The following is an excerpt from my manuscript, “My Cemetery Friends: A Garden of Encounters at Mount Saint Mary in Queens, New York,” which pays homage to all the young men from Corona, Queens, who fought and died in that conflict. I pay particular attention to a young soldier whom I knew personally, my good friend, Charles Eglin, III. I went to school with Charles, PS 14 and Junior High School 16 in Corona, Queens. We called him “Chucky.”
I knew Chucky most of his short life. We played street games in Corona, and we hung out in Corona Heights. There was a pool hall on the corner of 52nd Avenue, where Corona Avenue merges with 108th Street. Across the street from William Frederick Moore Park, in Corona, there was the Lemon Ice King of Corona on the corner of 52nd Avenue across the street from the pool hall on the same Avenue. The pool hall was in the basement of Leppel’s Department Store. I remember one time I tried to pull a joke on Chucky. I brought an old newspaper, The New York Times. The heading read, “Japanese Sneak Attack on Pearl Harbor!” Chucky got so upset thinking this was a real and new crisis. Of course, I told him that it was an old newspaper. But, now many years later and more mature, I see that I should not have made such a cruel joke.
Chucky loved our country dearly and made the ultimate sacrifice for it. He was kind-hearted, but most of all, he was my good friend. I still miss him. He had a pleasant and pleasing personality. He was a wholesome fellow with a big smile, and everyone who met him liked him. He was well respected. He was the type of person who would help anyone and everyone. He was reliable, trustworthy, and kind. I remember Chucky had a Mississippi accent, having been born and raised in Mississippi until he was an adolescent. I can still hear his voice. It rings with mellow Mississippi joy.
One wonders what Chucky’ s life would have been like had he survived. Would he have had children? I can’t fathom the loss of such innocence. A 21-year old young man from Corona. What does a Corona boy know about fighting in a jungle and the rice paddies of Vietnam? The people of Corona probably never heard of Vietnam before the war, and tens of thousands of our boys were shipped off tens of thousands of miles away, without much support from their government or the news media.
My two brothers enlisted in that war. I tried to, but I had a history of rheumatic fever and had been hospitalized for over a year just seven years’ prior at the Irvington House at Irvington-on-the-Hudson, a convalescent hospital for children with rheumatic heart disease. I was declared 4F and spared the ordeal that so many of my friends and neighbors had to endure. Some were killed in action, never to return. I know ten soldiers from my neighborhood, Corona, were killed in action. Many of the returning soldiers were treated terribly by the media and a not-so-kind public that handled our troops like the enemy. I pay homage to them here, and they are memorialized at Ten Heroes Plaza, a triangle-shaped park in Corona at 108th Street between Van Doren Street and Westside Avenue. Only Charles William Eglin, III is buried in the cemetery where I go walking.
I still feel guilty that so many boys had to die over there. Now, I try to honor those who served. I am happy to be alive. I went on to college and beyond. I became a teacher, poet, and historian who has traveled all around the world. I am happily married, healthy, and enjoying life. I am sorry for Chucky and so many others who did not make it home and have the same opportunity to live a full life as I have. Yes, I was a teacher for 36 years, and this gave my life purpose. It’s over 50 years since Chucky’s death. I still feel as if it was only yesterday.
On Memorial Day, I placed this laminated poem on Chucky's grave: “Memorial Day is Every Day”
Memorial Day is every day
when you have lost a
Someone you can never share
memories with ever again.
Someone who made your day
Who filled you with joy is now nothing
but a void no one can ever fill.
Like a hole in a passing cloud,
it is now empty, not whole.
There are the anniversaries, holidays
And particular songs that awaken
a heart in touching the throbbing pain.
You are but a shadow I cannot hold.
The image seared into my brain,
My very soul.
Charles William Eglin, III,
“Rest in Soft Peace!”
Chucky! I will stop at your grave again
next time I go walking.