Burying Uncle Bob in Arkansas - The American Spectator | USA News and Politics
Burying Uncle Bob in Arkansas

There is a great line from a song about Medgar Evers by my hero, Bob Dylan. It talks about his funeral, at Arlington National Cemetery (he was a Korean War hero). The line goes something like this, “they lowered him down as a king…” The line endlessly goes on a loop inside my brain as I think about Uncle Bon Denman, whom we are burying today in Little Rock.

Wifey and I flew in to LIT last night and rushed right over to the Capital Hotel, where our son was already ensconced. He had insisted on coming over from Greenville, South Carolina, and we thought he should. How many hero great uncles will he have? We had a huge suite, costing far more than I can afford, but that’s my travel agent, who never stints with my money. Our son was down the hall. We ordered room service, although I don’t remember what, and then we went to sleep.

Today, our driver, Mr. Ali, refugee from Iran in 1972, picked us up and took us to the First Presbyterian Church in Benton, a suburb of Little Rock where Bob had lived. I slept the whole way until we got off the highway and stopped at a convenience store for bottles of water. The proprietress was an Asian woman of a certain age.

I asked her what country she was from.

“Korea,” she said. “South Korea. Never North Korea.”

“That’s interesting,” I said. “We’re on our way to a funeral for my wife’s uncle. He fought bravely against the North Koreans and the Chinese in the Korean War. He just died a few days ago.”

The Korean woman’s face grew red and tears streamed down her cheeks as she stood there in the fluorescent light and the piles of soda cartons.

“He not die,” she said firmly. “If he fight the good fight, he already up in heaven with Jesus forever.”

“God bless you,” my wife answered her.

The church had set out a buffet lunch near a room where Bob Denman, Major, US Army, was laid out in an open coffin. He still looked handsome and kind, as he always did in life. His sons looked at him nonstop, as his many friends and relatives came in. No one was laughing.

This death stuff is serious business.

A charming woman introduced herself. She was the Pastor of the Church. Many friends and relatives of Bob Denman introduced themselves. They had a square jawed, solid, respectable look to them. I often look around me at LAX and on the streets of Beverly Hills and West Hollywood and wonder where the normal-looking people have gone.

Now, I know. They’re middle-aged and older men and women in Little Rock. They look as if they came right out of a Norman Rockwell painting of America in the ’40s or ’50s, right out of Saturday Evening Post covers from 1950. Maybe this is where the normal-looking people are everywhere: in small and medium-sized cities in the South and West and Midwest and maybe even in New England. Today was a treasure find of normal-looking people. I love them.

I ate some fried chicken, talked about Bob with various of his former colleagues and his relatives, and thought about what a friendly, welcoming place this church was. The attendees and mourners really could not have been warmer and more lovely.

I am not sure where my wife was. I guess with her cousins, Bob and Stan, and their wives, Peggy and La Donna. I talked for a long time to a man named Dave who was a great fan of Richard Nixon. He had been in a terrible car accident and had undergone 38 surgeries. He did look great, though. Right thinking keeps him looking young.

The service was astonishingly brief. We said a few very brief prayers. We sang a couple of hymns. The minister talked about Bob’s life and heroism and devotion to the church.

I gave a short talk about Bob’s extraordinary heroism and modesty. Then a few more prayers and the service was over. As we milled around waiting for Mr. Ali to take us to the cemetery, a man in a black leather jacket came over to me. He told he his name was Cam and that he had worked with Bob for many years. He said Bob Denman almost never talked about his combat, but he was extremely proud of his Combat Infantry Badge. He said the only story Bob Denman had told him about Korea was that at one time Bob’s small unit was first in the path of the mammoth People’s Liberation Army.

There was no hope they would survive and their commander told them all to write letters home saying goodbye and saying how much they loved their wives. Bob had only been married to his beloved Mary Evelyn for a few months.

“The situation was hopeless,” Cam recalled Bob saying to him. “We were not allowed to withdraw. We were to fight unto death. So we prepared ourselves and then the Chinese took a totally different path and Bob and his men were spared.”

Fate. Prayer. But the Chinese probably hit someone that night and someone did not return home.

The cemetery sprawled for a long way in Alexander, Arkansas. It was a veterans’ cemetery. We sat on some folding chairs. The casket was on top of the gravesite. The minister said a few more words. An honor guard of veterans from the VFW fired a few volleys. My wife sobbed the most I have ever seen her sob in public. I wanted to hug her but a very elderly woman — sister of Bob’s late wife — was between my wife and me.

I looked at the mourners. Again, solid citizens. What a blessing, I thought. What an incredible, unbelievable blessing, for my wife and me to get to live in this friendly, open, welcoming America that is so good to us all.

There is plenty to complain about, for sure. But this is the best place there has ever been in the history of the world. This America. This Little Rock. This slice of paradise defended by men like Bob. I kept thinking, here I am, a Jew. For all of history, we have been being hounded, killed, tortured, shunned, tormented.

Here in beloved America, center of the universe, we are treated the same as everyone else. This has NEVER happened before. How blessed we are to live in this earthly heaven, Little Rock, Greenville, Oxford, Beverly Hills, Sandpoint, West Hollywood, Malibu, where we get to live as equals. Super blessing.

Tommy, Alex, and I went to a nearby Waffle House to feed ourselves. My wife loves WH even more than I do. As always, super food, friendly service. Southern Hospitality. I wish we had them in LA but it would not be the same.

Then to Bob’s house for some delicious food and conversation. Bob and Stan were agitated, as they had to be. I gave them my little bits of advice on losing a Dad.

“When you lose a father, it’s like a brick wall was erected outside your front door. It will always be there. It’s solid. But in time, it gets covered with ivy, and then with roses.”

(I learned that from Barbara Bernstein, a brilliant family friend.)

The second thought I offered to them was one that my Pop passed on to me when my Mom died, about two and a half years before my father did. He wrote her one or two letters every day on his computer. Nothing deep. Just his thoughts and what he did that day. He was sure she read them and she probably did. I urged Bob and Stan to do the same. “You know your parents so well. You know what they would respond so it’s almost as if they were still around and could answer you. It did my Pop a world of good. Me, too.”

They looked grateful and overwhelmed at the same moment. All of us guests left. Now it begins for Bob and Stan.

On the way back to the hotel, we stopped at Chick-fil-A. That has to be BY FAR the best chicken sandwich on earth. Some day they will take over the world. The restaurants are always clean and bright, the service perfect. Chick-fil-A is a gift.

At night, back at the Capital, Alex and Tommy and I watched Forensic Files. Depressing. Too damned many murders. The women kill for money. The men kill for sex and out of insanity. That’s my conclusion. Sex is somehow close to murder for very sick men.

Bob Denman, your light shines everywhere. And my Pop, too. And Alex’s Pop. I marvel every day at how we live without them. Time to write my parents a letter. “They lowered him down as a king….” That’s all of our fathers. “Our Fathers, who art in heaven…” 

Super Bowl. Great game except for the foolish ’Hawks play at the end. But, wow, there are a lot of ads for movies and TV shows involving guns as the solution to every problem. And Hollywood complains about the NRA? Hollywood is preaching nonstop how only a gun makes you a man or a woman and they complain about gun rights lobbyists? Are they kidding?

Ben Stein
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Ben Stein is a writer, actor, economist, and lawyer living in Beverly Hills and Malibu. He writes “Ben Stein’s Diary” for every issue of The American Spectator.
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