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Here in New England | The Man Who Listens to Soldiers

“People have asked me,” Coffin says, “‘How did you do it? How did you do seven extensions past age 60?’ I’ll tell you how I did it. I saw you seeing me in each other. I couldn’t have made it a day without you. I love you. So now we are at the end of something.” And then Colonel Coffin, who always said that he had to be the last man standing, drops to one knee, his arm outstretched: “Thank you, my friends, my sisters and brothers, for all you’ve shown me. It’s been the opportunity of a lifetime. Thank you.”

In late October, Colonel Jon Coffin (Retired) boarded a plane for the West Coast. At a Middlebury College reunion, he’d met a woman who’d been a classmate a lifetime ago. They’d been talking ever since, two, three hours a day. He calls her his “lady friend.” He’d just moved back to Maine, living in an apartment only minutes on foot from his son and daughter and his three young grandchildren. His landlord had told him that he could dig up a strip of turf and plant flowers, the only release he’d ever found from work. He’d brought with him three dahlias that he has kept since the wars began.

“They’re redemptive” he said. “You put them down in a quiet basement, let them regenerate. They can look dead; you may even throw them in your compost. But come spring, here they are. They’ve come back. They’re alive.”

He plans on staying out West for a week, maybe two, seeing where it all leads. Maybe he’ll find a way to finally gain distance; maybe he can bless himself; maybe he’ll find what he has tried to give to soldiers for so many years, what all soldiers yearn for, but what in the end remains so elusive.


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Updated Friday, December 14th, 2012

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