Where are they now?
There's also the problem of memory. I know my memory is getting worse - I remember less today than I did yesterday, or at least I find I can't remember as much as I thought I did. Sometimes, though, as I go through some of the memorabilia we have around the house from our long life together, it sparks memories, and opens up the gates of the past, if only for a minute.
Jean and I were married at the Air Force Academy Chapel in Colorado Springs, on February 19, 1966. I can remember the name of the Chaplain clearly - William Shoemaker. Col. Shoemaker was the one that broke the news to me that my brother had been severely injured in an accident in 1964, when I was a cadet. He retired to Colorado Springs before we did. There was an article about him in the local newspaper, as he retired for a second time from a local church. I found his name in the telephone book, and called. He was surprised by my call, and glad that our marriage "had been one that lasted". So many military marriages don't - military marriages are subjected to stresses the majority of civilian couples never experience.
Jean and I met at the USO in Denver. There were several other couples there that married. One of them was Mike Day and his wife Judy. I can't remember her maiden name. Mike's name is on that black granite memorial in Washington, one of a dozen friends I lost in Vietnam. There was another very special person there at the USO - Marge McCullough, the director. I think Jean and I gave her more grey hair than most couples, but she also LIKED us, and gave us her unconditional blessing. We were in Germany when Marge died, but there were hundreds of others to mourn in our place. Marge was a special person, and loved by almost everyone who knew her. There were a dozen other names from the USO, too, that I can see their faces, but can't recall their names. There were a few of the hostesses I do remember - Julie, and Angie, and Kathleen. Where are they now? The years in between have broken all the links.
I can remember the name of my best man - Paul Hastings - and that he's from one of the Carolinas, but we've hardly spoken twice in the last 38 years. I have no idea where he is now. One of my wife's bridesmaids, Donna Brinson, travelled around the world and spent three months with us in Wiesbaden in 1973, but we only have a vague notion of where she is now - we think Dallas, and married, but none of our mutual friends either know or can remember.
Two names stand out from my tour in Vietnam - Jasper Franklin and Bob Toth. I've not heard from either of them since they left the 12th RITS. Try as I might, I can't remember the names of the five Australians that worked down the hall, or the full name of Ski, my favorite pinochle partner. I can remember the names of the senior officers in our section - Captain (later Major) Palma, and Captain Quarles. Also Col Ardoin, our commander, and another Louisiana swamp-stomper. He used to come by for a cup of coffee occasionally - whenever my mom would send me a goodie box with a pound or two of Community Dark Roast. We both favored it. Major Hank Palma was my boss a second time in Wiesbaden, some three years after I left Vietnam. The Intel field is small, and the people a close-knit family.
The group in Wiesbaden was especially close-knit. Mike Prahl and I correspond every few days. Eugene Barch lives in Denver, yet I don't think we've talked three times in the last fifteen years. Maybe if he was online... Jean and I really miss Bill and Barbara Haedt. The last time we saw them, they were leaving Colorado Springs for Alaska. We've often wondered if they retired up there, but where? The guys I worked with - Chuck Babcock, Dick Kingsley, Ray Hustad, Scott Zilm - were the best! I ran into Chuck Babcock a few times - at Offutt, and again in Wiesbaden, but I have no idea where he is now. The last rumor I had was he'd retired to California. Today, there's an alumni group online for members of our old unit, and quite a few of the people I served with belong, but there are an equally large number that don't. You wonder, what has their life been like?
The Internet can rebuild bridges, but it has its limits. You can only get in touch with people who actually have an online presence, and only then when both of you can make a connection. You can find some people through alumni associations, or groups like Classmates, or you can do a search. Searches only work, though, when you have a decent enough memory, or when you're not trying to find someone named James Smith! Even a name like Ray Turner may turn up several hundred hits, and NONE of them the one you're looking for.
Sometimes, too, as you search, you discover the person you're looking for is no longer available on this Earth. You mourn the lost friends, the lost hours together, the lost chances of reunion. Those lost ones remind you of the ones still alive, and renew your efforts to make contact, to share a joke, a memory, a name or two, one more time.