Dexter Bell

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.

Dexter Bell

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

Views: 119

Comment by alsoknownas on November 11, 2018 at 11:00am

The time for WWIV may be closer than we think.

Ready yourself with sticks and stones.

Comment by koshersalaami on November 11, 2018 at 11:26am

I was just too young to know the dead. I’ve known a lot of vets, mainly through business. 

Was that a poem or a song? The rhythm looks very singable. 

Comment by Tom Cordle on November 11, 2018 at 6:25pm

AKA   The old saw says sticks and stones may break my bones, but names can never hurt me. But as the name-calling insult comic who currently occupies the WH proves, calling names can hurt not only individuals, but nations, and even the Earth itself.

Comment by Tom Cordle on November 11, 2018 at 6:37pm

KS  This one is a poem, but I generally try to write poetry in rhythm – it's good discipline. That said, I've got nothing against free verse, and I occasionally dip into that as well.

Comment by koshersalaami on November 11, 2018 at 9:49pm
Comment by Ben Sen on November 12, 2018 at 10:57am

It always breaks my damn heart.  I was at Western from '64 to '68.  I was a founder of the anti-war movement at the school (SSI) and editor of "The Western Activist."  We could have very easily crossed paths. My entire life was premised on those experiences until this day.  I became a writer looking for a "middle path."  It still mostly alludes me, but every once and awhile I feel I stumble on it.  What more can we do?  How much time left do we have do anything?   

Comment by old new lefty on November 12, 2018 at 1:25pm

100 years after Armistice Day makes for a particularly poignant time. And Trump's refusal to visit the military cemetery or march with other world leaders ranks as the most unpatriotic things a POTUS has ever done.  This is truly a time for mourning and reflection.

Comment by Tom Cordle on November 12, 2018 at 2:35pm

Kosh    Thanks for the link ... I visited it again thanks to you and left a few comments

Comment by Tom Cordle on November 12, 2018 at 2:37pm

Ben   If you were at the Colony Room in '66, you surely saw the band. We also played Sullivan's in GR and Gilbert's Lounge in Battle Creek, among a couple dozen places in West Michigan before we went on the road.

Comment by Tom Cordle on November 12, 2018 at 2:41pm

Lefty  I've been to that cemetery, and I bawled my eyes out for hours during and afterward – all those young lives cut tragically short, including my Uncle Ferrel McDonnell. I'm glad tRump didn't go – his presence would only have profaned that sacred ground.


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