The Death of Hamlet Miller

It was the winter of 1967, and Kenny Miller and I sat astride our motorcycles on the boardwalk of Atlantic City. Against all my pleadings for Kenny not to join the Marines, he did so anyway. He would not be going to Parris Island until the first week of June for his basic training. Kenny and I were as close as two brothers could possibly be.

Our favorite drink in those cold days, with freezing breezes striking our faces from the ocean, was Jacquin's Ginger Flavored Brandy. It was sickly sweet, but it sure did warm a man up inside. It was almost midnight, and so far we had not seen a cop patrolling the boardwalk. Probably too cold for them. We passed the bottle and we passed a few fat bones as well.

Kenny was curious about death, and asked me what I thought of it. The easy answer was that death is the end of dreams and memories. The end of all in and out breaths. The end of all future aspirations. The end of laying in bed next to one's girlfriend. The end of our perceptions of who we think God is.

I opined that with our last inhalation and final sigh we began immediately to rot. The core temperature decreases slowly, and soon there is an odor like no other on earth. Man ends in this world as a rotting corpse, and he must be put in the ground or the furnace in order to extinguish his baseness. The only thing that lives on after death is the people who knew and loved him. I gave a lot of thought to death in those days after the war. How closely I monitored its ever present aura.

It was the first and last time we ever talked about death, because there was too much living to do. We had trucks of chrysanthemums to deliver every night, and cases of beer that needed our special attention. Then there were the women. Kenny was dazzingly handsome while I was merely mediocre in appearance. The women flocked to him. He was tall and fair haired, with that chiseled European facial structure. Every place we went, no matter how cold, there was always a pretty girl on the back of our bikes. He had this old clunky bike called a Zundapp. It looked like the bike Steve Mcqueen rode in "The Great Escape." I had a Harley with straight pipes all chromed to the max. As I close my eves, I am transported to that time period in my life, and I can hear Kenny laughing as he passed me on the Black Horse pike doing 90.

A machine gun cut him down in 1968, and I escorted his body home. It was one of many times that I thought about suicide. So each time I hear or read the "To be or not to be" speech, I am reminded of exactly how I felt. Again as I close my eyes and transport myself, I see the open grave after everyone has left. I stand outside myself to watch as I throw my sword in the grave to land beside his coffin. It was that moment in time more than any other that changed me. I was mortally wounded and died a thousand deaths in my young life. I left the cemetery and headed back to Boston. Soon after I met up with a "general," and I ended my career as a warrior.

Joe Labriola

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