The burial of Lyndon Johnson Eric Severeid said, on CBS, that Lyndon Johnson was the most famous victim of the Vietnam war. This struck me odd. Those very days the war was appearing, again, to end, and figures were being released on the dead. The estimates of civilians killed from 1965 through 1972 are 415,000, and 935,000 wounded. The South Vietnamese command says that 921,350 North Vietnamese and Viet Cong troops and 180,676 South Vietnamese troops were killed from 1961 through the end of 1972. The Pentagon says that during the same period, 45,928 Americans were killed in action and more than 300,000 were wounded. Sen. Edward Kennedy, chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Refugees, says the war has left more than 5,000,000 refugees in South Vietnam; millions have been driven from their homes that are, or were, in Laos, Cambodia and North Vietnam. In what way was Lyndon Johnson a victim of the war? It did not kill him, or wound him, or drive him from his home, except politically, except psychologically, except metaphorically. Ah, so. We are the species who are theater goers,. and many are the theaters of our engrossments and togetherness. And now he is dead. Austin For his burial I put on my blue historical suit, the old, warm, blue suit and field boots, for I take it we’ll be slogging to his grave. The funeral has been delayed an hour, to 5, in hopes the weather will clear some by then. It is grey, cold and drizzling, a messy Texas winter day. The bushes on the hillsides, lone on the sere but amber grass up from the gravel, are green. The hillsides spread across the horizon, a dampened dark, dark green under the hazy light, bisected by the damp brown ascending yellowsplit highway, patches of waterfilm pearl grey in the greywashed daylight splashing to the tires like a code of time. The road a way is chewed. The gravel spits up underneath the car. In Johnson’s years of power they never would have let the road be chewed. Johnson City. All shut down, except the cafeteria out on the highway. Rain on my glasses. I brought no handkerchief. “Boyhood Home of Lyndon Baines Johnson.” “LBJ Boyhood Home. Old Ranch.” “Boyhood Home.” “Old Ranch.” “Boyhood Home of Lyndon Baines Johnson.” 6 The Texas Observer “President’s Ranch Trail.” “Help Prevent Grass Fires.” “Slower Traffic Keep Right.” Torn trunks, limbs and stumps of bulldozed mesquite trees, lying in the open fields and sinking through their twisted deaths into the unhearing and absorbent soil. THE FIRST theater, the Trinity Lutheran Church, in the valley of the Pedernales across the river from the graveyard. 1:30. Only the local people and six local preachers are here. What do we see in the theater? The ironies of our hearts. And what do we hear? The echoes in our minds. In the church, taking my place in the back pew alongside four sweet-faced Cub Scouts standing in a row . . . the backs of the people are suited, sportscoated, furcollarcoated, raincoated, clothcoated, sportshirted, and the six preachers are in the front, within the domed transept, and on the left wall, posters “LIFE,” and “PEACE,” and a Cross of Stars, and on the right wall, “JOY,” and “LOVE,” and “PROMISE.” Reverend Father Wunibald Schneider is saying, in his heavy German accent, that President Johnson is gone, with “his big, brave, and bountiful heart. All of us who love him are sad. We will miss him. We will meet him in eternity. . .” Freely rendering, from Antony’s closing speech on Brutus, in Julius Caesar, the Reverend Father Schneider is saying, of Lyndon Johnson, that as “the great English playwright, Shakespeare,” said, “And the elements were so mixed in him that God could stand and say to all the world, ‘There was a good man!’ ” The young pastor of this church, Rodney Maeker, tells of Johnson’s accomplishments, and says, “Sometimes he attended three churches on a given Sunday, and he must have attended every church in the hill country. He visited with us. He asked us over to the ranch. He wanted to be one of us.” To a school band, we sing one verse of “God Bless America,” ending with the school children’s rolling drums and trumpets, loud in this church. The four sweet-faced Cub Scouts listen somberly as the Catholic Monsignor from Fredericksburg says the benediction, that Johnson saw the system of morals and ideals which is the inner light of our culture, that more harm is done by the inactive good men than by the active evil men in the world. May God Help Us to
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