Fifty one years ago I returned to my family’s home in Chilmark after spending a year fighting in the Vietnam war. I thought I would just jump back into the Vineyard life I had left, but I was a broken man and nothing felt the same any more. My family and friends were so kind to me with their generosity; I was showered with love, free food and drinks.

After spending 30 days on leave in freedom, it was time for me to get back and serve my remaining six months in the U.S. Army, at Fort Lewis, Washington. I was torn between returning to duty or flying to Pennsylvania to visit a girl I knew from the past, a girl named Lenore. Lenore’s family had rented a cottage in Menemsha for a few summers and I became good friends with them. Lenore wrote to me a lot while I was overseas, and she and her parents invited me to visit them when I returned.

When I got to Logan Airport I bought a ticket to Pennsylvania instead of buying one to Washington. I was going AWOL and didn’t care, an offense that could land me in jail, but I didn’t care.

I spent a week with Lenore where her parents were renting near the Chesapeake. I was 21 and Lenore was 18. It was a wonderful week of sailing, catching crabs, swimming, good conversations, laughter and eating delicious meals. I hadn’t seen Lenore for a couple of years, she was a beautiful young lady with the best smile and laugh, but she had changed. We all have our demons and a demon was troubling Lenore.

Before I left to fly to Washington, I gave Lenore a peace medallion that I bought from a young Vietnamese boy when I first arrived in Vietnam. I explained to her that the metal peace sign gave me a lot of hope and strength while in the war, and I wanted her to have it. I felt that she might benefit from it as I had.

Lenore died close to a year ago, and we had lost touch over many years.

Last week I got a message on my phone from my friend Christine, telling me that someone left a package for me at the fish market. After a busy day of mowing, I entered the fish market, sweaty and tired. I had no idea what this package might be but I was hoping somebody was kindly leaving me a gift of lobsters or fresh fish. I was handed a well-traveled paper bag and inside the bag was a small package, wrapped in newspaper that was secured with honeysuckle vines. It was obvious that this gift was from a female and it made me a little uncomfortable, and I thought best to not open it inside the market. Christine’s sister Betsy insisted that I open it now. I sensed that Betsy knew what was inside and she appeared anxious for me to open the wrapped box. I opened the box and there were numerous photos that I quickly glanced at, also there was a lovely written note. I turned the note card over and it was signed, Jennifer. I was perplexed as to who Jennifer might be until I started reading what she had written. The card was from Lenore’s sister who had scattered Lenore’s ashes in the surf at Squibnocket, two days before with a gathering of Lenore’s Vineyard girlfriends.

My life came to a screaming halt when I lifted the peace medallion from the box, the gift I had given to Lenore. My eyes filled with tears as I gasped and put the medallion around my neck. My mind was filled with mixed emotions. I was deeply moved, knowing that Lenore had kept the peace medal safe, and was moved by Jennifer’s kindness in returning it to me. I also was a little fearful that the medallion might trigger horrible memories that I endured from fighting a war.

I am pleased to say that I did not get thrown in jail for going AWOL; all I got from a sergeant was, “Where the hell have you been?” I am also pleased to say that it feels good wearing this peace sign, it gives me hope, I feel its strength and it reminds me of the time I put this gift around a lovely young lady’s neck, 51 years ago.

Albert O. Fischer lives in West Tisbury.