Laughter and a Handshake – A Shared Success

Fred Tomasello Jr.
Guest Contributor

In order for someone to win, doesn’t someone else have to lose?

Isn’t that why we keep score in sports, in accruing wealth, in war? Weren’t we brought up to be modest about our achievements, not to brag because someone else’s feelings could be hurt?

But, since the Legacy Magazine’s monthly theme demands it, there are a few accomplishments from my past I can recall.

Baseball was my sport. I peaked at age 14, Pony League. In a seven-inning game, I struck out 21 batters. Although I later played high school and one year of college baseball, that was my greatest “success” story. Thank God for the newspaper clipping. There are still a few people alive who were there and can attest to that achievement, but they’re dying off.

“Yeah, I remember Tomasello. Skinny little bastard. Wild as hell. But he had a big curve ball!”

Today, unless I bring up that event, no one remembers. No one cares.

Big deal? To me it was at the time.

Is it still a Tampa Pony League strikeout record? I doubt it.

Later I completed college, got married and went to war. Missed my class graduation ceremony and all the pics that would have proven that achievement, but the Marines needed me so I went.

Got wounded twice and survived, intact physically, but not so well mentally. That’s a “win,” isn’t it? At least a partial win. We killed and wounded a lot of their people. Does that make them losers? The “enemy” also killed and wounded a lot of us. Does that make our dead “losers?” Are all of us who survived the war on both sides, “winners?”

Went back to Vietnam in 2018, 50 years after our war with them and met some old soldiers who were in some of the exact same battles we were in during that time. We looked into each other’s eyes to see what we could see. I can honestly say I did NOT see winners and losers. I saw fellow patriots who answered our country’s call, eyes flashing and sparking at each other, remembering the pain and the suffering and the death and the agonizing question, “Why did we survive when so many others didn’t?”

After a several moments of sizing each other up, our natural tendencies were to smile at each other today instead of throwing grenades like we would have done back in the day. We have a lot in common besides trying our best to kill each other. The smiles moved to hand shakes, hugs and cell phone pics with their wives and children, posing and chattering in foreign tongues to us, sharing the excitement of a precious and rare encounter. One general took off his hat and we bumped foreheads, fully displaying our bald heads, laughing out loud at the way life has affected us throughout the years.


After one all night battle in January of 1968, my platoon was tasked with picking up enemy bodies, taking a count of the dead and wounded and stacking their weapons. Artillery had battered their bodies, and many of them were in pieces, partially buried in their shallow trenches, an arm or a leg sticking up out of the ground. Mixed in among the uniformed enemy were civilians, old men, women and children. All the men in my platoon were shocked at the ghastly sight and afraid to move them for fear of booby traps. One of my men, a tough Marine nicknamed “Frenchy” grabbed one of two booted legs sticking up out of the ground, yanked as hard as he could and the leg detached completely from the body. He held it up over his head and laughed, “No problem, Lieutenant! Everybody grab a leg and make a wish!”

The mood immediately changed.

We had a difficult time trying to determine the body count not knowing which limbs belonged to whom, so we literally counted heads. But that one moment of gallows humor laughter still today accompanies the nightmares of horror related to what we had to do that day. Laughter takes the edge away from sorrow. And if you hang around combat vets and share a beer or two, you’ll discover that most of the stories we tell are those that make us laugh. Watching the Vietnamese jabber to each other during our encounter and then seeing them laugh out loud assures me that they, like us, value laughter much more that “victory.”

Thinking deeply on my life, on the definitions of “victory” I have come to the conclusion that laughter is the greatest and most mutual sign of our shared humanity.

Our shared success.

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