“It did not run today!!!!!!!
“I am upset!!!!!”
And so began the first email of the morning on Veterans Day, Nov. 11.
Carl Maples had submitted a story about his brother for “In Country,” The New Mexican’s 32-page insert dedicated to those who served in the Vietnam War. When Maples, 81, did not see his words and his brother’s picture in the package, he let his fingers to the talking.
Lack of space was our justification for omitting a few submissions from the publication, which aimed to tell the stories of those who fought a war that was as deadly as it was unpopular. Not knowing exactly how many responses we’d get or interest we’d create, we were simply hoping there would be enough to tell a collective story for generations who didn’t remember Vietnam much, or at all.
When we got too many submissions for the space allotted, we — I — did what newspaper editors always do when there’s too much copy and not enough real estate.
“Maybe you have an excuse for not printing all of our stories or will apologize and I guess that will make you feel better, but it won’t make the feeling of being disrespected again … go away,” wrote one vet.
Lack of space didn’t fly with Carl Maples, either. He saw it as a lack of sense.
Upon reflection, he probably was right, so I invited him to visit at length so we could talk about the Vietnam vet he’d written about — his brother, Keith, whose life was ended by the war, though his place of death was right here in the U.S.
“It’s still not easy,” said Carl Maples, who has lived in Santa Fe for about 10 years after creating a career as a professional photographer in Houston. “I still haven’t [gotten over it.]”
The hard part is, it looked like Keith Maples had survived Vietnam. He went there in 1967 and served in a U.S. Army infantry unit that was torn apart by a landmine. Some of his fellow soldiers were killed. Maples was wounded but got off the battlefield alive. He was sent to Tokyo for treatment and from there, he was shipped back to San Antonio in his home state of Texas.
“It was pretty bad,” Carl said of his younger brother’s wounds. “I can’t remember exactly how bad. I’m trying to remember if he was on crutches. Seems like he was, but I’m not positive.”
Either way, Keith, 21, was home for Christmas, a gift and a relief to the boys’ parents, Carl T. Maples and Annie Lee Maples. For the first time since Vietnam came to their home, it seemed as if all would be right.
And then Keith went out for a drive by himself on Christmas Eve 1967 and never came home.
Carl said his brother was killed in a single-car accident — a cruel and awful postscript to Keith’s military service. Exactly what happened, he is not sure. What’s certain is this: Keith was buried in a family plot in Huntsville, Texas. And though there are times when Carl has thought about having his remains moved to Santa Fe National Cemetery, so he could be closer, Keith remains in Texas.
Loss is never an easy river to cross, and it’s clear Maples — like almost everyone who served, not to mention those left behind — still wonders what might have been for his kid brother.
“Daily, at least,” he responds to the obvious question: How often do you wonder about Keith?
“I think about him a lot,” he says. “I’ve thought about him a lot. I had no idea what he would have done. I was going to try to get him to go to college, and I think he would’ve listened to me. Past that, I can’t tell you. I’m biased, but he was a really good guy.”
Like many at the time, Keith went to the Army after receiving everyone’s favorite letter from the 1960s, a greeting from the Selective Service System. “He wasn’t happy with being drafted,” Carl recalled, “but I don’t remember him dreading being drafted. My dad was a captain in World War II, one of my uncles was a sergeant.”
Carl holds onto the memories they made before Keith went into the service. The boys’ dad had run a pool hall on the north side of Houston when they were kids, so they knew how to shoot some stick and didn’t mind hustling unsuspecting hicks at bars in the Houston area. Carl was senior to Keith by nine years and, yeah, Keith was the kid brother, but he was also bigger in size and maybe presence.
One night after leaving a bar, Carl recalls a guy apparently looking for trouble backing into his car. An altercation ensued — until Keith ended it.
“My brother came over and knocked him on his ass and said, ‘Let’s go,’ ” Carl remembers with a sly smile.
It’s been more than 50 years, but Carl Maples has a few more stories. They’re poignant, funny, sad. Mostly, though, they’re full of life — the kind that linger through time and let us know someone was here on this Earth.
Keith Maples, we remember.
Phill Casaus is editor of The New Mexican.