Imagine sitting in a war zone in a faraway country, unsure of your own immediate future and even more uncertain about whether that future includes seeing your family again.
With an opportunity to send them a message about what's important to you, what would you say?
Al Christine faced just that situation exactly 45 years ago Monday. On July 26, 1965, while serving as a Green Beret in Vietnam, he wrote a letter to his eldest son, then-14-year-old Alex Jr.
He couldn't have known that, exactly 45 years later, Alex Jr., Brian and daughter Kathleen, along with a son who hadn't yet been born, Bobby, would be in St. Mary's Catholic Church in Augusta for his funeral.
Al Christine died July 22 at the VA Hospital in Augusta after battling the accumulated maladies of age (78) and wartime wounds.
He's the father of that daughter and those sons, including Columbia County Magistrate Bobby Christine, who was born nearly five years after his dad wrote that letter from the battlefield.
That's the same battlefield, in a broad sense, where Al earned his third Purple Heart with the wounds that left him in pain the rest of his life.
Before those life-altering wounds, Al wrote a long-distance letter to his son. Four and a half decades later, that letter emerged with other memories drawn together, along with the Christine family, to eulogize the fallen father.
It reads like this:
I have not been able to fall asleep tonight so I'll write you a letter. I hate being separated from you this way and I want to be certain that you know the reason for it.
Perhaps at times you wonder why I left you, your mother and the rest of our family. You probably resent my not being there to play with you, take you fishing, and do all those things that other fathers enjoy with their boys. Maybe you even hate me for that!
Son there are some things that a man has to do. I love you of course, just as I love your mother, and brother, and sister. Because I love you I would like very much to be with you.
I could wish for nothing more than to be with you and Sammy, to watch and help you grow up. I would enjoy that so much. For a man has nothing, if he has no sons. Because one day I'll be gone, and it is through you and your brother that I, and my name, will continue to live.
But a man has other responsibilities that are as important as a son and family. He has these responsibilities simply because he is a man, free and in America.
All of the rights and opportunities that you enjoy, and so often take for granted, do not come easily. They have been earned for us by other men and must be protected always. You do not understand that now but one day you will. You must! That is the reason I'm writing to you tonight.
Never hesitate to step out and fight for those rights, for if you hesitate, you will lose them son. If (you're) not willing to fight for them, someone will take them from you. I believe that to be true, just as sure as I believe that God gave you to me to pick up where I leave off.
I look forward to being home with you again and living the life that we did a few months ago. I want that more than anything else. But if it doesn't work out that way, please understand why I had to leave you. I know you will go on to be a man that any father would be proud of.
Exactly 45 years later, Al Christine was laid to rest, having seen Alex and his siblings "pick up where he left off." Alex become an attorney; Kathleen is a special education teacher; Brian is a physician, and Bobby is an attorney and county magistrate.
That family is one heck of a legacy for any man - especially a son of Italian immigrants who graduated from high school two years early despite entering elementary school speaking no English, and who served his country from the time he was drafted in 1953, until losing an arm and a leg in battle in 1970.
He couldn't have known that sleepless night just how things would eventually turn out, and his moving letter reflects that uncertainty.
But 45 years later, Al Christine can rest in peace. His good name lives on.
(Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. E-mail email@example.com, or call 706-863-6165, extension 106. Follow at twitter.com/barrypaschal.)
The Columbia County News-Times ©2013. All Rights Reserved.