Flying our colors once more, honoring past resident

Do you ever ponder the lives of those who resided in your home previously? How many tiny feet took their first steps on your floors? What triumphs and accomplishments brought them great satisfaction? What challenges did life present to them?

Moving back to Marietta last year – after a number of years presented me with an opportunity to extend my education and follow new career paths – those questions seeped into my psyche when I discovered a flag pole mount left behind on my porch. Did the previous resident fly our nation’s flag or was it one of the countless decorative flags representing holidays, seasons or favorite sports team, and if I arrived at the answer, what might their flag choice relay about them personally?

My neighbors, Ed and Cathy Engle provided the answer that would send me researching. Proudly displayed in that mount – every day of his life – was our nation’s colors. The “he” was Michael Wark, who according to the Jan. 30 (2013) Marietta Times, “… served in the U.S. Navy … honorably discharged … [(after)] two tours in Vietnam …” “The USS Endurance, a wooden hull mine sweeper and … the USS Richard S. Edwards, a destroyer,” served as home. Michael was bestowed with nearly a dozen awards, one in “recognition … [(of the)] sinking of a NVA Trawler.”

One of our nation’s heroes lived within the walls I now call home. Michael – as is the case for all those who have served our country and continue to do so – was willing to give his life for me to enjoy the wide range of freedoms that we can sometimes take for granted. He walked into foreign territory a number of times, with no promise of return.

Initiating the theory, Six Degrees of Separation, I located Michael’s older brother, Bill, to gain more insight on the veteran whose home I now reside. During our initial phone conversation, Bill recalled a time in which the Selective Service initiated a lottery system – the first since 1942 – with “366 blue plastic capsules” containing birth dates between 1944 and 1950 – “drawn by hand to assign order-of-call numbers to all men within the 18 to 26 age range.” ( Televised the night of Dec. 1, 1969, the nation sat glue as Congressman Alexander Pirnie (R-NY), pulled the first capsule. Possessing the number “312,” Michael could have waited for his fate to be exposed by inanimate object, but instead he enlisted as his father did before him. To fully appreciate the sacrifice he made, Bill relayed the artistic talent that gained Michael a scholarship from the Pittsburgh Art Institute. Rather than pursue his passion, he followed what he considered as his call to duty.

There’s no arguing the negative reception bestowed upon our service personnel when returning home from Vietnam. To compound the emotional challenges presented by that reception, many were exposed to a number of other negatives, one being Agent Orange. Add to those two was an additional burden. Once released from a navy hospital for appendicitis, Michael set out on a jungle-filled, arduous trek of nearly 20 miles to reach his ship bringing him face-to-face with a Vietnamese wielding a machete. Although his duty, his action to take another’s life haunted him ’till the end of his own.

Upon discharge, Michael worked for Bill’s Oil and Gas Company followed by a stint on a barge. One of his last employers was a local plant, but those ties were severed when falling from scaffolding and breaking his neck. During his free time, his love for sports cars remained evident. He owned five Corvettes during his lifetime – his final one being a 2013 Camaro.

With the revelation and history unveiled behind the flag mount, my mother (Arlene Caldwell) presented our nation’s symbol of freedom to me as a housewarming gift. What once flew over our nation’s capitol now flies from the exact spot that Michael chose and will continue to retain its prominent location as long as I reside here. Our flag serves as a daily reminder of every woman and man who has and continues to fight for the life we have. It’s an external and eternal reminder of a priceless gift that I cherish.

Who resided previously in the abode you now refer to as home? What clues did they inadvertently leave behind? With a little research, you might be surprised – as I was – to learn the life they led. They may have unknowingly enriched your life as Michael, and all of our several personnel, have enriched ours.

Trish Caldwell-Landsittel lives in Marietta.