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Danny.

Dan Lawler in my classroom, 2011. Portrait by Robert H. Miller.

Daniel Lawler in my classroom, 2011. Portrait by Robert H. Miller.

I’m staring down a stack of papers I have to grade, and the pile keeps growing higher. I’m too busy teaching and planning lessons at school, so like most teachers I know, I bring them home. I’ve gone through a ‘first look’ once, and that’s  a start. But I can’t get into the rhythm until I write about my friend Dan Lawler, who passed away almost a week ago at the age of 90.

I’m ashamed to say I missed his wake today, and tomorrow I will miss his funeral. But I think he knows that I will be doing my best in school and elsewhere to keep the memory alive.

Dan Lawler was a Marine’s Marine, World War II edition. He was wounded at Peleliu, and then miraculously made it all the way through the Battle for Okinawa. Later he served in China to protect against communist insurgents; he had many stories to tell and I detailed many of them in my book. But what struck me the most about Danny was his devotion to his friend, Jimmy Butterfield, and Jim’s wife Mary.

They would come to my classroom and entertain and enthrall the kids, but it was always tempered with the realities of what they truly experienced. You see, Jimmy was blinded for life at Okinawa. But Danny always got him to come in to school, and together they told the stories that only brothers can share. They would rib each other, fun stuff to reel the kids in. And then the stories would flow. It was never an act. It was brothers being brothers and letting us in on the most intimate stories that would bubble forth, sharing with the teenagers in my room, who fell in love with them, and for the moment, becoming the teenagers who they once were themselves.

People I don’t really even know, who have read my book where both are profiled, have reached out to me to express their condolences at my loss. Of course, that is one of the downsides of getting close to the folks who fought and sacrificed in World War II. Eventually their time is up, and they have to leave us.

And of course, my sorrow is nothing compared to that of his family, but remember this- Danny, and all the survivors of World War II who managed to make it back, had stories to share. I thank God that I knew Daniel Lawler, and Jim Butterfield, who passed 2 years before him. But it’s not just a loss for those who had the honor of getting to know him- it’s the loss for humanity. I just hope, Danny,  I did my part in keeping your memory alive.

Rest easy, Marine.

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