His house was located on Berwyn Road, directly across the street from Holy Redeemer Elementary School and Church playground in College Park, MD. It was an old, large house reminiscent of something out of the movie It’s a Wonderful Life. It was a big, comfortable, welcoming house. The playground also served as a parking lot for the church services on Sundays, and it held two half basketball courts. One installed on a slight slope of the playground, the other was next to it but on the level area of the pavement. This one was the backboard of choice between the two.
Paul Cumberland was frequently found playing basketball on this court. He was a fixture of the court and neighborhood. I had always known of him through my older brothers. Although we lived about a mile away, in the Hollywood area of College Park, attending Holy Redeemer School and its after school activities brought us together. To me, being about three years younger, Paul was a unique character with a gregarious and magnetic personality. It seemed that everyone knew and liked him. I have memories of him from old 8 mm. home movies of our church confirmation with him, in form, clowning for the camera. He was on our boy’s club baseball team, The Sioux, the year our team won the championship. College Park Boys Club, 1960 “B” League Champs. I was almost 10 years old. I remember him out there on the field, playing hard with my older brothers and the rest of us, always interacting with everyone, sharing his friendship.
I have no recollection of him being shy and all my memories are of a positively oriented guy, with a magnetic, leadership personality. There are large gaps in my memories. I did not really get to know him until I was about fourteen years old. Prior to this he was known to me as a kind of legend in the area that had gone through elementary and high school with my brothers and was always on the court.
“Penny Lane there is a barber showing photographs, of every head he’s had the pleasure to know. And all the people that come and go…, stop and say hello.
Penny Lane is in my ears and in my eyes. There beneath the blue suburban skies”…
It’s funny but after all this time that song by The Beatles brings back memories of playing basketball on that level side of the blacktop in the spring of 1968. I remember him singing that song while shooting hoops. It is the only song I can remember him singing and every time I hear it to this day, some forty-five years later, I can see him in his gabardine gold/yellow pants and white T-shirt, wearing black hi-top Chuck Taylor tennis shoes, dribbling across the court, zigzagging in and out doing what he loved to do, play basketball and chat.
My friends had gotten me into playing basketball. I was never really very good, at least not as good as they were, but I tried. This brought me to that playground in the spring and summer of 1966 or 67 (?) and an emotional event that affected my life forever.
My friends, Marty, Eddie, Joe and I would all meet at the court and if Paul was not there, you’d eventually hear his screen door slam shut and we’d look up and see him coming across the street. He would be crossing the black top, working his way towards us with a big smile on his face, greeting us and eager to play and discuss current events.
Like I said, we were the little guys and he was older, in the same grade as my older brothers, Mike and Rocky Dimmick. He frequently referred to me as “junior” instead of Danny. I was the younger Dimmick, the junior Dimmick of the three oldest boys. So junior I became. Sometimes we’d show up to a game already going on and I was hesitant to get involved. I did not know most of the older, tougher guys he frequently played with. I knew I was not that good and would be seen as a holdback on a team of these rough houser’s who played to win. At the time, it was intimidating – elbows flying and tempers flaring up. But Paul was the life line. He could diffuse any situation with a few humorous remarks to calm everyone down.
I really felt that he was aware of my hesitation and I knew that he would keep an eye on me when “the rowdies” showed up.
I didn’t mind sitting these games out. I preferred to play when we “little guys” were playing with Paul minus the older, rowdy, greasy guys. At age 15, guys who are already 18 and 19 can be pretty intimidating.
“On the corner is a banker with a motor car, the little children laugh at him behind his back. And the banker never wears a mack, in the pouring rain, very strange. Penny lane is in my ears and in my eyes……A four of fish and finger pies…”
On one particular day my relationship with Paul would change. Sometimes hurtful things can bring people closer together, and make them grow. That is, if at least one of them has the maturity and personality for understanding and forgiveness.
That would be Paul.
On this day the little guys and I, “junior”, were playing basketball when that familiar screen door sounded and Paul came jogging across the lot to join us. All went well. We had been playing with my brand new basketball. The first one I’d ever owned and for an inexperienced rookie like me trying to catch up with the skills of my buddies, it was a big deal to have my own ball.
We played for awhile and then decided to go to Joe’s house. Paul never hung out with us other than playing ball on the court; after all he was in the circle of older guys. As we were leaving he asked me if he could use my ball and return it later when we played again. Now that I think of it he rarely had a ball of his own.
Now I don’t know what exactly was going on in my head at this request but all I could think of was the rowdies showing up and my ball disappearing never to be seen again. I should have known better but a lot of my experiences with this area and the court involved trying to avoid the older rowdy guys.
So it was then, out of an insecure, nervous feeling and a fear of losing my new ball that I cemented my fate.
At the time, Paul had a mild case of acne and a more serious case of poison ivy. I didn’t want to leave my ball there but I knew I should trust him. But somehow I couldn’t and the fear of losing my ball took over. I said the words I would regret.
Why is it that at times like these instead of expressing our true concerns and being direct and revealing our honest fears we often say something stupid? Hoping some feeble attempt at comic relief will get us out of an uncomfortable situation. It was then I said to him, in front of my three friends, “I wouldn’t want to leave my ball with you because you’d get your poison ivy and acne all over it.”
As these words left my mouth I sadly realized there was nothing comic about them. Paul’s expression changed immediately. A hurt, betrayed look came across his face. Everyone was silent. They say time can standstill and it did then.
I’d never seen him like this. He was always happy and smiling and now he wasn’t. After a moment he looked up at me and abruptly drop kicked my new ball that he had been holding. It sailed to the very far end of the black top and bounced off into the bushes. Then he said, “I don’t want your fucking ball.”
In the silence that followed he turned and walked back across to his house, across the porch and then came the sound of the screen door slamming closed. I stood there ashamed, alone with my three friends in silence,
“Penny lane is in my ears and in my eyes…Wet beneath the blue suburban skies. I sit and meanwhile back…..”
Marty broke the silence. He looked up at me and said, “Man you shouldn’t have said that, you really hurt his feelings.”
“Screw him,” Joe chimed in, “He didn’t have to do that!”
“No,” Marty replied with Eddie at his side in agreement, “You need to go and apologize.”
“For what?” Joe said, “It’s your ball!” “He didn’t have to kick it way over there!”
This was a turning point in my life. I felt horrible and guilty. I didn’t realize it at the time but this would be an important moment for me.
“Come on Danny,” said Marty, “I’ll go with you.” I thank God for Marty’s influence on that day and I still thank him when I think about it some forty years later.
I felt ashamed, reluctant and somewhat afraid, as Marty and I walked across the blacktop towards Paul’s house. After all the time I’d been around Paul, he’d always looked out for me and showed me nothing but friendship and here in an instant, I’d turned on him by saying something stupid, foolish and hurtful stemming from my insecurities and fear.
As we approached the door my heart was pounding. Would he yell at me, punch me or what? With Marty at my side I knocked and Paul came to the door. He looked more sad than mad. I stumbled for the right words to say. I ended up with, “I’m sorry I put you down the way I did.”
“Oh, put me down huh?” he said. Here was another instance of a poor choice of words on my part.
“No, I mean, I’m, I’m sorry I said what I said.”
He looked up at me expressionless and said something of an inaudible ok or forget it as he let the screen door close and turned away and went back into the house. We stood there a moment then walked slowly back to the court in silence. After recovering the ball, we left for Joe’s house and my guilt hung over me like a dark cloud.
The next day was Sunday. I had gone to mass with my family and as we were driving away from the parking lot, I was sitting in the backseat of our car still feeling guilty. I looked over at the basketball court where I had betrayed a trust.
There was Paul playing a hard game of basketball with some rowdies. I hoped he would not see our car but he did. As we drove past him our eyes met and he raised his arm and shook an angry fist at me and then he broke out in laughter followed by a big grin.
A wave of relief came over me as I knew I had been forgiven.
“In Penny Lane there is a fireman with an hourglass and in his pocket is a portrait of the Queen…. He likes to keep his fire engine clean… it’s a clean machine…
Penny Lane is in my ears and in my eyes…A four of fish and finger pies…”
There were other times when I relied on Paul’s oversight and presence. I remember on one occasion when Joe, Eddie and I had been walking to Joe’s house after another of the many basketball games. Back then none of us were old enough to drive let alone own a car so we walked or hitch hiked every where. Where Eddie and I lived in Hollywood, it was about a mile or so to the school and basketball court. It was another half mile to Joe and Marty’s houses in Berwyn Heights. To get to Joe’s house from the playground you had to cut through a neighborhood then cross over the rail road tracks and continue on another quarter mile to their homes.
As we approached the tracks we could see two guys about our age coming from the other direction and it seemed that they were purposely heading straight towards us. One of the guys, who we later found out was named Andy, was on foot. The other was on a banana seat bike. As we crossed the tracks they approached directly in front of us which seemed a bit strange.
Until I saw the knife, he was pointing at us.
“Ok boys, give me all your money,” he said with a smirk.
The bike rider seemed to be enjoying this as he sat there on his bike watching with a smile. Of course at first we thought it was a joke but he repeated the order and we looked at each other thinking that one of us knew him. Nope. So then we told him that we didn’t have any money.
“Turn you pockets inside out,” was his reply.
Now many things go through your head at times like this but “My” first reaction was one of compliance. I looked at Joe, who had been drinking a soda, and watched as he turned the bottle around and held it by the spout.
Upon seeing this Andy said, “If you think that you can hit me with that bottle before I can stick you with this knife then go ahead and try.”
Well what do you do in a case like that? We all turned out our pockets. Seeing we clearly had no money he backed up, moved around us and told us to move on. We did.
Feeling like we were fully taking advantage of and intimidated we discussed all the things we could have done. Would of, could of, should of and hindsight are 20/20. We could have backed up and picked up the rocks on the track bed and pelted him from a safe distance. We should have taken our belts off and swung the buckle ends at him. All the options and should haves were discussed at length in an attempt to ease the humiliation we had suffered. It wasn’t very successful.
I’m sure many a “show off” trying to impress a friend by robbing others has ended in tragedy for one or both parties. Erring on the side of caution you should probably swallow your pride. But as things went we were all intact and alive. Besides, that knife had a crisp edge and a mean looking point on it.
But we continued to spend the rest of the day dissecting the incident and discussing what would happen if we saw him again. And we did see him again.
About a week later we were back on the school lot playing basketball. An hour earlier the Cumberland’s screen door was heard making that familiar slam and we were in the middle of a game with Paul when someone saw some guy coming up the street.
“Hey isn’t that the guy who pulled the knife on us last week?”
“Yeah that’s him!”
“I wonder how brave he is now without his knife.”
At that moment Joe, Eddie myself and a few friends began running towards “knife boy Andy”. As we ran towards him we picked up any bricks, rocks or boards we saw. Upon seeing us Old Andy took off like a shot with us hot on his trail. We had him cornered against the school building when Paul Cumberland, seeing all this, called out, “Wait a minute!”
“What’s going on fellas?”
With our guy now cornered and not going anywhere, we retold the story of the attempted robbery with the knife on the railroad tracks a week before.
“Hold on now.” “Is this true?” he asked.
Actually, Andy admitted it by informing us it was a mere joke. Ha-Ha, no harm intended.
That would not satisfy our blood thirst. Paul sensed this and said,” Ok, well, if you’re going to fight, it has to be fair- no knife, bricks or boards.”
“Ok, ok, yeah,” we all agreed.
“So, who is going to fight Andy?”
Well before Paul could get the question out, my best friend Eddie had already started weaving and bobbing, throwing punches in the air saying ‘come on sucka, let’s see you now without that knife, come on! You had to love Eddie.
Andy looked at Paul, “I’m not going to fight him, he knows how to box, that’s not fair.”
“Well ok,” Paul said, “Who else then? Joe?” I could tell by the look on his face that he didn’t want to fight this guy. But he gave his best “I know karate” and threw a lame kick in the air. Again, Andy looked to Paul and said, “He knows karate, I can’t fight him either.”
Well everybody looked around and all eyes looked at me! Yikes! I thought, I’m mad at this guy but I’ve never been much of a fighter, not like Eddie, who came from D.C., with an aggressive attitude and wasn’t afraid of getting hurt.
“Ok Junior,” Paul said, “your up.”
Well I’ve gotta say, “Thank God for Eddie and his dad.” About two months prior to this I watched them spar in their basement. His father was a golden gloves winner in his prime. Kind of playing, punching at each other-open handed, jabbing from a fighter’s stance, blocking and countering incoming punches. I was fascinated. So whenever we could, Eddie showed me how to do this. We often sparred open handed; half speed because I was just learning the basics. Jab, punch, block, jab, jab and cross.
Now I was about to put it into action. Trying not to show it, I was more than a bit scared. This might have played out differently than it did that day if it had taken place anywhere else. But, today we were on the basketball playground with Paul Cumberland. I knew he would keep it fair and honest, and break it up if things got out of hand. Paul’s presence gave me a feeling of confidence and helped me overcome my fear.
Well, the circle of hungry wolves widened with Andy, Paul and me in the middle. I took my newly acquired boxing stance that Eddie and his dad had recently taught me and waited. Andy squared-up with me, and then he went into a kind of baseball wind up and jumped at me while swinging his right fist at my head. I quickly threw a left jab, timed to beat his punch. My jab landed squarely on his nose beating his right punch. He stopped cold, backed up rubbing his nose then went into his wind up again. The same exact sequence unfolded, pop! Another left jab right on his nose again. He backed up, wound up and for a third time, attempting his jumping right punch which was beaten again by my third jab directly on his nose.
“Ok, ok, he can beat me, ok!” he called out to Paul.
“Ok then,” Paul said, “It’s settled now.” “Go on.” “This is over.”
Then Paul said something to the effect that if he heard of Andy pulling a knife again he’d regret it. Well it was done and I came out looking pretty good and very relieved. But I knew then, all too well, that if Paul had not been there, overseeing the fight and instilling confidence in me, I could have gotten hurt. I can’t tell the story without thinking of how important it was for my confidence that Paul was there.
“Behind the shelter in the middle of a roundabout, the pretty nurse is selling poppies from a tray and tho’ she feels as if she’s in a play, she is anyway. Penny Lane is in my ears and in my eyes. There beneath the blue suburban skies…..”
For fourteen/fifteen year old guys like Eddie and I, leaving our Hollywood Road area of town, walking the mile or so to Berwyn to play ball could make you a little nervous. A lot of jerks lived there and looked to pick on any outsiders. Paul Cumberland’s house, being right there in the heart of things, knowing he was around and that he would look out for us, gave me a secure feeling. So we often made the trek to Berwyn to meet Joe and Marty at the basketball court always expecting Paul to join us.
He was such a charismatic guy. Another memory I have of taking refuge in his presence was on a chilly fall night. Marty, Eddie and I had been dropped off at a football game that night at Northwestern High School. After the game, we headed out on the five mile trip home stopping off at a dance at St. Mark’s Church on Adelphi Road. I can’t believe how much we walked in those days and at night.
As the dance was letting out we had a hostile encounter with some guys that didn’t amount to much but a slight scuffle and was shortly broken up by the chaperone priest there. This may have been an omen of what was to happen later that night.
Well from St. Mark’s we walked through the University of Maryland campus as a short cut. We worked our way up Route 1 to Berwyn Road and headed down it to Holy Redeemer Elementary School, and its lot across from Paul’s house where all our basketball adventures took place. It was about 11 p.m. and very dark as we walked past Paul’s house. On the corner of the playground was a small store with a large, wooded porch. Owens’s Store, a small mom and pop operation, a type you don’t see these days.
Beckoning me to the store porch was the Coke machine, its light, a small glow in the dark. As we headed for it we could hear voices carrying on in the dark, rowdy voices. In the far corner of the lot against the school, two cars were parked. Some guys were obviously drinking beer.
“Oh shit! Maybe they won’t see us.”
We knew they had cars and beer, so obviously they were older and likely bigger and meaner than us. We weren’t very mean, hardly. As we approached the porch one of the cars started up and was coming our way.
We looked at each other and quickly realized we needed a flight plan. Our immediate thought was that these guys had to be able to hurt us. We knew: it’s late at night; they’re older, have cars and are drinking beer. As the car approached we quickly devised a plan. When Marty gave the word, we’d take off running and meet up on the next street over. We were, at that moment, programmed for flight.
It’s funny to think back on this now, we probably could have taken those guys, I know Eddie could have if the conditions were like the ‘Andy fight’ with Paul there. But Paul was not there and it was dark and they had cars, beer, and had to be at least sixteen or most likely older, and we were clearly in ‘Indian Territory’, Berwyn.
Well what happened next I’m really not so proud of, but again, fear can do funny things to a fifteen year old kid in Indian Territory, in the dark, with a car load of drunken guys approaching.
With the car quickly approaching, I was on the porch putting my money in the machine. It’s light betraying our presence. Marty was off the porch behind me at the street edge. Eddie (forgive me Eddie) was on the other end on the porch past me when the car screeched to a halt beside us and three guys poured out. Two stayed in front of the porch as one short, fat guy, who I vaguely recognized, as a guy referred to as ‘Porky’ approached me. He was drunk and wobbly, but that didn’t matter we were already programmed for the flight not fight plan.
I could have knocked him down had I prepared myself to fight but the timing and conditions of their appearance said ‘run and run like hell’ to our brains and meet on the next street over. As this guy approached me I was waiting for Marty’s signal to run.
When Porky came towards me he asked, “What are you guys doing here?”
I quickly invoked the name of the well known caretaker of us outsiders who trespass in Berwyn.
“Hey” I said,” Do you know Paul Cumberland?” “He’s our friend.” “He lives right over there” as I pointed to his house across the street.
I guess he didn’t, because with his next step his fat, pudgy arm took a wild swing at my face. I can see that slow punch coming towards me now. I could have hit him, nailed him good. Another woulda, coulda, shoulda moment. As I side stepped his swing Marty yelled out, “Run!” That’s all I needed, “Bingo!” “That’s the signal.” Marty took off down the street, Eddie, the opposite way, across the playground with two guys hot on his tail. As I ran after Marty I could see another guy was going to cut me off. I pounced in front of him and gave the best karate animal yell I could, “EEEYAH!”
He froze for a moment giving me time to make a sharp right and flee. As I was running away I glanced over my shoulder and saw the two guys closing in on Eddie.
“Leave him alone!” I yelled over my shoulder without breaking my stride and ran off in Marty’s direction into the darkness, leaving Eddie to fend for himself. Like I said, “I’m not too proud of that moment.” After about ten minutes of running I found Marty two blocks over. We both asked, “Where was Eddie?” I was the last to see him being set upon by the two guys. Again, this was not one of my best moments. We walked around the area calling his name, afraid to go back to the blacktop. I was feeling guilty about abandoning him there on the blacktop. After about thirty minutes, as Marty and I were walking down the street another block over, we looked up and saw a car coming. We both hesitated and thought, “Isn’t that the bad guy’s car?” “No, it’s Eddie’s father’s car coming towards us and Eddie was inside.” “What?” “How?”
His father stopped the car; we got in and were taken home with no mention, in front of his dad, of what had happened. Later that night, Eddie told his tale. It seems that my yelling, “Leave him alone” over my shoulder as I fled the scene had no real threatening effect on the perpetrators, duh! Eddie, who had played a lot of football, said he pulled a “Gale Sayers” on the guys.(Gale Sayers was, at the time, a famous football player) He faked a run one way, made a sharp right and grabbed the guy closest to him by the shoulder and threw him to the ground. He then made a straight run to ‘sanctuary’- Paul Cumberland’s house. Through the front yard, up on the porch and right into Paul’s house.
Turns out Mrs. Cumberland was napping on the couch with the door open. Eddie didn’t even knock, and through the screen door he flew! As she sat up a bit startled. Eddie introduced himself as a friend of Paul’s and asked if he could use the phone to call his dad for a ride home. Within minutes of his call home, a car pulled up outside and dropped Paul off from enjoying a night of drinking himself. When asked why he was there Eddie told Paul the whole story.
Hearing this Paul said he was going to find out about this! He then proceeded to head out the door and across the parking lot towards the parked cars. Eddie, following, was telling him it was ok, not a big deal but the tipsy Paul was determined to confront our antagonists.
As they approached the parked cars Paul called out, “Who’s been messing with my boys?”
Where upon an older guy, who was not one of the guys who had pursued us, came towards Paul. A small argument ensued and Paul said something to the effect of we’ll see about this and took off his sweater and leaned over to set it on the ground. As he was straightening up the guy punched him in the head with his left fist and then a right fist sending Paul head over heels, which in his current state would not have been too hard to do. His reaction was, “Wait a minute now.” “Let’s talk about this.”
A few more words were exchanged to calm the situation and at about this time Eddie’s father pulled up in his car. Paul returned home and Eddie climbed in with his dad and they drove off and found Marty and I nervously wandering around the corner.
Now how do you thank a guy like this? He had taken two punches for us on a night when he could have come home and gone to bed to sleep it off. Instead, he’s over in the school parking lot past midnight, looking out for us.
I will never forget the influence Paul has had on me. He was truly a unique character. I’m not sure if he was ever aware of my admiration for him. His actions of looking out for us were greatly appreciated and that appreciation has stayed with me even to this day.
Where does a guy like this come from? Is he a product of nature or nurture? Why is it that so few people shine like this, particularly at such a young age? I have been fortunate to have known him.
“In Penny Lane the barber shaves another customer, we see the banker sitting waiting for a trim. And the fireman rushes in…from the pouring rain, very strange…Penny lane is in my ears and in my eyes. There beneath the wet suburban skies. A four of fish and finger pies…”
And each time I hear “Penny Lane” these memories come back to me as if it was just a short time ago that we were playing basketball with Paul on that warm, sunny playground.
Within a few months Paul joined the Marine Corps. He arrived in Viet Nam on July4th 1968.
His service occupation was listed as 0311 which means that he was a Marine infantry rifleman. He achieved the rank of Corporal, grade E4.
He was assigned to the 3rd Marine Division, 3rd Battalion, 26th Marine Regiment, “L” company, known as Lima, 1st rifle platoon.
Men in these units were the “Boots on the Ground” infantry soldiers who often found themselves in the thick of the jungle fighting.
They were brought by helicopters to drop zones in the middle of the jungle. They would carry out search and destroy missions with a goal of engaging the enemy and collecting any information on their movements. Often times, they were the bait. When these patrols
erupted into sudden firefights, they would return fire and when possible, radio in artillery strikes on the enemy’s positions. After many days and nights of this dangerous cat and mouse game in the jungle, they would work their way to a pick up point for extraction. After a very brief rest, they would gear up and be sent out again. This was the life of Marine infantry soldiers in Viet Nam.
On one of these missions, as described by fellow soldier Bernie “Pops” Robertson, Paul had a close call. “We were moving out one morning, going up the hill when “Charlie” opened up. The word was passed that Paul was hit. I went to where the squad was. There he was, standing tall. I ask, Where are you hit? There was no blood at all. Everyone was amazed.
The front of Paul’s utility shirt had two or three holes in it. On his back, where his canteens were, well, they had (bullet) holes in them also. It was hard to believe, but it did happen.”
In early January of 1969, about 6 months into his 1 year tour of duty, Paul’s unit was involved in what was described by CW04 Dennis Powers, USMC retired, as “4 devastating operations”.
They were: Operations Defiant Measure/ Russell Beach which took place from
13 January to 9 February 69, followed by operations Bold Mariner/Taylor Common, 10 February to 23 March 1969.
Based on information from declassified documents found in the Military Archives in College Park, during Operation Defiant Measure/Taylor Common, which took place in the notorious “Arizona Territory” located in Military region 1, Quang Nam near the city of An Hoa, “enemy strength was estimated at about 1100-1200 VC/NVA.”
“The weather at this time of year averaged about 83 degrees with the humidity at about 77%. The terrain was primarily dry rice paddies. There were areas that were overgrown with thick weeds, bush and elephant grass. The entire A.O. (area of operation) had tree-lines that were generally around villages and separating rice paddies. Dominant features within the “Defiant Measure/Taylor Common”, A.O. were: Hill 65 to the North, and the Song Vu Gia and Song Thu Bon rivers. A mountain range and a ridge line runs from the West to the East in the center of the A.O.
The tactic employed by the Battalion Landing Team became that of companies searching assigned A.O.s and looking for contact with the enemy. This proved to be very effective as the enemy in this area seemed to be well established and willing to make contact.
Action in the area was characterized by constant sniping at the moving companies from all sides with 5-6 NVA following each company as it moved. A stop would result in sporadic sniper fire and incoming M-79 fire. Re-supply and med-evacs became a problem due to the concentration of fire received by a helicopter when it approached the companies.”
Sometime around the second or third week of February, and in the middle of the fighting, Paul was sent on a well deserved R and R to Bangkok, Thailand.
When he returned in the early morning hours, to his base of operations, he was greeted by an incoming barrage of mortar rockets. He took refuge in the closest bunker, where while there, he was surprised to see his squad leader from his boot camp days back in the States. John Trickey had also just arrived with a demolition team. While hunkered down and waiting for the attack to end, they discussed their time in Viet Nam since boot camp days and shared stories of R and R adventures in Bangkok.
Shortly after the morning attack Paul met up with his platoon only to be given the sad news that a friend of his, Cpl.Thomas Skally, (from Missouri) had been killed while Paul was away.
Anthony Maida, whom I have recently corresponded with, gave me this account of the action Cpl. Thomas Skally was involved in: “I had just joined Lima 3/26 and was assigned to the 3rd platoon. This was my first patrol. We had Cpl. Skally’s squad on point. We encountered a sniper. Another solider, PFC. Gunderson who was the point man was hit, he also died. Cpl. Skally went to rescue him and he was shot and killed.” He told me that he did not remember ever meeting Paul but also added that it was 40 years ago and some things fade and some things never go away like Gunderson and Skally.
He followed up with saying that; “A company is like a big extended family and the platoon is like a group of brothers. You are always together in a combat zone. You eat, sleep, and hang out with, fight and die with the same group of guys. You share all with this group. The bond is very strong and you never again find anything like it.”
After learning of his friend’s death Paul was eager to go out on patrol.
The following is an account of what took place on that day by Corpsman Joe Hancock. His statement was placed on the Virtual Wall version of the Viet Nam Veteran’s Memorial: “Paul had just gotten off the helicopter from returning from R&R. He found out that his good friend Tom Skally had been killed while he was away. We were gearing up for a patrol on a ridgeline and Paul insisted on going on the patrol.
We tried to talk him out of it. The patrol came under fire from a small tree line and Paul was killed instantly. I got to him fairly quickly, but there was nothing I could do. He was respected by all of his fellow Marines and a privilege to have known.”
According to the documents found in the National Archives Dated 27 Feb.69, reference to that day states: “Near the end of the month, heavy contact was made by Lima company, which on 27 Feb, killed 75 NVA/VC confirmed, and destroyed two .50 Caliber anti-aircraft sites.”
Also dated as 27 February it is noted: “at 13:45 hours Lima 1 received sniper fire from 03 enemy. Lima returned fire with s/a (small arms) and called 81mm mission. Results: 01 USMC KIA, 01 USMC, WIAE.”
Cpl. Paul Anthony Cumberland was killed in action on February 27, 1969, just about a month before his 20th birthday, March 25th.
Marine Bernie “Pops” Robertson spoke about Paul and said, “He was a Marine’s Marine, an outstanding Marine. I remember him always cheering us up with his good sense of humor.”
In another correspondence with CWO4 Dennis J. Powers, USMC Retired, he stated:” I fought with Skally and Cumberland. Rest assured, they fought with courage and honor as US Marines while with the 3/26.”
At that time I was in the eleventh grade at St. Anthony’s High School in Washington D.C. The same High School Paul and my older brothers had graduated from in 1967. I was sitting in class in early March when our class was interrupted with the announcement giving us the news that Cpl. Paul Anthony Cumberland had been killed in combat in Viet Nam. It hit hard. It did not seem possible that such an outgoing, charismatic, wonderful person with a life so full of positive energy was gone.
As I changed classes and walked through the hallways I noticed a simple, hand written sign someone had posted on the wall. It read: “Lives like Paul Cumberland’s don’t end, they go on.” I truly believe this.
Today I bought a new basketball. Along with this writing, I will take it down to “The Wall’, addressed to Cpl. Paul Anthony Cumberland. I will leave a note asking Paul to accept this ball as a replacement for the ball I should have loaned him so long ago.
In Penny Lane there is a barber showing photographs,
of every head he’s had the pleasure to know…
and all the people that come and go,
stop and say hello…
On the corner is a banker with a motorcar
The little children laugh at him behind his back.
And the banker never wears a mack…
in the pouring rain, very strange….
Penny Lane is in my ears and in my eyes.
There beneath the blue suburban skies….