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When The Drum Major Died – Review by Martha A. Cheves, Author of Stir, Laugh, Repeat; Think With Your Taste Buds; A Book and A Dish
“The thick jungle, and the heat. It was too much. They had to cut their way through vines and over growth. No path had been laid out like usual. It was native tropical forest, untouched. They had been through their own war.” Clifford lowered his head. He teared up, redness swallowing the whites around his irises. “Towards the middle of the night the Viet Cong heated up their firing. We thought it was all over, that in the next moment their entire company would descend on us. I lost track of Ennis. Like me he was trying to keep focus on his men amid the fighting and keep them alert. Firing died down about one the next morning. We began to hope. Then one of my men reported seeing a soldier dragged off. By morning twenty-five men lay with their necks slit.” “Not more than ten yards from me Ennis lay dead.”…. “I never got to say “Good-bye,” Clifford said, barely audible. Neither had Florina.
Florina had met Ennis while in college. They found themselves deeply in love and married just before he left as a First Lieutenant in the US Army on his way to Vietnam. Many saw him as a white man but Ennis’s mother was of both Negro and Cherokee heritage. This was no problem for Florina since she was of the Negro race but very light skinned. But due to his heritage, she decided to keep both Ennis and their marriage a secret from her family until after her graduation. This never took place. Ennis was killed in action while in Vietnam.
Life goes on for Florina. She found a great man and husband in Dr. Redmond Austin, one of only 3 black doctors in the small North Carolina town of Poinsettia… Redmond, his father and Macon Elders. But as all lives come with baggage...hers was in continuing to keep Ennis and their marriage a secret, Redmond’s baggage came in the form of Agnes, Macon’s wife as well as their next door neighbor.
Now and then I run across a book that has a story that simply tugs at my heart with its love/hate relationships. This is one of those books but this is more than just a love story. I grew up with boys I went to school with being drafted to fight in the Vietnam War. I grew up with segregation going on all around the little town where I lived just outside of Atlanta. I also grew up confused as to the way both white and blacks treated the one boy that was admitted to my high school. He wasn’t accepted by either race. Why? He was light skinned. I never understood the problem. As I read, When The Drum Major Died, after all these years, I have begun to understand. If you grew up as a baby boomer, especially in the south, this is a book I recommend you read. It is beautiful, educational and simply a wonderful book to read.