Buddy Bantum

I began working at Bethlehem Steel’s Sparrows Point Plant in 1973. I had graduated high school in 1968 in Connecticut and attended George Washington University for one year before dropping out and moving to Baltimore. While at GWU, I participated in teach-ins and building takeovers protesting the Vietnam War. In the steel mill, I became active in Local 2609 of the United Steelworkers of America. Many of my most trusted allies in the union were military veterans. Walter Elwood “Buddy” Bantum III was one of the most memorable Vietnam veterans. He was a shop steward in the 56-66” Cold Mill, where I served as grievance committeeman. Buddy, who told me he never slept through the night since returning from Vietnam, was never afraid to stand up to racism and unfair treatment. He pushed against conservative opposition for our union leadership to recognize Dr. King’s Birthday. He founded and chaired a veteran’s committee in the local. He successfully fought to erect a monument in front of the union hall honoring our veterans. Buddy died of pancreatic cancer in 2002 at age 55. His remains are interred in Arlington National Cemetery, Plot 6-11, Row 10 Site 4. I think about Buddy often and, every August 11th, the birthday we shared, I touch base with his wonderful wife, Gina.




Been gone a long time, Buddy.

Never forget the last visit.

I hugged your skeleton,

muscles long gone.

We spoke between the nod outs.

Even in your opiated twilight,

generosity endured.

Sucking on your oxygen mask,

pointing your daughter’s

boyfriend to the closet.

“Take what you want, my man.”




At your memorial service,

fellow soldiers said you,


volunteered to walk point,

In the bush,

Time and Again.




In the steel mill,

always wearing fatigues,

working to rediscover

the brigade,

the Brotherhood,

skirmishes with the company,


like in ‘Nam.

Way too often,

your hard-hat troops

turned on each other.


Gina asked me to be your pallbearer.

Arlington National Cemetery.

So I took my place,

joining your warrior brothers.

The legendary Herd,

173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team.


After the seven riflemen took the ridge,

after the chill,

after the white-gloved honor guard

handed Gina Buddy’s flag,

after the tears,

the memories,

Buddy’s pallbearers invited me to

meet at a motel.


They wore purple berets.

The white guy from the West,

looked like he’d seen some hard times.

Puerto Rican guy from the Big Apple,

stronger in body and words.

The sergeant major,

stern and silent.


Pointing to me,

Puerto Rican guy said,

“You’re the guy who was against the War.

I’m OK with that.

War’s over.

If you’re OK with Buddy

you’re OK with me.”


Sergeant major was challenged.

Silence was broken.


“Kids in the street

undermined the troops!















purple berets concurred,

deferring to their officer,


back in the bush.


Pointing to Buddy’s men,

I took my leave.


“Y’all have a safe trip home.

Been an honor to be with you.

Rest in Peace, Batman.”