Special to STLSportsPage
By Gary Harlan
In my recently published book, Redbirds: From Vietnam to the Ballpark, a novel by Gary Harlan, Jack Buck offers his support to an incarcerated black Marine Vietnam veteran from St. Louis.
I suspect there are authors who insert a celebrity into their narrative in order to spice up the story. I want to explain why, from both a general and personal standpoint, this is not the case with Mr. Buck’s appearance in Redbirds.
To begin with, it is not a stretch to imagine Jack Buck helping a veteran in distress. That much was made abundantly clear in Joe Buck’s eulogy for his dad:
He had the unbelievable ability to connect with everyone he came across. Social status meant nothing to him. Race, who cares? In fact, it was those people who others might consider beneath them that he went out of his way to befriend and help if he could.”
I knew about Mike Frey, the Vietnam vet paralyzed from the neck down whom Jack met at the veterans’ hospital and became Mike’s lifelong friend. I read about it in Jack’s autobiography, Jack Buck: That’s a Winner. It was also from that book that I learned about John O’Leary:
“Red Schoendienst’s wife, Mary, asked me to go see a youngster who had been burned. His name is John O’Leary. He was fooling around with some gasoline in the garage and started a fire. He had been burned so severely that all I could see when I visited were his eyes and his lips. I visited him frequently and asked others, such as Ozzie Smith and football coach Gene Stallings, to do the same. John suffered tremendously. Finally, he got well enough to come to the ballpark and I took him down to the clubhouse and into the dugout to meet the players. I needed a bath towel to mop up my tears. He lost some of his fingers, but later played soccer and now he’s attending St. Louis University.”
It wasn’t until after his death, reading the book, Remembering Jack Buck, that I learned that those were only two of the many, many acts of kindness and compassion bestowed upon others by Jack Buck. As Rob Rains wrote in his contribution to that book, “People in St. Louis didn’t realize how big a part of this community he was and how beloved he was.”
Though we never met, I was one of those people Jack Buck helped. I was a Vietnam veteran filled with anger and struggling with the urge to end it all. So, how did listening to the voice of a baseball announcer game after game, year after year help a Vietnam veteran from the Ozarks rehabilitate a sense of belonging? The answer is simple. Jack Buck was authentic.
For those interested, Redbirds: From Vietnam to the Ballpark can be purchased on Amazon, or you can order it on my website and learn more about the author. garyharlan.com.
To buy the book: CLICK HERE.
Photo by Jim Mayfield
Redbirds – On Sale Now
“Gary Harlan has written a book that accomplishes a lot of difficult tasks, crossing different genres and making it a must-read for people who like baseball, history, and the human interest aspect of watching individuals overcome mental challenges.”
–Rob Rains, editor of STLSportsPage.com, and author of 33 books mostly about the St. Louis Cardinals.
Jordan Langston married Darlene without telling her about his military service, that he was a Marine Vietnam veteran with three Purple Hearts. He chose to bury those painful memories. Inevitably, they resurface, causing Jordan to become increasingly isolated. When he discovers his wife is having an affair with her co-worker, Jordan is forced to confront the person he has become—someone with an open mind but a closed heart. He quits his job teaching philosophy at a California university, gives up on his marriage, and seriously contemplates giving up on living. He moves back to the family farm in Arkansas with his two German Shepherds.
Redbirds is the story of how a broken war veteran comes to realize the healing power of relationships. He reunites with his best friend, Lincoln Jacobs, a pioneer in the nationwide distribution of homegrown marijuana. He also reunites with Nicole, his former girlfriend who is now a widow raising a twelve-year-old boy in need of a stepfather.