My world has been enriched in ways I can’t fully describe over the past ten months. Just when I thought I’d put the issue aside, I find that my interest has flourished and the renewed information tugs at my heart strings in a manner that I don’t have words to describe. The tale is a complicated tale and there are many variables that leave me in a state of unrest. What I now know is that what I thought I knew is not true. Of course the subject matter relates to the fate of my twin brother. What happened to him? I now have the strong sense that whatever happened to him has no relationship to the official record that was shared with our family.
Was it a purposeful misrepresentation of the truth? That, too, is the $64,000 question. I don’t have that answer, but at best I’m fairly confident that the story told isn’t the story at all. If so, what was to be gained? I don’t’ have answers for any of those questions. I wonder and I wait.
Will I ever know the truth? Perhaps, only time will tell. On the other hand, does my knowing really matter? Selfishly, I say “Yes” to the last question. It does matter to me. I both want and need to know. Perhaps on this side of eternity it will always be a mystery. In that regard, my knowing may not be that important at all.
Over the past ten months, I’ve come to know and value three men who were all in my brother’s world. Each of them thoughtfully initiated contact with me and each shared a different perspective.
The first communication came from a Marine or former Marine named Dennis. Are you ever really a former Marine? Obviously not is my final answer. Once a Marine, always a Marine. Isn’t that right? Semper Fi!
Dennis sent me a thoughtful message following my Memorial Day 2016 posting on Facebook about the impact of my brother’s loss. He wrote:
“I am one of the Marines that waited in vain on the flightline for his aircraft to return the day he was lost to us. As I stand every Memorial day as a member of our VFW honor guard my mind will return me to that day and that flightline and the sense of loss that I feel for Ron and the other brave men our squadron lost. Rest assured that I will never forget him or the others for the rest of my life. Thank you for stepping forward on Memorial Day and speaking for your brother and for those who served with him and who knew him as a brave man and a compassionate friend.”
Tears streamed down my cheeks as I read his kind words. We’ve subsequently talked by phone and changed a myriad of emails. He was my brother’s friend. He is now my friend and I am ever so grateful. It is almost as though I’ve gained a portion of my brother back. I look forward to an opportunity to one-day visit face-to-face with Dennis. His presence in my life is far too important to not take it full circle. I need to sit across a table from him and engage in one-on-one conversation.
The second Marine that reached out to me was a man named Tom. Tom flew with Ron in Cherry Point, North Carolina. He was subsequently stationed in Nam Phong, Thailand following my brother’s loss. He, too, provided me a sense of perspective. I am grateful for the recent gift of his friendship. He, too, cares deeply about the fate of my brother.
The third of Ronnie’s friends that I’ve met electronically is a hooch-mate named Bob. He was chair of the welcoming committee that initially made Ronnie feel at home when he arrived in Thailand in August 1972. He offered him the bunk next to his. They became fast friends. Bob’s life was also changed by the failure of my brother’s plane to return on the night of December 27, 1972.
As the years since that time have come and gone, the memory of Ronnie’s impact and friendship continues to weigh heavily on Bob’s mind. He doesn’t take the gift of friendship lightly. His emotional connection to Ronnie is still intact. Now he has a double problem. The gift of his friendship has also graciously been extended to me. Consequently, he now has double trouble.
I know that from my perspective, the friendship he’s formed with me has met a void in my life. The same could be said of Dennis and Tom. They each were connected to Ronnie in ways for which I am alien. Yet, knowing of the connections draws me in and makes their subsequent gift of friendship to me significant and special.
I have exchanged electronic communication with each of these three men. In addition, I have also talked to each by telephone. The common denominator they share is that they all respected and valued my brother. Consequently, their lives were forever changed by his loss. In contrast, my life has been forever changed by their presence. I am grateful to know them as friends.
Last night Dennis sent me a text stating that he’d just ordered and received the book: “Linebacker: The Untold Story of the Air Raids Over North Vietnam” written by Karl J. Eschmann. The author dedicated his book to four military men. One was my brother. Dennis writes: “I was totally amazed when I read his dedication and felt you should know. He referred to Ron as a Texas Aggie schoolmate. If you already knew this, I am still amazed at how small the world can be as this was my little slice of the war – Dennis”.
It is my hope that by year’s end, I can affirm that I’ve met each of my brother’s friends in person. It is a small world and one in which a sense of camaraderie and compassion means much. I am grateful they each reached out to me and provided a gift that I desperately needed. I don’t know how I’ll ever thank them, but they’ve met a need and I am grateful for their friendship. The gift they have provided means much.
All My Best!