MRS CUMMINGS DIED TODAY“It’s such a lovely day, Chuckie,” Mrs. Cummings always began when she telephoned me at the Tulsa Police Department, where I was a Homicide detective. “Will you come sit with me for a while on the porch?”

She called me every week or so. I always went, no matter what I was doing.

Elderly Mrs. Cummings had lived in the same house for over forty years. She raised her kids here. Her husband died here.

Now, she was afraid to sit on her front porch alone.

On a bright June day, she had gone to the Skaggs store with her old-fashioned purse hanging by its long strap from her shoulder. After completing her shopping, the tiny elderly woman in a little pillbox hat and a long dress came out of Skaggs to walk to her car in the parking lot.

Two dirtbags came running from behind and snatched her purse. The long strap got caught around her arm and jerked her to the sidewalk, where she banged her head. It knocked her unconscious. The punks kicked at the tiny fallen figure and slashed her with their fists until the purse broke free. They laughed with excitement as they ran away with her purse.

The old woman sprawled unconscious in the sunshine, blood oozing from her head. Nobody expected her to make it. We worked it as a homicide.

She lay in a coma at the hospital for days. I stood by her bed a long time and watched her struggling to live because two thugs thought they had the right to steal her purse. The purse had $27 in it.

I caught the punks by working the streets. Dopers, naturally. They had rap sheets for burglary, strong-arm robbery, and narcotics.

“She should have let go her purse and she wouldn’t have got hurt,” they alibied when I busted them. “It was her fault.”

It was her fault?

It was the times. You excused the punks because society made them do it.

At their trial, their attorney argued that injuring Mrs. Cummings was an “accident.” They wouldn’t have hurt her if her purse hadn’t got caught on her arm. A judge sentenced them each to one year’s probation. They were stringing out on drugs on the streets again within weeks.

Doc Roberts, another Homicide cop, shook his head. “It makes sense,” he said. “Instead of locking them up, we’ll have to build walls around ourselves to keep them out.”

Mrs. Cummings built that wall around herself when she finally recovered and went home. She even canceled her subscription to the morning newspaper because she lived alone and was afraid to go out to retrieve the paper off the porch. She had become literally a prisoner in her own home.

“Chuckie, you would have liked my husband,” Mrs. Cummings said as we sat together on her front porch. “Twenty years ago before he died we used to sit out here evenings and. . .”

One day she died in bed with her doors locked and all the windows bolted. Locking herself in to keep them out.

“Around three millions visitors are drawn each year to the Vietnam Wall adjacent to Washington D.C.s National Mall. The vets who come here have gotten older, but none outlives the memories of what happened in a violent land far away.” From Blood in the Hills: The Story of Khe Sanh, the Most Savage Fight of The Vietnam War, by Robert Maras and Charles W. Sasser. Available at most book stores and on and