REMEMBERING ART DURHAM
by Bill Lathan, January 2011
About CWO Arthur Durham: While in Vietnam I served in the 4th Infantry Division Band which he was the bandmaster for. I was a flutist in that band during 1968 - 1969. A number of us have kept track of each other over the years and have a sort of Email ring where we exchange the usual junk but also keep track of each other. Mr. Durham was a fine musician and as mentioned took a number of us under his "wing" giving us free music lessons (in my case) and helping us become better soldiers (my case and MANY of the others in the 4th Inf. Band).
From an estranged daughter and a mortuary, I managed to dig out some unhappy news. He died in an Austin hospital after having called for help himself. He was having serious respiratory problems. He recovered somewhat after a few days but then became much worse off and died. Since he had come into the hospital as an emergency little was known about him, so when he died his body was turned over to the City/County and handled like an indigent. Only later did the authorities (police I suspect) enter his apartment/condo and discover that the resident was a retired military officer with a pension and a former teacher at one or two local middle schools (private schools if I remember from my talk with his daughter). They, someone/authorities, ran his name and health stuff against various hospital patients and discovered that the resident of this rather nice home filled with stereo equipment and recordings was a man whose death had been handled like an indigent. He was then moved from either a potters grave or the county morgue (forget which) to the U.S. cemetery at Fort Sam Houston where he was buried in a VERY small ceremony with only the honor guard, mortuary people, a bugler and Chaplin. No family.
Only later did any of his family learn of his death, and after talking to his daughter I suspect that the distance was such that expecting their participation would be going a bit far. He'd been married several times but had children by only his first wife. I think a son and a daughter. The daughter said that for whatever reasons, and she wasn't sure what they were as she was a child at the time of their divorce, he spent almost zero time with her and her brother. That to me is strange as he was a LOT more than a boss or superior officer to most of us in Vietnam... he treated us, in many cases, like his sons. I know that it is true for me and I've had several of the twelve guys I've kept up with say similar things. One guy even went so far as to say that if Durham hadn't intervened in his life he hates to think where he'd be today. That while in trouble in Vietnam instead of bashing him he took him aside and told him, "You have what it takes to be anything you want to be... good or bad." Not an exact quote. He went on to tell the guy that if he wanted help he was always available and always had the time and energy to help his troops. He also, without saying that, made me aware of that attitude. I sincerely wish I'd been able to locate him a year or several years earlier so that I could have stood at his grave at the time of his burial. It would have been MY honor to do so. And more importantly, several of us mentioned above have commented that we wish we'd located him years back so that he could have LIVED with the knowledge that some of his "kids" really cared and really respected him and know that their lives were and are better for having known him.
Former 02G20, Spc5 Bill Lathan
Photo: Jake Berg
Sgt. Durham on a 7ASO tour bus, France, 1955
Photo: Bill Lathan
CWO Durham on a bus to a band job in Vietnam, circa 1968