Gordon W. Gaskin

Born 30 Jul 1948
Passed away 26 Sep 2002 in Lake Charles, LA
Cause of Death Hep C contracted from Vietnam

He, like all of his fellow crew members, was responsible for a lot of names NOT being on the Wall. God bless our Medics.

What life to lead and where to go
After the War, after the War?

—- Robert Graves

Gordon finally came home from Viet-Nam last week.

We were buddies in junior high and in high school, thrown together by a love of books and a contempt for all authority figures. We both lived to become authority figures ourselves, and so in the end were punished for our transgressions far more soundly than by any teacher’s paddle.

Gordon was the smartest kid I ever knew; after reading a few books on theory he constructed, from bits of wire and a battery and tiny light bulbs and some other debris tacked to a board, a chess-playing computer. Unable to afford switches, he operated his 1963 computer by disconnecting wires from nails and reconnecting them to other nails. His chemistry experiments were rather less successful, resulting in one or two dramatic explosions and a complete ban by his father on the further pursuit of scientific knowledge inside the house.

While the more focused boys were chasing girls and those first kisses (although I had quite a crush on his sister), Gordon and I were arguing the contemporary possibilities of Thoreau’s Walden and smoking cigarettes out back behind the trash cans.

After a semester at Lamar University, Gordon joined the Army and, following the few months of the rudimentary and wholly inadequate training of that time, was posted to Viet-Nam. Rather like Sasha / Strelnikov in Doctor Zhivago, Gordon found that he was good at war, or, rather, at picking up the pieces: he served four tours as an Army medic, winning the Air Medal, Air Crewman Badge, Bronze Star with Valor Device, the Silver Star, and the Distinguished Service Cross. One can only imagine how many more medals officers in air-conditioned bunkers awarded each other based on Gordon’s courage and skill in saving lives.

But a man — a kid, really, a skinny kid with thick eyeglasses — can make only a finite number of sliding, jinking, dodging helicopter landings into hot-as-Hell LZs without leaving something of himself there. Every wounded kid Gordon saved, every dead kid he sat beside while jinking back out among the orange tracers and the ghastly noise and stench of machinery and violence, cost him a little bit of himself.

Henry Kissinger received a Nobel Peace Prize for the mess he helped make in Vietnam; 56,000 dead kids and the survivors like Gordon bought that carnival prize for him.

Upon returning home Gordon apparently constructed an emotional defense perimeter for many years, and yet those who knew him best say that this true war hero was the kindest, gentlest man they ever knew. Never a father himself, he was a father to his stepchildren and to others. He never went back to university, but he encouraged others to accomplish the education he hadn’t the heart to return to. His stepson, now a successful engineer, said that when he returned from the service he was aimless and drifting, but Gordon inspired him to focus and succeed. A postal employee said she would never have kept her job, much less built the career she has, without Gordon’s patience and guidance.

Whatever Gordon felt he had left undone in his life, he saw completed in the lives of others.
Another friend said that Gordon still carried a trunk full of tools and car parts wherever he went, and could remedy almost any roadside crisis in almost any vehicle — something he could do at sixteen!

In the end, Mr. Kissinger has his Nobel Prize, but Gordon found God and love and peace, and, having accomplished whatever missions God had set for him, died with his wife Mary Ann holding his hand. He was not buried with state honors, but in a modest Methodist liturgy by family and friends; his funeral was not marked with a 21-gun salute, but with Kleenex clutched in the hands of those who love him.

Yes, Gordon is home from Viet-Nam at last, Washed by the rivers, blest by suns of home.


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