We buried my brother this morning with military honors. I made it through the eulogy until the last sentence and then I started crying. I had several people come up to me and tell me how much they liked what I said. I lost it at the cemetery first with the guns and then totally during taps. Rest in peace, Mike.
Mike Wilson joined the baby boomer generation on December 3, 1946. His Dad Jack was a World War II veteran going to school on the G.I. bill. His Mom Mary Jane, usually known as Pat, had been a teenaged bride. Mom always said Mike was such a sweet and good baby. Like all first time mothers she worried endlessly about her child. She was upset that Mike wasn’t walking as early as other babies and rushed to the Doctor to find out what was wrong with her baby. The Doctor told her that he was just lazy and would walk when he got around to it. Sure enough one day a train was passing by and he got up and walked to the door to watch it.
16 months later I came along. Mike leaned over my crib and crooned “aw bootsy baby.” Face palm was born when I realized I had a sappy sentimentalist for a big brother. I also realized that all this good baby stuff was boring and taught him how to expand his horizons. Of course this meant teaching him how to get into Mom’s new makeup and unfold clothes.
Mike learned that he had a competitive streak in him; I had finger kitties so he invented finger puppies. It was appropriate because we fought like cats and dogs. Mike had a timid streak in him and being the aggressive little spit fire I was I didn’t make it easy for him. Still I became protective of him. He wasn’t a fighter. When some older kids started to pick on him he turned the other cheek. I told them to leave my big brother alone. They went away laughing.
Mike was very bright and loved school. He was also very religious and loved being an altar boy. When High School came along he was still very shy. He wanted to go to the school dance and asked Mom if he could take me. Mom got permission from the parochial school I was attending to go with him to the dance.
In High School we often had the same teachers and on the first day of class I would remind the teachers that I was Michele not Michael. I was thrilled when finally he got a teacher that I had before. Mr. Beery told him that he hoped he would be as good of a student as I was. After hearing the same thing from teachers he had before for two years it was a sweet moment.
Mike decided he wanted to be a priest and joined a seminary. That lasted one year when he realized that it wasn’t for him. At that time Vietnam was raging and he decided to join the Army. He trained at Fort Ord in California and was deployed to Vietnam. He was a Chaplain’s Assistant. He and the Chaplain adopted a mongrel dog that was obviously named by my brother. Who else would call a dog Sin Buster Boom-Boom Junior?
Mike signed up for a second tour of duty and in the break came and visited me in San Francisco where I was living and working. Mike loved music and we had grown up during the folk music era. One of his favorite groups was the Kingston Trio. They were breaking up and were doing their last performances at the famed Hungry I. I called the San Francisco Chronicle to see if there was any way to get a couple of tickets. Their entertainment critic John Wasserman got back to me and said two tickets would be waiting at the door for us. Mike loved the performance.
Mike came out of Vietnam as a hero. His camp came under attack and Mike rushed out and throwing two wounded comrades over his shoulder he got them to safety. It wasn’t until later when he was showering that he realized that he had taken shrapnel in his leg. He refused the Purple Heart but was awarded the Bronze Star.
Mike came back to a civilian life only to find that Vietnam Vets were reviled. He went to college and got a degree in Political Science and hoped to teach but there were no jobs available for Vietnam Vets. Eventually he went back into the Army where he was happy teaching there. He had also married and became a father to his only child, a daughter Bernadette Christine. Bernadette soon made the same discovery that I had made with my Dad, Army Sergeant Dads are marshmallows.
Mike loved children and dotted on his only daughter and in-time his three grandchildren, Kayla Christine, Tristen Mikael, and Zachary Mark. When he retired from the military he moved to Greencastle and moved in with Mom and Dad. He got a job at the local hospital and his favorite part of the job was being able to hold babies while their mothers were registering. He would come home with eyes shining to announce he had gotten his baby fix that day and would go on to tell us all about the baby he got to hold.
One of Mike’s greatest loves was music. You could often hear music blaring. My bedroom was next to him and it did no good to tell him to turn it down because he had the headphones on and I could still hear it. One evening I was wrapping Christmas presents. Mike and I had an agreement. I would wrap his gifts and he would mail both of ours. He always claimed he couldn’t wrap a stick of gum. Mike brought me in a CD called Noel by an artist I had heard the name of but hadn’t heard sing, Josh Groban. He soon became a favorite of both of ours.
One evening I was playing Josh Groban’s Illuminations album and Mike came into the kitchen to listen. The last song on the album “Straight to You” brought him to tears. I gave him the CD and that evening I heard a strange noise from his room and thought he was crying out only to realize as I listened to the words he was singing along.
Mike loved history and especially military history. He spent lots of hours watching the military channel. He was also passionate about politics. We all learned the secret to deflect hours of political ranting by saying the magic words, “How about the Colts?”
Mike was a sports nut. Our Dad was the ultimate sports nut and took us to baseball games in the San Francisco Bay Area to see the San Francisco Giants and The Oakland A’s. During the football season it was the Oakland Raiders and the San Francisco 49ers. But it was the Colts that Mike was passionate about. Mom’s cat Pixie loved to sit on Mike’s lap except when he was watching football. Then she would run upstairs to me and hide. I never had to watch the game. I could tell what was going on by listening to Mike yell. I knew when they fumbled, when they made a touchdown, when the officials were being idiots.
This was Mike. He was sentimental. He loved to talk. Mom called him yacky doodle. He had a sense of humor that throw pillows were invented for. He was deeply religious. He was intelligent. He was generous. He bought me a very expensive digital camera because he loved the photographs I took and wanted me to have the best equipment to work with.
He had pain inside of him though. He had to bury both parents, Dad in 1999 and Mom in 2010. We lost our beloved Aunt Bird a couple of months ago. The pain from Vietnam never left him. But most of all, for us, Mike was a daddy, grandpa, son to our parents, and our big brother and we will miss him.