May 30, 2022
That’s what Memorial Day does to me—it makes me think about absent friends. Not just those who live far away, or those who are deployed to some far reach of the world. No, I think about the friends whose laughter I will forever miss when we gather to celebrate holidays and birthdays, weddings and homecomings.
When I started Bancroft more than a decade ago, I talked a bunch of fellow Veterans into joining me. The original group was friends and relatives, united in many ways but most specifically in our naval service. Uncle Phil was an early adaptor. He was a retired Navy officer who had commanded river boats in Vietnam. A big personality, he was a friend to everyone. His active sense of humor was on full display when Phil eagerly signed on—with one condition: “You do all the work, but I get a cut of the profits.” Turns out he did more than his share of the work. His last duty station was down in Louisiana, and that’s where he and Aunt Kathy settled. One of our first projects was in New Orleans, and he was our Project Manager. The geographic diversity that came with having an office in New Orleans helped our fledgling company punch above its weight.
Phil never stopped complaining, shaking his head, and wondering aloud how many sale items he was missing at the local Target while he helped push the young company along. “Aren’t there any easier jobs?” he regularly joked. He and Kathy had one son, Little Phil, who stepped out of the family’s generations-long line and chose to serve in the Army instead of our beloved Navy/Marine Corps. It was the one thing I never heard Phil joke about; his overwhelming pride in his son was so strong he couldn’t see the obvious humor in a soldier among us.
His wit was rare in that it came with an innate kindness. He chatted with everyone. He remembered names and remembered the details of small talk so when he next saw even relative strangers, he asked that person about their mother’s health, or their dog’s litter of puppies, or whatever it was they’d shared with him the last time he saw them.
I miss his laughter. More than that, I miss the laughter he gave others.
I write about Phil in the past tense because you see, Phil was our family’s second Gold Star. He never mentioned it, but he’d been poisoned by Agent Orange while patrolling the rivers of Vietnam. Like a hunter who only wounds his prey, our government inflicted a mortal injury that took 40 years to bleed out. The vacuum of happiness we universally felt at his passing is insurmountable.
There are plenty of other places you can go to read about the torturous pain and suffering associated with Agent Orange poisoning. It’s enough to say that he didn’t deserve to go out like that. An honorable career of service, a beloved husband, father, friend, colleague, and mentor who shouldn’t have had his life end so soon.
In his last hours, he was still Phil. His attending physician was a woman from the Czech Republic. He asked about her husband; she said he was a Czech she’d met here in the United States. “Ah,” he said, “A Czech mate.” The doctor laughed.
And then he was gone.
So, it’s Memorial Day, and it’s absent friends who are with me. – CEO / President Paul Jenkins
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.