by Chip Lamb (faculty) –
In a few weeks we will break our routine and gather as a school. We will sit down and eat together and enjoy each other’s company over a dinner that is made just for us. And then we will gather in the auditorium a few minutes later and we will do something unusual. We will celebrate the life of a Pomfret student who died a long time ago. But this celebration will look and sound a little different than most.
Two and half years ago, Mr. Diaz made an announcement after sit-down lunch. He asked us to remember that it was Veterans Day, and to take a moment to remember those brave men and women who had put themselves at risk for us. It was a brief moment, but one that stuck with me. Maybe because there seemed to be so little recognition of his announcement, despite the fact that our country was fighting two wars at the time. Maybe because my nephew had just been deployed to Iraq. Maybe because whether I like or not, I am a child of war. The moment stuck.
Later that evening, I walked into this chapel. I read the names on these plaques—all these names of Pomfret students who died in war. It was overwhelming. These wars were so long ago and there were so many names. But then I noticed this plaque, with just two names. I wrote them down, walked back to my office, and turned on my computer.
Two and a half years ago, I did not intend to write a play. I really didn’t know what I was doing. But suddenly I started to learn about a Pomfret student —a member of this school community just like me, just like you —I knew nothing about. Loring Bailey, Jr., known by his nickname Ring, class of 1963. A boy from Connecticut, an average student who lived and worked here. Who was probably late to class a few times, who rowed crew and wrestled, who was editor of the yearbook, who had too much homework, worried about exams, lived in the Bricks. Within a few days, I had the name of a man who was a friend of Ring’s after he left Pomfret, graduated Trinity College, and enlisted in the Army during the height of the Vietnam war. I was a little nervous when I arranged a lunch meeting. I still didn’t know what I was doing.
Through the friendship, trust, and the patience of others, I began to learn who Ring Bailey was—what he stood for, what he loved, what worried him, and what he dreamed about. By reading and re-reading 250 pages of letters that were written to his family, his wife Maris and friends, Ring’s world opened to me and I could hear his voice—self deprecating, witty, sometimes mocking. But also understanding, reassuring, hopeful and loving. And, gradually, those letters — that voice — inspired me to write a play and share it with this community.
After finding out about 70lbs of Books, people have asked, “so what was your motivation to write this play?” I am not sure I have a straightforward answer. But maybe it has something to do with this. Many years ago, a young woman from just outside Boston joined the Navy, and a farm boy from Indiana joined the Marines. She trained to be a physical therapist and he trained to be a soldier. She was stationed outside Chicago, he was shipped to the South Pacific. She helped the wounded. He was wounded. They met in a hospital and he asked her on a date. She said no. But he was relentless.
These people are my mother and father. I am a child of war. Today, I wear my father’s dog tag next to the one we had made for Ring. And I am lucky enough to share this moment with my mother who sits right there. Maybe this is where my story and Ring’s intersect.
The stories of war include death and destruction, cruelty, heartbreak. Ernest Hemingway, Ring’s favorite author once wrote, “We know war is bad. Yet sometimes it is necessary to fight. But still war is bad and any man who says it is not is a liar.”
When we gather in the auditorium just less than a month from today on May 9th for 70lbs of Books, you will see and hear the trappings of war and it can be frightening. Guns and explosions and the realities of war are part of this story. But you will also experience other things: friendship, loyalty, devotion, and compassion. You will see the work of students, faculty, staff, alumni and guest artists, working together to create something that never existed before: an amalgam of live music, choreographed movement, film and theater. One Pomfret student’s story that began, for me, with the thoughtful words of a colleague. Thanks, Arthur.
It is fitting that I speak of this event here in this chapel and I thank Mr. Fisher for the opportunity. Because Ring Bailey is here, his name is right there on the plaque that Mr. Atwood carved with his hands. He is part of this beautiful place. He is part of us.
In his last letter, Ring wrote, “ . . . to be remembered is an honor . . . ” By remembering this fellow Pomfret student, you bring honor to him, to how he lived and how he died. By honoring him, this story is transformed. It is no longer Ring’s story, or mine. This story is ours.