Delta Echo Whiskey by
(134 Stories)

Prompted By Veterans Day

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I sometimes search on-line for news of old friends whom I have not seen in years. Decades, more than not. Sometimes I find them, sometimes I cannot. Occasionally I learn that they are dead.

Occasionally I learn that they are dead.

Dieter was a Marine, a Vietnam vet who went back to college after being discharged.  He was around ten years my senior. I met him through the FDU SCUBA club. All of his gear was marked with his initials in the Military Phonetic Alphabet; Delta Echo Whiskey. Dieter picked up some extra beer money by working as a night security guard in one of the dorms on campus. In that capacity he sometimes used to catch Maria and me making out in one of the darkened student lounges. But since he was a friend, he just laughed and continued on his rounds.

Dieter seemed almost Vulcan in his imperturbability. Once a carload of us got stuck in unexpected early morning traffic on the Garden State Parkway and JUST missed the dive boat we were supposed to be on. “Just” means that we got to see it departing Manasquan Inlet without us. The fares were prepaid; no refunds for no-shows. We were all royally and vocally pissed. But Dieter, in his odd, whispery, husky voice, just said “Well, we get to have a nice leisurely breakfast.”

Dieter spoke that way because, at the end of his second tour of duty, he had been shot through the throat. He wore the AK-47 bullet that nearly killed him on a chain around his neck, a charm, a talisman.

A touchstone to remind him not to sweat the small shit.

Profile photo of Dave Ventre Dave Ventre
A hyper-annuated wannabee scientist with a lovely wife and a mountain biking problem.

Tags: veteran, friend
Characterizations: moving, well written


  1. Khati Hendry says:

    So good to hear your voice again Dave, and thanks for the portrait of Dieter. Learning not to sweat the small shit is made easier when you come face to face with the big shit—no small lesson. I wondered if he was one of the people you discovered had died, but I hope he was able to bring his wisdom to a meaningful life. So many who came back from the war were not successful.

  2. Betsy Pfau says:

    I echo Khati’s wisdom – tough lesson to learn: don’t sweat the small shit. Your friend sounds quite wise and interesting and I’m sorry for your loss. We mourn him today and honor his service.

  3. Thanx Dave, for another of your beautifully written and moving stories – and of course that life lesson we all would do well to learn.
    Caught in traffic, missing a boat, out a few dollars? – don’t sweat the small stuff.

  4. Turning one’s attention to a good meal, gathering for it with friends, is nearly always a good way of redirecting the stress of a setback.
    One of my favorite ever sports quotes: K.C. Jones was coaching the Celtics and they lost a pretty tough close game on the road. Asked to share his thoughts after the game, he responded, “I hear there’s a place not too far from here with some pretty good barbecue; I think I’m going to see if I can get a table there.”

    • Dave Ventre says:

      Your comment reminded me of a quote I heard years back, in a Ken Burns PBS series, although I cannot remember which one or who said it. To paraphrase, it was something like “the basis of civilization is people sitting down and eating together.”

      No surprise that a funeral is always followed by a shared meal.

  5. Laurie Levy says:

    A touching tribute, Dave. Thanks for sharing.

  6. Jim Willis says:

    A well-told story about Dieter that makes the punchline meaningful and worth waiting for.

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