Friends gather to celebrate life of terminally ill man

July 02, 2005|by ADAM BEHSUDI


Michael Kirk, a Vietnam veteran, found himself facing an illuminated stained glass window picturing a screaming eagle in flight. As the namesake of the 101st Airborne Division, the unit he served with in the war, one screaming eagle faced another.

"Wings for flight, claws to fight," said L.J. Brown, holding up the window.

A group had gathered under the pavilion at Funkstown American Legion Post 211. They had come together to show their support and appreciation for Kirk, who is terminally ill with liver cancer.

Brown said Kirk gave him the window six months ago, "when he decided to do something with his belongings." A plaque engraved with Kirk's name was attached to the bottom of the frame. The window, dedicated in his name, was being presented to hang on one of the walls of the post.


However, the crowd gathered Friday night was spirited, laughing and enjoying the pleasant summer evening with their friend.

"This event is not about you being sick," said Marlene Flippen, who organized the event. "It's celebrating many of the wonderful things you've done for us."

"I'm honored to say you are my best friend," Flippen said to Kirk in an address to the crowd.

Flippen and her boyfriend made a room available and moved Kirk into their home from where he was living in Frederick, Md. She said Kirk's health got to the point where "he couldn't live by himself," she said

"We wanted to show our gratitude and thanks for what you and many others did for our country," she said to Kirk. "You spent your 19th and 20th birthdays in the jungles of Vietnam."

The party was a surprise to Kirk. He said he didn't have a clue what was going on.

"They did a really good job hiding it," Kirk said. He said he was confused when his driver parked on the edge of the parking lot near the pavilion and not closer to the building.

Many of his family members had flown up from Florida to surprise him. Flippen even had tracked down a friend Kirk had not seen since he served with him in Vietnam. To Flippen's amazement, Kirk's long-lost friend was living in Hagerstown.

Members of Post 211's Last Man Club, an organization of Vietnam-era veterans, were present to induct Kirk into their group. They presented Kirk with two hats embossed with the club's name, a shirt and a membership card.

Mike Dornberger, the president of the 155-member club, said the last living member of the group will break open a bottle of cognac and make a toast to all of the former members.

The Herald-Mail Articles