Thursday, July 16, 2015

R.I.P. Pete Telkins

Pete Telkins stands behind me, second row, center

3rd Platoon, Bravo Co. 1st Recon Battalion 1990-1991. Pete is 2nd row, far right
I just found out about the untimely and tragic death of Peter Telkins, a guy I served in the Marine Corps with back in the late ‘80’s and early ‘90’s. We served together in the same platoon in Bravo Company, 1st Reconnaissance Battalion in 1990-1991, went our separate ways after I transferred to another unit and he left the Corps, and eventually reconnected the way a lot of us do: through Facebook.

Although we served together twenty-five years ago, I carry marked memories of Pete, an incredibly handsome, smart and talented young man. He was superb at whatever he did and was always in complete control of himself and the situation; as if he knew a great secret that he had yet to let the rest of us in on. He was respected and valued in a unit where rank mattered less than how good a man you were, because Pete was a great man and a great Marine.

I disappoint people wanting to hear some cohesive narrative from my career of service, because I only have a mental scrapbook of stray memories. I have two strong memories of Pete that might otherwise be buried in the corners of my memory for their general everyday nature if it were not for Pete. I remember, strangely enough, the small ammo can Pete had turned into his own rifle cleaning kit. He had not only curated this ammo can but elaborately and beautifully painted it with his name, rank and the Jack-of-all-trades unofficial Recon emblem. Most Marines would just store a cleaning rod and a few patches in the butt of their weapon, but Pete didn’t do anything halfway. He had patches and brushes and lube; enough to get his rifle immaculate and enough to share with others. Anything worth doing was worth doing well to Pete and his brilliance showed up even in rifle cleaning, the most routine and unsexy of Marine tasks. The other memory I have of Pete was when were deployed on the Cleveland, a small sweatbox of an amphibious ship that had a flight deck on the back of it with a well deck underneath where we launched our rubber boats. One evening off the coast of Korea, Pete and I were out running on the flight deck just before darkness would cause the ship’s company to close it and shoo us off of it. We weren’t running together, but basically 180 degrees out from each other on the apices of laps around that small square covered with non-skid that you could only run on for about twenty-five minutes without being bored silly. It was a rare cool, breezy evening on a deployment to the Western Pacific where we usually sweated buckets. The sunset started to burn into the ocean when we stopped and talked and watched the horizon for a while. I remember almost nothing of what we talked about other than how hard it was to stay in shape on ship. But I remember how agreeable the conversation was. For that brief while we weren’t separated by rank or job title; we were just Marines on the far-flung edge of the empire, two guys trying to get through a six-month deployment that was not the highlight of our personal or professional lives, two men taking a moment to soak in a youthful vitality that has long since left us.

I look through the messages we exchanged in the past few years and I feel pride in him and his accomplishments. At one point Pete wrote me that he was studying Spanish in Mexico and he wrote the message in near-perfect Spanish. That was classic Pete; let him work on something for a few weeks and he’d be world class at it. And I was proud that that I would mean enough to him twenty five years later to warrant the rekindling of a friendship.

Pete had, in the years since he left the Corps, parlayed one of his military skills, SCUBA diving, into an intense recreational pastime. Pete’s passion for diving makes perfect sense to me. Diving put Pete in another world that required calm skill, a world that could only be visited temporarily, a microcosm of deadly beauty, a world where Pete was right at home.

Like a lot of us, Pete was a passionate seeker. I think this poem, written by Tony Hoagland, is a good tribute to Pete’s full and beautiful life. I am glad to have known him and served with him. I am sorry, so very sorry that he’s gone.

Why We Went and What We Found

We will find the grail.
We will gallop our horses all night
and at dawn, descend from twisted mountain roads
to the plaza of a town without a name.
At the bronze hour when the sun
melts on the horizon like an old doubloon,
we will sail our ship into the harbor,
--salt crusted in our beards, trembling from years of motion
without maps or compasses; a little daffy from the velvet
sibilance of waves.
                                  The prow will touch the stone wharf
without a sound, the nightingales
will trill, the dead oak shaft of the
No Trespassing sign will blossom morning glories.
The mute beggar by the church will launch into an aria
in perfect, unaccented Italian

and we will hoist the bucket from the courtyard well
on its frayed rope
and drink the sacred water
as the horses nicker
and the almond trees
drop their white petals of applause.
If the order comes to burn the bridges,
we will burn the bridges.
If the order comes to cast ourselves into the sea,
                                                                                        we jump.

When we wake up in the morning, we will be ourselves again,
and begin our post-grail lives.
We will return to our people
who eat mud and say that it is good,
and we will eat the mud with them and say that it is good.
But it will never taste the same to us
in our post-grail existence.

Something will be missing we can't say.
No one will understand the Ph.G. we sign after our names,
or why we press our faces
deep into the artificial flowers,
half-hoping to be stung by bees.
Why we always go astray inside the glittering maze
of the department store,
and always end up at the perfume counter, wearing
scents called Shangri-La, Obsession, Holy Night,

finding none of them quite right,
none of them equal to a blow on the head
with a silver mace, a word whispered in a dream
like a gold key slid across a grate.

They won't understand, and we won't remember,
but we will never again be sad--never sad again!--
Or rather, never sad in the same way.

Tony Hoagland