Rain pours on me outside, while soft music warms me on the inside. “Abraham, Martin, and John,” the song, plays from this relatively new gadget called a portable, hand-held, transistor radio.
I’m on guard duty as a buck private, having been in the US Army six months now. I’m wearing a slick poncho, an “OD” green-colored sheet of material that’s like a rubber covering that got mixed with a device created just a decade earlier, called “plastic.” The poncho is “yucky.” Gives me the creeps. (I’ll refuse to wear it again during my three-year military stint. Even in the rainy seasons in Vietnam and Panama. I’ll let my clothes get soaking wet and allow them to dry, rather than permit the poncho snake-like feeling on my bare skin.)
On this day in Ft. Dix, New Jersey, however, I wear a “steel-pot” helmet and carry an M-14 rifle beneath the poncho. Ducked into a makeshift tent when the rain fell hard. It kept pouring and there was nothing for me to do, but stare out into the torrential downpour and let my mind drift.
As well as turn on the radio. And hear Dion DiMucci, formerly with Dion & the Belmonts, sing a mournful song that was more Gospel-sounding than his usual teenage rock and roll efforts of “Teenager in Love” and “I Wonder Why,” not to mention “The Wanderer” and “Donna, the Primadonna.”
He’s singing of men who gave their lives for their country, their beliefs. Persons who placed their ideals above corporeal comfort. All shot down. All killed. And growing so much larger in the wake of their assassinations.
Didn’t you love . . . the things that they stood for?
Didn’t they try . . . to find some good . . . for you . . . and me?
It’s taken me the entire length of the song, before realizing who Dion is actually singing about. John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King come easy. But, I get stuck on Abraham. (And this morning, some 40 years later, I got stuck again when the phrase from that song came to me: “… is anybody wondering …?” Abraham arises in my mind. Abraham of the Bible, the Old Testament, and the father of our world’s three major religions — Judaism, Muslim, and Christianity. I began to “wonder” if the song is supposed to stretch back to that old man. The one with a long white beard who’s prepared to kill his son — what was his name? Issac?– and in performing such a sacrifice, pass a test imposed by the Lord.)
No way can I linger with this thought, and so I switch and focus on another relatively older, bearded man named Abraham. Abraham Lincoln, whose wife, Mary Todd Lincoln convinced her husband to host a spiritualist medium to conduct the first séance at the White House. It is that Abraham the song addresses.
Has anybody here seen my old friend Abraham?
Can you tell me where he’s gone?
He freed a lot of people,
But it seems the good they die young.
You know, I just looked around and he’s gone.
The song laments the death of two presidents and a great civil rights champion, and then poses a question that only came about because of tragedy occurring six months earlier to another Kennedy. “. . . Has anybody seen my old friend Bobby? I thought I saw him walk up over the hill, with Abraham, Martin, and John.“
The rain eventually stops. So does guard duty. But the song’s message continues on to this day: “Find some good for you and me.”