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by Ralph E. Gordon

We Mississippians take great pride in how tough our daddies and uncles are and not without good reason. Toughness comes in many forms; it is sometimes subtle and can go unnoticed. I spotted that brand of toughness in my Uncle Monroe Kirby on a hot summer day at the cemetery in Philadelphia as my wife Pat, his daughter Christine and I carried him to visit the grave of his Papa and his baby brother, R.T.

He didnít go there to have his picture taken or for any other reason except to honor his family. When one of us suggested that we snap a photo, he didnít much like the idea but agreed to it. With camera in hand, I naively suggested, ďSmile!Ē as Uncle Monroe stood beside his brotherís grave. There was no smile that day but a salute instead, as the former Naval officer honored the young man who had given his life for his country in World War II.

This was a reverent and somber moment for us all; it was also a telling moment. I never had the privilege of knowing Uncle R.T. as he was killed before I was born, but he was my motherís brother, and I felt a strong sense of pride in knowing that he was a true American hero. As the lump in my throat became larger and larger, I could see tears in my wifeís and cousinís eyes as my ninety-year-old uncle stood at attention, saluting with the dignity and pride that compose his very character.

What I did not see were tears in Uncle Monroeís eyes, but I could see a deep and piercing pain in his face that only the death of a loved one can cause. The battle-hardened corpsman learned more than half a century ago not to let his emotions interfere with his mission. My uncle pulled countless wounded and dying Marines from the battlefield, and to allow himself the privilege of emotion would have been fatal for him, as well as for the men he was committed to rescuing.

There were so many questions I wanted to ask Uncle Monroe that day. I couldnít help but wonder where he was when he got word of his brotherís death, or if he got to attend the funeral, but I didnít have the heart to ask him anything. It was his time to be with his brother, and the moment was much more important than my curiosity. As I snapped the photo of him and Christine standing there, a sacred silence fell over us just long enough for my uncle to collect his thoughts, and then move on.

As we drove home the old sailor sat silently as the three of us talked about everything except the event at the cemetery, or the war. Maybe it was for our own benefit that we deliberately avoided those subjects; none of us wanted to see tears in the eyes of our real life tough guy. After all, Uncle Monroe is only human, and no amount of war, or all the horrors he must have witnessed, can take that away from him.

We knew that every human has a breaking point . . . and the fallen soldier whom Uncle Monroe had just saluted was his little brother.



Ralph Gordon is a fifth generation Mississippian who lives in Union, Miss., with his wife Pat. He is a retired salesman for a major lawn and garden equipment manufacturer and former executive director of the Union Chamber of Commerce. Ralph is an active member of the Newton County Historical Society and serves on the Board of Directors of The Boler's Inn Museum Foundation. He received his education at Beulah Hubbard High School, East Central Community College, Delta State University, and has studied writing at Millsaps College.

The focus of Ralph's writing (poetry, songs, humorous short stories) is on local and family history with an emphasis on Southern folklore. He is currently writing his first book. A regular contributor to the Journal of The Newton County Historical Society, his stories are also published in the Oxford So and So. Three of his songs were recorded by Mountain Gypsies, a well known Arkansas bluegrass group. The Mississippi Department of Tourism displays two of Ralph's history-based poems at the Vicksburg Welcome Center.

Read more of Ralph's stories:
Mississippi Writers' Guild
Gone Fishing
The Free Lunch
The Fishing Trip
Mama's Spaghetti...
Lady Longwood


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