We called the man with a broad smile Diamond Jim, as mocking him was easy. Being the town drunk his occupation. We were kids. What did we know? It was not until later in my life I understood that he was, indeed, Diamond Jim Brady.
While I fished at the dump lake Diamond Jim would mumble directions and show me how to bait a fishing hook to catch crappie. It meant a lot to him having a friend. I found his nature was that of a kind man. His cloths were sweaty and at times smelled of stale beer. His hair was always messy.
He was shy and illiterate. A kind gesture toward Diamond Jim and he would open his soul for a short moment and allow one to visit. He was so exuberant and bright when talking about fishing or boxing; a moment later he would shut down, perhaps recalling painful experiences that riveted his soul.
He would walk into town from his shack, about two miles to the store. Many in town shunned Diamond Jim, yet others cordial, a few more even kind.
Going back to his shack Diamond Jim would be drunker than a skunk. He would stagger down the road with a small bag of groceries in one hand and a bottle of wine or even a quart of beer in the other.
One night I walked through the town’s park. It was about 10:30 pm with a street light every 300 feet or so. Not far from the park was a railroad yard. The park scattered with Oak trees and large green bushes. Not a place for a teenager such as myself to walk, especially at night.
I was suddenly surrounded by stench, grabbed from behind by a pair of huge arms. One hand griped tight around my throat. The other hand took my wallet from my hip pocket.
As quick as the arms grabbed me, those same arms released me. I turned in time to see the hobo fall. Standing over him was Diamond Jim.
Diamond Jim mumbled for me to head home. He took my wallet from the man’s hand and tossed it too me and pointed me in the right direction. I ran home.
Years later I arrived home from Vietnam. While walking through that same park I heard a mumbling to my back. I turned and there was Diamond Jim. His smile broad, tears in his eyes. He gave me a welcome home hug, a pat on the back, and a thank you. The only memorial show of kindness I received when getting back from a war. We sat and talked for hours. That was the last time I seen him alive.
A few years later Diamond Jim found dead along the railroad tracks not far from his shack. He had a heart attack. He fell off a small cliff and onto the railroad tracks. He died alone.
At his funeral I was the only person in attendance. A VFW Color Guard and an Army Liaison stood to my side.
There pinned ceremoniously on his flag-draped coffin, was Diamond Jim’s three Purple Hearts and Two Silver Stars among several others. My salute was long and meaningful. Tears rolled down my cheeks. There is no man with more of an open heart I had met since.
This man did not ask much from anyone. He harmed no one and lived his life as he thought he should. He, like so many others, will go down as an unknown soldier. His was, and remains to this day a situation not so unique.
While serving our country he asked nothing in return. He did, however, expect to have our country uphold the ideologies and foundations toward freedom and all that comes with it.
He was not a rock and roll star, movie star, or even got his name in the newspaper. He was a citizen living within a country he served honorably. To give is admirable — and being there when needed is the most honorable sacrifice a man can give in his short life.