Some buddies become brothers. This is true of Asa and Duke, two special men whose service to our nation I celebrate every Memorial Day.
Both of these friends gave me something rare and precious that enriched my life. Although I lost “Ace” to ALS several years ago, his love, courage, irreverence and patriotism have become a part of me. Duke lives on the other coast and while I don’t see or speak with him very often, I’m forever grateful to him for his love, courage, and the sacrifices he made to our country by serving in Vietnam.
Who are these guys? And what makes them so special? Well, Ace’s time in Special Op’s behind the lines in East German inspired his storied career as an author and creator of the “Men” column in Playboy Magazine. Now before you go porn-judging him, please understand that Asa’s column was about integrity, and helped countless thousands of men become the better version of themselves.
The father of two sons, Brendon and Jim, husband to his beloved, Sherri, and a proud Marine, Ace balanced being a born lover with being a straight shooter who never pulled punches. He was also a relentless jokester who would send me guest invitations to the Playboy Mansion a week after a playmate or lingerie party had been held.
Having contracted ALS, Ace bravely served as a national spokesperson for The ALS Foundation. After several visits to Chicago to say goodbye, Asa passed and it became one of the great honors of my life to give his eulogy, celebrating a life so well-lived and a man well-loved. Asa had almost died several times during the course of his illness, and wanted to assured me, “Death’s the biggest myth of all, Kenny” before he died. My daughter Jenna, had just died and he wanted me to know that we do live on. “Jenna is with you. Just open your heart!” he’d whisper.
Ace also taught me how ugly could be beautiful, the healing in laughter and how to die with grace. In our last conversation, he looked me in the eye, smiled and said, “Kenny we did good!” With four simple words, he found a way to bless our relationship and our lives for all time.
Thank you, big brother, for your love, service and blessing.
Then there’s my dear brother-by-another-mother, Duke. Joe (his real name) became my best friend when we were only 16. Neither one of us had a clue about who we were, or what this life was about. But we discovered how to love, laugh, learn, trust and heal by becoming buddies.
A gifted lead singer and musician, Duke was becoming a rock star by age 19 when he was drafted into the Army. He served under conditions most of us can only imagine and, like many young men, he returned home from Vietnam traumatized. Having lived and fought for his life in a war zone, struggling to find his footing, Duke’s valiant efforts to fight his way back into life have served as an example of hard-fought courage, determination and resilience. It has also shown me the cost of waging war–and necessity of exhausting every possible means for creating peace.
My Chinatown reunions with Duke, sharing boyhood memories, and forecasting our best possible futures as we get older, have meant the world to me. He is my lifelong friend. The support of Duke’s parents, kids, big brother and the VA have helped him overcome the sharp edges of his trauma, become his own best friend and find his music again. I’m proud of my friend turned brother, Joe, and feel blessed to have had him in my life all these years.
Thank you for your service, Asa and Duke.
I love you guys and am honored to be your Brother.