Thursday, June 10, 2010
So what about this guy?
Who was Dennis Baughman?
Dennis was the son of my dear Aunt Sophie and Uncle Daryl. He was born on Oct 16, 1947, and was a teenager when I first remember him. He was the oldest - and absolutely the coolest - cousin a girl could have! When I was old enough to go and stay at Aunt Soph's and Uncle Daryl's, Dennis was already gone - gone to the Vietnam war at 18. He was dropped into a rice paddy field and then off, into the mix, serving as a Navy Corpsman attached to the 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines.
I remember Aunt Sophie always worried, always packing up boxes with wonderful goodies for Dennis, always sitting at the kitchen table playing solitaire and talking about how much she wanted him home. I would go up and sit in his room, listening to his cool 45s on the record player, looking out the window wondering where he was and praying him safe. My cousin Michael would always fuss at me when he found me there, sitting at the bottom of Dennis' bed, staring out at the side yard, humming along to a 60's tune - "Black is Black, I want my Baby Back," or "Hot Town, Summer in the City," or "I am a Rock, I am an Island...."
Dennis managed to stay safe and come home after serving two tours, and we were over the moon with pride as he was awarded the Purple Heart, the Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry, a Bronze Star with Combat V and a Navy Commendation Medal with Combat V. He told stories of saving lives as fast as he could move, unbelievable stories of "friendly fire" and strange people - even women and children - bent on destruction. I couldn't understand the war, and though I honored my cousin and all his fellow soldiers, I wanted everyone to come home and the war to be Over. I remember being thrilled to hear about him saving his brothers, bringing them back from dreadful injuries while in the field, while under fire, pulling them out of harms way and giving them back their lives. My very own Dennis was a HERO!
When Dennis came home there was a big party. I remember the cake being the biggest one I ever saw. I didn't get to see him much even then. I was a teenager and a bit preoccupied with, well, myself - and Dennis went to Philadelphia to work in an amputee ward at the Navy Hospital. He ultimately completed nuclear medicine training, and came back home to work at Frick Hospital.
I grew up, graduated, went off to school, got married. Dennis got married, had a wonderful son, got divorced, and got married again. Life went on, and we got together at reunions and had visits. Dennis was happy and healthy, a runner and an organic farmer in his little back yard plot. An animal lover and an activist in his local community, a member of color guard and a president of the Vietnam Veterans of Westmoreland County, a member of VFW No. 211 - Denny stayed busy busy! We laughed a lot when we got together, and Dennis had an opportunity to inspire my children as he was inspiring his own. (Today, his wonderful son Jeff follows in the generous footsteps of his father, working with FEMA on the front lines of disasters to bring assistance to our neighbors, to make our country stronger, to help and to bring hope.)
Dennis, along with my parents and my generational experiences, taught me my politics. All these many years, he was an outspoken supporter of doing the right thing, valuing our neighbors - the very people he fought for - and making all of us better. He believed in supporting the "underdog" and he believed in justice. He would get really passionate and talk about the challenges in our government, how big business was shaping the laws, and how it was our responsibility to be engaged, to look into the future clearly, to show up, to tell the truth, and to be a force to be reckoned with. His engagement, his passion, and his strength of conviction, inspired me again, to become a person of honor, to question authority, to speak truth to power, and to be respectful of others, always.
From this base, Dennis inspired me to look at the political options as I grew, and ultimately I aligned myself with the Democratic Party. Once during all these years I almost changed my politics, but then came back strong to the core of my morals. Over two hundred years ago, the founder of the Democratic Political Party decided that wealth and social status were not an entitlement to rule. He and his colleagues believed that wisdom and compassion could be found within every individual and a stable government must be built upon a broad popular base. I agree with these fundamental values, and thus I remain actively aligned to the party of Thomas Jefferson.
Despite Dennis' incredible sense of humor and his dedication to helping others, despite his full and busy life, the impact of those war years never seemed to leave him for long. As he grew older he was diagnosed with severe PTSD, and this really affected him in the last five years or so, making him tired, sleepless some nights. His dreams were intense and exhausting, and he turned to his family, his lovely wife, and his sweet animals for comfort.
In the end, he said, the war was going to kill him - and we laughed and teased him out of his funks. But in the end, he was right. Agent Orange exposure gave him cancer. Malaria exposure caused his spleen to fail, and after a strong hard determined battle, Dennis succumbed. He peacefully left us at 4:30 AM on Wednesday morning, June 9, 2010, surrounded by his wife and loving family.
He was my hero and my cousin, and I am proud to have known him.
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Friends will be received from 7 to 9 p.m. Thursday and from 2 to 4 and 7 to 9 p.m. Friday at the at the C. RICHARD MCCAULEY FUNERAL HOME INC., Youngwood. Services will be held at 10 a.m. Saturday at the funeral home with the Rev. David S. Jack officiating. Interment will follow in the Youngwood Cemetery, Youngwood, where military funeral rites will be accorded by the Armbrust Veterans Association.
Contributions may be made to the ASPCA, 424 E. 92nd St., New York, NY 10128
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Rest in Peace Dennis
Oct 16, 1947 - June 9, 2010