It seemed an impulsive thing to do: writing to the mother of a man who had died long ago in the Vietnam War. Then again, when considering all of the years his death had been committed to my memory, the act of writing this letter seemed long overdue.
The letter had been written one night, and as is often the case in these types of things, I became doubt ridden two hours later. I folded the letter and its envelope and put it away.
The next morning I fished the letter from my bankbag, and decided to send it. Smoothing out the wrinkles, I decided that not only was there a likely need for relatives of Jerry Corp to hear of his goodness; there was also my own personal need to let them know that I had shared their burden for all of those years.
I had first become convinced of the necessity to write after browsing Veteran's Locator Pages on the Internet. Occasionally a message would be posted in search of friends who had served with a particular soldier who had been killed in action in Vietnam. These messages never failed to gain my sympathy.
I found Jerry's hometown in a Casualty database and then located, in a different database, the name of a woman, from that town, who I assumed possibly to be his mother or sister.
Did I have the right to contact people and open old wounds? The various messages I had read in all of the different Veterans Locators suggested that these folks would want to hear from those who knew their loved ones.
Three days after sending the letter I received a phone call. The woman's voice identified herself as Irene Corp. "Jerry's mom", she said.
I was speechless as chills ran up and down my spine. Finally I said, "I'm very glad that I found you".
Mrs Corp said, "As soon as I received your letter, I called my daughter and read it to her, too. We both thank you for sending it."
I related to Mrs Corp how I had pulled guard with Jerry the night before he was killed, how he was a good kid, and how a day never passed that I had not thought of him.
"I thought that you might like to hear from someone who knew him," I continued, "Because I didn't know whether or not any of his buddies had ever contacted you."
Her tearful voice told of how a couple of "the boys" occasionally stopped in to see her. I was glad to know that.
She spoke of how she still felt the terrible loss of her son, who was 19 years old when he left for Vietnam. She also had lost a grandson in a farm accident, and had her home destroyed by a tornado which had passed through in the early 1980's. Somehow, I sensed that Mrs Corp was not an ordinary person.
We talked for a few minutes more, then parted with me telling her that I would like to travel out west to see her.
"I would like that", she said.
After hanging up the phone I felt the exhilaration of having done something good. There was a strange awareness that I had done something good for myself, also.
The days still pass, and as always, are filled with the memories of loss.
Today I live with the growing realization that in order to honor those who did not have the good fortune to return to their homes and families we, who survived, must live life to its full measure.
The joys of life and freedom, which we often take for granted, were denied to those who died in battle. In a very real sense these same joys were denied the people whose loved ones never returned. The ultimate was paid by them.
May we never forget them. And may we never forget to live life to its fullest. May we live each day aware of our many blessings.
A Vietnamese friend's words inspire me, and seem a fitting close to this Memorial Day message, "Live. Live. Never surrender."
To Fallen Comrades.
Copyright 1998 Thomas E Dier All Rights Reserved
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