"Our republic and its press will rise or fall together." Joseph Pulitzer
Photo: Debra Reid, Sparks Tribune
I hope you understand I just had to go back to the island.
Leon Russell, 1942-2016
brother died for his country. Twice.
Larry Barbano, 1947-2023
Barbwire by Andrew Quarantino Barbáno / Special Veterans Day Edition 11-11-2023
My brother Larry gave his life for his country. Twice.
His first life ended that day in 1968 when he boarded a transport to Vietnam. The jovial kid I grew up with never completely returned to central California.
Larry Barbano by Renate Neumann
In a younger day, when he had more hair on his scalp and less on his face, he couldn't buy a beer in San Francisco because so many people mistook him for the Grateful Dead's Jerry Garcia.
Barbwire Man as Renate saw him
We lived west of the Fresno Street railway underpass.
Larry had been used to the pleasant chaos of an Italian household on "B" Street, the onetime Barbano enclave in an old "ItalianTown" which was already a fading memory by the time we were growing up in the 1950s.
The Westside was an ethnic melting pot worthy of old New York on its best day.
Old Fresno had been segregated by ethnicity: ItalianTown, ArmenianTown, PortugueseTown, ChinaTown, RussianTown, GermanTown.
There was even a uniquely named section for the black underclass, Jericho. I never heard of a "MexicanTown" but Latinos were very much part of the rich fabric of our neighborhood.
As with many immigrant communities, my family labored as farmworkers and eventually started small businesses.
My dad, Andrew Henry Barbano, owned the Barbano Motor Company garage. Mom started Mary's Regal Drive-In Cafe across "B" street.
The Fresno Bee erected a tin shed district house behind the diner for newsboys (there were no newsgirls) to fold their papers for delivery.
My enterprising younger brother became an all-star Bee "carrier salesman," winning trips to Disneyland and saving his earnings to buy the most boss 1960 Oldsmobile convertible ever to drag main down Fulton Street.
Mary's customers were a cross-section of America: priests, truckers, letter carriers, police officers, union men, accountants, teachers, TV anchors, salesmen, mechanics, farmers, morticians and a bevy of world class boxers from the Merced Street Gym half a block away. We learned from all of them.
Mary's diner fed them all, with the help of two little boys who grew to manhood working there.
On March 24, 1962, Larry and I were home with dad next door to the cafe watching the Emile Griffith-Benny Paret welterweight title fight.
Suddenly, mom yelled across the parking lot, calling us back to work. The place had filled up at closing time. Ike and Tina Turner's entire entourage had stopped in on their way to a show at Fresno's Kearney Bowl.
We walked into the best dressed clientele that Mary's place ever had. They ordered a couple dozen jumbo burgers, fries and Cokes. Back then, "basketburgers" cost a princely 39 cents.
Such was the pleasantly chaotic world we grew up in, a world that ended by fire for my bro.
He never talked much about combat but carried war with him always. For the rest of his life, he needed an orderly environment because chaos was no longer his friend.
"You wouldn't believe how dirty I am now," he once wrote to mom.
The only story he ever told me involved his platoon being pinned down in a jungle firefight. His lieutenant screamed "they need a machine gun on the right flank!" The Barbano kid jumped up and ran into a hail of bullets with a machine gun on his shoulder.
The Americans survived and he was nominated for a Silver Star. Which the brass instead awarded to his lieutenant.
After he came home, there were years of healing, retail work and college. He earned bachelor's and master's degrees in social work from Fresno State. Larry went to work for the Veterans Administration, counseling fellow warriors suffering from PTSD (originally known as "shell shock") and other maladies.
He understood veterans because he shared their emotional and physical wounds.
He beat our family history of diabetes only to contract it by spending a year under the toxic jungle defoliant Agent Orange. Many of his army buddies died young from it, most without any family history of the malady.
My Bro also got malaria in the jungles of southeast Asia..
The decades finally took their toll.
Working with shell-shocked vets eventually overwhelmed him and he switched to counseling those with other needs like dialysis.
In many ways, his post-war life was a quest for order. His Bay Area northern California home always looked ready for a sparkling TV commercial.
He drove to veterans events in a perfectly maintained 1973 Chevrolet pickup infamous for its explosive side-saddle gas tanks.
After 'Nam, living a little dangerously just did not bother him.
He gave his second life to taking care of veterans, then the time came for veterans to take care of him.
He often spent six hours a day in a gym and lost a lot of weight. No more cigarettes or beer. His diabetes progressed to a point where attempting to walk was like stepping onto hot coals, he told me.
He was treated for that at the Palo Alto Veterans Medical Center while awaiting major surgery on his back. He was bedridden for his final four months.
Lawrence Vincent Barbano checked out of the Hotel California on October 18, 2023, exactly two months short of his 76th birthday. He lies in the Igo, California, veterans cemetery near Redding, the closest to his immediate family in Oregon.
He leaves his wife, Dr. Donna Horn, a son Mark (Molly), two grandchildren, Italian cousins from California to Brazil to Italy.
My bro did his best to manage the chaos foisted upon him by combat through calming the woes of those who suffered likewise.
With this world descending again into perpetual war, he left me asking just one question: When do we stop making more veterans?
Rest in peace, bro. You did good.
Letter to the Lord of War
For my bro Larry Barbano, 1947-2023
Barbwire by Andrew Quarantino Barbáno / Expanded from the Sparks Tribune 10-25-2023