One of my uncle Byron’s last letters, written to his brother and wife, signed off this way:
“Will write more next time. I’m fine and wish there was some way I could step up the clock. See you in July.”
Three weeks later, Byron’s helicopter was shot down by enemy fire, deep in the jungles of Vietnam.
The Army sent a typewritten letter to my grandparents listing my uncle as “missing in action.”
Over the next few days or weeks, the army issued additional missives:
“Due to the presence of a hostile forces in the area in which the crash occurred, it has not been possible to conduct a ground search for Byron.”
“Although all four crewmen carried survival radios, no transmissions have been received.”
“The name of your son, listed as missing in action, has not appeared on the list of captured U.S. Servicemen and Civilians presented to the Paris negotiators.”
About eight months after my uncle was reported as missing in action in the Vietnam War, my grandmother celebrated a birthday. In the same album where she carefully preserved the Army’s letters and newspaper clippings of her son’s disappearance, there’s a birthday card with pink glitter adorning a tree.
The card, no doubt, was picked out by my aunt, my uncle’s wife who was also waiting, wondering and praying about Byron’s fate. Inside, she signed it “Love, Byron & Leona.”
My grandmother’s careful handwriting notes the year: 1973.
My aunt couldn’t know that my uncle was unable to join her in any birthday wishes when my grandmother celebrated another year, but in the midst of her waiting, she held out hope and chose this card for her mother-in-law.
Four months later, a year after he was first reported missing, the Army informed my grandparents that my uncle was dead:
“The Secretary of the Army has asked me to express his deep regret that your son was killed in action in Vietnam on April 2, 1972. … Information concerning his death was received from a returned prisoner of war.”
The waiting was over.
I know this story because my grandmother preserved the evidence in an album. My mother recently recompiled the photos and memorabilia in a scrapbook and asked me to make a copy of it. For details and more photos about that part of the project, check out my Clickago Storywerks blog here.
“Nothing is really ever lost as long as we remember it.”
~ L.M. Montgomery, The Story Girl