In the Sixties, I was l playing in a band called the Soundsations, and we were headquartered in Kalamazoo, Michigan, home of Gibson guitars. Kalamazoo was also the home of Western Michigan University. One of the local hot-spots was the Colony Room. We played there for almost a year – six nights a week, plus a happy-hour matinee.
I confess, the Soundsations weren't anything special, but we developed quite a following, thanks to the less than discerning college students at WMU. By far the best musician in the band was our guitar player, Dexter Bell. Dex was a heck of a picker; and his sunburst Gibson ES-175 came alive in his hands. That's me on the left on bass, and Dex third from left on guitar.
When Dex was a child, his parents moved to Kalamazoo from Dothan, Alabama, and he was still a country boy at heart. He was nineteen … a quiet guy … shy really, not the sort you'd imagine in a rock band – and certainly not the sort you'd imagine as a soldier. But thanks to the draft and the awful Vietnam War, he became a soldier – briefly.
Before he left, he told me he wouldn't be coming back. I'm sure other soldiers had that same sort of premonition, but somehow managed to survive the war. Sad to say, Dex didn't; he was there only about a month, when he was killed by what was then euphemistically called “friendly fire”. We never got any details.
Many years later, I went to The Wall in Washington, to pay tribute. In the back of my mind, I was faintly, foolishly hoping there'd been some mistake, and his name wouldn't be carved into that dark granite … that somehow that same beautiful man was somewhere … Kalamazoo … Dothan … anywhere … still making beautiful music on that Gibson.
It was friendly fire they told us
When they handed us this stone
You'll be twenty now forever
And you won't be coming home
Well, I used to look for reasons
But I don't look anymore
I know now why they say reason's
The first casualty of war
Your momma ironed all your clothes
Hung them in their proper place
Beside your silent sunburst Gibson
Locked up in it's velvet case
Made your bed and kissed your picture
In your uniform and brass
And returned it to the dresser
Safe behind the shiny glass
I went to Washington to see you
Hoping you would not be there
Cherry blossoms pink and fragile
Their sweet fragrance filled the air
But their beauty quickly faded
As I walked onto the mall
'Cause it's hard to think of beauty
In the blackness of The Wall
My failing feet soon took me
Where I did not want to go:
Last name: Bell Given: Dexter
Rank: PFC Branch of service: army
Birthday: 31 may 48 Casualty date: 22 sep 68
Home town of record: Kalamazoo
Panel: 43w: Line number: 060
©1997 Tom Cordle