As the days turn sunny and we enter another spring, I think back to my early teens, in the 1960s, when "the gang" all hung out at Larry's candy store in New Hyde Park. The shop was on the corner of New Hyde Park Road and Hillside Avenue. We would play handball on the side of the building until someone hit the ball on the roof or it became too dark.
If it rained we would go inside. One person would buy a Coke and six guys would sit on the lunch counter stools and try to read a magazine until Larry would yell, "This is not a library! Buy it or put it back!"
As our years at New Hyde Park High School ran past us, the majority of us were looking at our future in the job market. This was not, for the most part, a crowd of "college men."
But by the summer of 1965, when we were to graduate, the Vietnam War had changed everything. Now we had to choose between enlisting in a branch of the military or waiting to be drafted.
Most of our crowd enlisted in the Navy or Air Force, with a few going to the Marines.
I waited for Uncle Sam to call me.
He did not disappoint.
I got my draft notice in September 1966.
On the bus to Fort Hamilton, the military induction center in Brooklyn, were more than a dozen guys I had gone to school with. I got chosen for the Army.
Most of us went to different places for training, but a few of us stayed with the same unit. I went to training in Georgia and Texas.
A year later, when I came home on leave before going to Vietnam in late 1967, I went to Larry's to say goodbye — but, as in all parts of life, things had changed. The candy store was gone, as were the hardware store and the luncheonette. The biggest change, though, was that some of my friends were gone, too. By the end of 1967, five of my friends had died in the war. Many more would be gone by war’s end.
As Memorial Day weekend approached this year, I prepared for my trip to the Newsday office in Melville to submit my annual remembrance of my friends — 13 in all — in the newspaper’s obituary section.
I always remember a line from Woody Allen’s movie "Radio Days," in which the narrator laments fading memories, saying that as the years go by, "voices grow dimmer and dimmer."
That may be true, but the memory of the gang's friendship and sacrifice remain.
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