30 April 2014

I Feel Naked

She was the Lifeguard at the Officer's Club swimming pool.
I was the Officer's Club manager.
She was almost 5' 2" tall, weighed 104 pounds, and looked good in a two-piece bathing suit.
We talked.

Spending the summer with her folks in Savannah, her full-time job was teaching kids at a school in Alpharetta, Georgia. She was smart, funny, and cute as a newborn pup.
I asked her out. She allowed as to how that might be fun.

It was June of 1972.
For it or against it, most everyone in the country had decided the way we were prosecuting the war in Viet Nam sucked, and wanted our troops to come home, including several hundred Prisoners of War.
I had noticed an outfit called "Viva" was offering bracelets with the names of P.O.W.'s and M.I.A.'s designed to bring attention to their plight. I mentioned this to the Lifeguard, the gal that would later become my 1st wife, and she replied, "Let's get two of the same name to wear!"
So I put a check in the mail for two, requesting they have the same name on both.
Two weeks later they arrived. I put hers on her wrist, she put the second bracelet on mine.
We both vowed we would not take them off until our guy's status was determined.

Keeping the bracelet on my wrist was sometimes a struggle;
At my annual flight physical with the ARMY, the technician giving me the EKG would invariably say, "Take that off", pointing to the bracelet. And after I explained that wasn't gonna happen, most of them would acquiesce and wrap the bracelet in tape, then continue with the procedure. There was never a problem.

One summer day in 1982 I was mowing a lawn for a friend. The temp that day was in the 90's and the humidity was almost that high. Finished mowing, I was hot, sweaty, and covered in dust and grass clippings. To rinse off I dived into our pond.
Instantly I realized the bracelet wasn't on my wrist. Under those circumstances the bracelet would have held a little residual heat, but this time my wrist felt instantly cool.
I panicked, retraced my steps and couldn't find it. I gave up the search and started to walk away, but something in my head said, "Take another look".
I walked straight to a Honeysuckle bush attached to a fence in the rear of the yard and there it was...
The bush had reached out and grabbed my bracelet!
I put it back on, and in 42 years that was the ONLY time it was ever off my wrist.
Now and then I'd do an internet search to see if I could find any news about my guy.
It always ended up the same; they had found bones/DNA from his navigator, but nothing on him.

This week I searched again.
They've officially declared him K.I.A.. I was shocked to see one site even reporting they had found his DNA at the crash site. More importantly, that site had comments from his nephew, including a home town. Another search netted me a phone number, I called and left a message.
The nephew called the next morning. We talked for half an hour about his Uncle, the war in Viet Nam, and my experiences there. I told him of my intent to not remove the bracelet until his Uncle's status was determined, then to send it to a family member. He told me the report they had found DNA was not true. Still, he's been officially declared dead.
The nephew was excited to hear I'd send the bracelet.and gave me his full address.

I removed the bracelet yesterday and boxed it up for its journey.
It's like a part of my body is gone. Washing my hands, I always bump-bumped against the bracelet to remind me it was there.
Now every time I wash my hands I'm reminded.

Forty-two years.
Well over half my life.
A spot on my wrist needs a tan.

I  can only hope this brings peace and closure to this hero's family.


Well Seasoned Fool said...

42 years! That is dedication.

Capt. Schmoe said...

I got mine from VIVA (Voices in Vital America) 10966 LeConte Ave. Los Angeles Ca in the early '70s. I was in jr. high and never took it off.

Don't ask me how I remember that address - it scares me because I can't remember what happened last week!

Sadly, I lost it as a H.S. senior, all efforts to locate it were to no avail.

I replaced it in the early 90's from a vendor whom I cannot remember.-

Maj. Perry Jefferson (then Capt.) was shot down 03APR69 in an O2 Bird dog. His remains were turned over to the US by an expatriated Vietnamese living in So. Cal. in 2001. They were identified in 2007 as Maj. Jefferson's.

I am just glad some of his remains were found and that he could be ID'd. There is a part of me however, that wonders.

Thanks for the post.

The Old Man said...

I remember seeing it more than twice in meatspace. Glad you got some release from carrying that for another aviator after all that time. Take care of you and yours...

Old NFO said...

God Bless you for that... Nothing more I can say.

CnC said...

Wow, that was handled in the perfect way. Glad you sent it to them.

Bloviating Zeppelin said...

You're a good man, sir; a good man.