Remembering US Army PVT Robert C. Fish

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On my October 13, 2019 return drive home from St. Petersburg, FL, I decided to detour a bit to visit my Uncle Bob’s grave in Auburn, MA. Uncle Bob was a profound influence, equal to, in some ways greater than, my parents’ influence in my life.

A few years ago, again returning from Florida, Eileen and I sidetracked to visit Bob’s grave. My instinct told me I could find the grave from memory. The old Auburn High School building Bob and my mother and father attended was still standing. I knew I could find my way from Auburn High, to Bob’s grave, to my grandparents’ home — where my dad grew up with his younger brother, Uncle Bob, and middle brother, Uncle Ivan.

But instead of instinct, I texted my sister, asking if she knew where Bob was buried. She gave me the name of the wrong Auburn cemetery. Eileen and I spent a long time trying to find a grave that wasn’t there. With most of our reserved energy gone, we drove on home to Maine without finding Uncle Bob.

This time I traveled strictly on memory and instinct. When I exited the northbound Mass Pike and rolled into Auburn, there were plenty of new buildings and roads I didn’t recognize. But the landscape through which I was driving appeared to me as if the new was only an image overlaying the Auburn I knew as a kid.

I made a right turn onto Central Street. A few yards in front of me, Central Street went under the Mass Pike then uphill. Uncle Bob, I knew, was buried in a plot not far up that hill.

And there it was: Hillside Cemetery. I pulled in at the entrance and parked. A few feet from me were two rows of flat granite US military grave markers, the standard 24 inches long, 12 inches wide. One of the front row markers, I remembered, belong to Uncle Bob.

The 3-4 foot tall arborvitae bushes between grave markers were not there originally. Someone trims and prunes the bushes. That’s good. But the arborvitae overpower the veterans’ grave markers. It might be time to replace them with less obtrusive shrubs.

Uncle Bob’s grave is half hidden by the arborvitae and dry brown and red maple leaves. As with all of the veterans’ graves, Bob’s has a metal military grave marker holding a crisp new American flag. Unique to Bob’s grave, someone has planted a geranium there with bright red flowers. I wonder who.

Brushing aside the leaves and dry dirt settled in some of the engraved letters, I read Bob’s headstone:

MAY 10 1928 NOV 15 1965

Has Bob really been gone 54 years? He was the guy who gave me my lifelong love of drums and drumming. November 15, 1965, when Uncle Bob took his own life, I was 14 years old. He was 37.

Separated back then by geography, Uncle Bob and I spent relatively little actual time together. Mostly family visits at Christmas, Thanksgiving, and a few family vacations. But our physical time together mattered less than the impact Bob had on my heart. Fifty-four years up the road, his 14-year-old nephew is a 68-year-old man weeping over his grave. The sun is shining, it’s a beautiful New England fall day, and my sorrow and tears are uncontrollable.

I think of Bob every time I hear of someone, including military veterans, committing suicide. He tried getting help. I know that from my Uncle Ivan. How I wish Bob had asked for help one more time November 15, 1965. The pain suicide victims want to escape is left behind for loved ones to deal with.

Better to have everyone involved alive, helping to resolve the pain.

Maine Suicide Hotlines: http://www.suicide.org/hotlines/maine-suicide-hotlines.html

Scott K. Fish has served as a communications staffer for Maine Senate and House Republican caucuses, and was communications director for Senate President Kevin Raye. He founded and edited AsMaineGoes.com and served as director of communications/public relations for Maine’s Department of Corrections until 2015. He is now using his communications skills to serve clients in the private sector.

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