”He wrote encouraging letters, not wanting to cause his family worry, more than was necessary. In his last letter he wrote of his plans to save his money and buy a service station business when he came home. He said, 'I plan to climb my mountain while I'm young enough to find my way to the top.'” -- An obituary published in the Times-Standard.
Mark Bruner served in the Army and is buried at Sunrise Cemetery in Fortuna.
Editors Note: The following was written by Mark Bruner while he was still a student at Fortuna High School and delivered before his class as an assignment. Bruner's piece is largely focused on voting rights at a time when most soldiers being killed in Vietnam weren't of legal voting age (that changed with the 26th Amendment in 1971, which lowered the age to 18). But the piece also includes valuable insight into a diverse generation and a tumultuous period in this country's history. It originally ran in the Times-Standard after Bruner's death on July 11, 1969.
The Unseen Generation
By Mark Bruner
You can see them standing in the shadows, halfway around the world. But then who wants to look in the shadows? It is far easier to look out in the open. You know the places -- Haight Ashbury, Watts and others, where the hair boys, hippies and the grass passers hang out. They try to catch the public eye and they do a good job of it. It seems the American public would rather spend their leisure time reading about riots and Love-ins or even acid parties than about the young people who try to make a name for themselves. The ones that are tired of taking credit for the actions of a small few when the majority of them are clean, average Americans. It's these, the good young Americans that are what I call “The Unseen Generation.”
You can see them in Korea, guarding the 38th parallel from communist invasion. Take a look at the Berlin Wall, you can bet that there are a lot of American troops there that are 18, 19, and 20. Even in Vietnam they are fighting, fighting in the hills, swamps and the rice paddies, an enemy they can't even see.
Have you even attended a funeral of a young man that has died in Vietnam, died fighting for his country? I have, and it isn't a joyous occasion. Sure, they drape the coffin with the American flag and say, “Here lies the body of our friend, just a boy of 18 when he was struck down.” Just a boy, that really hit me. He wasn't a boy when he was fighting and the medal he was awarded posthumously says he was a man. As much a man as anyone in these United States. He gave as much for his country as anyone could possible give, his life.
Then there are others, the ones that don't die. They are as much of a hero as the ones that do, they risk their lives every day, only God and good luck keep them alive. They eat rations and food cooked by someone that never cooked in his life before that meal. They choke on the food and write back home to Mom and Dad, maybe even say “Hi” to the kid sister or brother, and tell them not to worry, but they do worry anyway mostly because the hand that wrote the letter was so shaky that you could hardly read the writing. After they write home, they pray and they pray like they never prayed, that if they were killed that night they could at least see their buddies before they die. That isn't too much to ask, is it?
Sure -- I colored up the situation a bit. Or did I? Just how would you act knowing that sometime in the night someone, maybe the friend that loaned you the pen to write home with, will never return. You see the Viet Cong infiltrates the camps, maybe he will kill you or maybe, by mistake, in the dark a fellow American who is panicked will shoot blindly and you will catch his mistake. Maybe even you would be shook up.
Who are these soldiers that I keep talking about? Where do they come from? They are your friends, neighbors or even relatives. In fact, guys, in a short time it could be you. If you can walk, talk or crawl on your left hand down hill nowadays, the Army will take you. If you're above average in your studies in college, the Army will be glad to educate you in jungle warfare. If that isn't your major, then you better adjust to it because you'll have it coming out of your ears for the next 12 to 13 months.
You may say that the men in Vietnam aren't the younger generation but you better check the records first before you jump to conclusions. You'll see that the largest amount of troops are between the ages of 18 and 24. In fact, over one-fourth of the troops in Vietnam are 18, 19 and the ripe old age of 20. They are the big reason for my talk today. That and, second, the fact that Miss Rogers (teacher) would have flunked me without it. They fight like the 30 year-olds fight, strangely enough, they die the same too. There are a lot of graveyard plots that hold the bodies of these troops. I realize how gruesome and unpleasant it is to hear about the dead in the manner that I speak of them, but I must get across to you the risk and sacrifice the average American has given in the past and will continue to give in the future for his country. But is it really their country? Do they have a say in its government? On election day they can't come near the election booths. So many young Americans will never know the freedom they have fought for. Is this Justice? I say No.
You give them guns and send them halfway around the world and call them men. They are men when they fall mortally wounded, wounded in battle in our defense, and they are men if they will undergo the torture of the North Vietnamese when they are captured. But when they come home to the country they have defended with their lives you slap them on the backs, say, “You're over 18 now, you can buy cigarettes legally.” Chances are they don't even smoke.
These “kids” are brave, too. Some of them are brave beyond belief. On a jungle path in North Vietnam, a group of officers were moving past enemy lines to get a better look at the enemy installations. Suddenly, from nowhere, a Viet Cong grenade was thrown into a group of men who were resting. Four of these were officers age 24, 21, 25 and 34 years old. Among them was a PFC of 19, almost 20. That man was the one to realize a need and fell upon the grenade using his body as a shield, to stop the blast. Well the grenade exploded and one man gave his life to save those of superior rank. His name is not of importance but the act that he did is. It showed again that age doesn't make a man. Now I'm not saying that to be a man you have to throw yourself on a grenade. In fact, it isn't something that a person would normally need to do. But this isn't the only sign of bravery that has been shown.
How many people remember --------? Not many would. He was one of the lower students. You know -- the ones that aren't good enough for the so-called “in” crowd; well he wasn't too well liked by the students, his folks were poor and he wasn't good in sports. Well, that isn't why I brought him to your attention. He joined the Marines and was eventually sent to the jungles of Vietnam. In a small skirmish a friend of his fell wounded by some shrapnel and three Marines rushed to his aid. -------- was one of them. Suddenly, from nowhere a grenade flew through the air and landed among the group. As it exploded the three men fell, two wounded. -------- and a comrade; one was killed. I don't know what happened to the man they were trying to save. -------- is 19-20, and the man who was killed was 19.
(Editor's Note: The Times-Standard omitted the names included in Bruner's speech when it was published in 1969. The editor's note at the time read: Real or not, we omit the name to spare any possible hurt feelings. Many fine people are represented.)
I realize that not all people who are 18, 19 and 20 are really adults, but are all people over 21 adults? No, in fact, I would say that there are as many immature 21-year-olds as 19-year-olds.
Does age really mean that more or is it immaterial? Ask yourself this. Am I capable of choosing the leader of this nation and answer truthfully. Then ask if your parents are capable of making that much of a choice. I really believe that the students in this room know more about the working government than most parents do. Most parents have forgotten what they were taught about government because they have had a lot on their minds since their school days. Sure they know laws and important things of this type but so do most students. As far as that goes, the students have as much chance to study debates as do the elders because of nationwide coverage made possible by TV. So the real question lies in this. Do you, the younger generation, care enough about the issue to study both sides before making a decision and do you want the right to decide on some of the issues that are in the elections as well as the candidates? Would you try to get the chance to vote?
That is the problem: A lot of teenagers could care less about elections. The adult public proves the same by the small amount that turn out on election day. They criticize the government but don't take the time to vote, the one big right that younger generations fight for every day. Who are the kids? Are they 28 or are they 45? Let's prove that they aren't 18. Let the unseen generation be seen at last! Be heard; the Flower children seen cutting down the use of drugs, and let the public know that you have brains in that head of yours. Remember what your older generation does and don't make the same mistakes. They can have someone fight for them and give them absolutely no thanks, or even a sign of respect. They expect you, the troops, to fight for them but on election day they send you to the sand box. Then they wonder why you're mad at the world.
Learn from their mistakes and when your time comes to vote, remember the unseen generation and the right that their lives preserved. Then thank God that they lived.