry did find that trigger back in 2003 when he shot himself in the head in his home in Rogersville, TN. I suspect woman troubles to be at the very root of his problem, but nobody knows for sure.
He told me at Christmas just before he shot himself that the doctors had diagnosed him with manic-depression in addition to schizophrenia.
Why they needed to tell him that, I don’t know. I’ve been around more than my fair share of “mental illness” and can tell you that there’s not a hill of beans difference whether the patient knows his diagnosis other than to dwell and pine over it.
What good does it do to know you’re broken in more ways than one? No good it did Uncle Larry.
So today, I remember Uncle Larry and am grateful for his influence on my life.
He fought for his country, and then he fought for his sanity, and along the way he touched a lot of people’s hearts and minds. He was one of a kind, and I miss him terribly.
Here’s to you, Uncle Larry and to anybody who knows what I’m talking about.
Here's a song "Some Things Ain't What They Seem" I wrote about Uncle Larry when I was a new writer at Sony. This is the demo recording for you to hear recorded at the Sony Tree Studio, produced by Pat McMakin.