In 2017 I had written a piece for Hemmings.com that celebrated the half century of experiences associated with owning the same 1961 Corvette. It had generated a large number of thoughtful responses. However, none packed the impact of one that would come three years later.
A classic Corvette and a soldier’s old letters connect to a kid brother’s memories
In late July of this year I got an email from friend and Hemmings editor Mark McCourt. He alerted me to a comment that had just been posted to my three-year old story about the 1961 Corvette I had owned since 1967. Normal practice does not have an editor alert a writer about a posted comment.
Reading the comment took my breath away. It’s author was the “kid brother” of a dear friend who had passed away some years ago. The post stated:
“Mr. Hall, my name is John O’Brien. My late brother Maury O’Brien, one of your good friends, used to tell us that you meticulously cared for this car. I’m a car guy and it makes me feel good knowing that a car like that is still being driven and not just a trailer queen! I’d love to see it in person sometime. Feel free to contact me anytime. My cell # is (— ——). Your kind words and funny stories @ Maury’s funeral were very helpful during a difficult time! God bless you and your family!
Maury O’Brien and I had attended high school together. He possessed a wry sense of humor, great athleticism and a gifted eye as a photographer. Our mutual interest in all things photographic would seal our long friendship.
My Corvette made all our road trips a better adventure. With the top down and Wonderbar tube radio doing its best, we made countless trips to the Jersey Shore. On a slow day, we would target anyplace offering a good excuse to run some film through our Nikons.
Maury passed away in 2007 leaving behind a legion of friends and relatives who mourned his passing and celebrated his life. They still do.
John was Maury’s youngest brother, eleven years his junior. When John answered my phone call his voice carried a strong memory of his brother. We talked. We laughed. By the end of the call it was agreed that I would drive my Corvette to his house, certainly doable in an afternoon. He said that we would be joined by Maury’s two other brothers Vince and Gene and John’s 30-year old son, John, who had enjoyed a special relationship with his now departed uncle. They would come from even greater distances. His other brothers had been my friends though not as close as Maury. We had lost touch over the decades.
Even for those who have shared their lives together as caring siblings, when one passes, those remaining acquire a ready hunger for details. Somehow new memories in some small way rekindle the freshness of that life as if it still continues to be lived.
Beyond just my car I realized that I needed to bring more. I knew where to look, dusty as it might be. I save old letters.
Personal letters are the messengers of history, possessing great value for loved ones and future generations. I treasure letters. Those I possess include letters authored by a distant relative who wrote on his experiences in “Kansas Bloody Kansas” in the 1850s and the lessons learned during his life prior to and during the Civil War. I have, also, kept Maury’s letters from Vietnam written in the late 1960s.
Each letter provided four or five pages of casual but well composed reports in his voice from the engine room of the southeast Asia war machine. Their content expressed details all at once funny, intensely personal and profound in their worldly perspective.
On a beautiful bright and crisp autumn day, the O’Brien brothers and I gathered at a local restaurant. I immediately recognized old friends viewed through a filter of passing years. We toasted Maury and each in attendance did their best to compress decades of lives well lived into bite size chunks for easy group consumption.
Oldest brother Vince’s effort to recollect sports cars he had owned afforded a perfect segue into introducing Maury’s letters from Vietnam in 1969. In one letter Maury had mentioned Vince’s recent purchase of a 1968 Corvette.
Maury’s letters possessed a signature rhythm and pace. Casual references to friends and events in our hometown and requests for the latest local news would be supplemented with accounts of personal events in his life occurring beneath the tumult of a huge war. He expressed delight at the availability of Nikon camera equipment for roughly half what it would cost back home.
His observations of the world around him in 1969 are worth quoting. He wrote, “I find it hard to believe these people (South Vietnamese) are in a great period of national strife. Life goes on the same for them except the males are donning a uniform and the women work at the army base. They do not appear to know the why and the how of this war. I feel only pity for them. The only hope for a finish to this stupid thing will be an increase in pressure in North Vietnam to bring this thing to an end. At that point and that point only will the peace talks become fruitful.”
Every letter would concludes with an honest expression of need for written contact from home.
The day after meeting with Maury’s brothers I received a note from John. He wrote, “Hey Burton, thanks again for bringing the car up and sharing the letters. If you find any more letters, please let me know. My wife and I got kind of emotional reading the letters again last night. Maury was a Very Special Man! The connection between you, Maury, and that car is forever!
Clearly, both classic cars and personal letters provide vehicles capable of transporting us to good places.
Greetings Burton , My memory All I know is that by the grace of God , we made it to the F1 race at Watkins Glen and back to RP in a school ( party ) bus
with Maury and you providing Duncan and I fatherly guidance . HaHa. Blind leading the blind .
A soggy and wonderful memory and I have the photos to prove it.
This was a heartwarming story Burton..thank you so much for sharing it!!
It was a great experience to reconnect with with these really fine men who loved their departed brother.
What an awesome story! You’re a good man!! Gynn
It is a reminder of the many ways that we touch each other, sometimes unknowingly.
I’m really so pleased that your original post inspired this reunion, years on… your Corvette continues to be a magical thread through your life and others…
It appears to be more true every day. It seems the passing years enrich the value of new connections fostered by earlier experiences shared with that car.