November 21, 2008
My cousin Joe McLaughlin waited thirty-five years after Viet Nam to die. God only knew how many episodes of post-traumatic stress had rattled his soul after his stint as a combat medic ended, but still, he was barely sixty. Perched among the red-white-and-blue flower sprays at the Maroni Funeral Home in North Providence, Rhode Island, he looked small and pale in the metallic casket his family had chosen for him. The lining puffed like clouds around his head, and an American bald eagle with an olive branch did what it could to signal peace.