This post was originally posted in 2006. I am reposing it again because this true story is about a death, guilt, family, distant cousin connection to me and a stranger writing me for help. The stranger doesn't do genealogy, but she managed to find me.
Two Soldiers Connect
What would you do if you received a letter like this, "Barbara. My name is Jo ___. My brother (Bob) served in the service with Gary. They were good friends and he, Bob, wants to connect up with his (Gary) family. Could you contact me. JO"
I wrote back, and the outcome was the most rewarding thing I have ever done. It turns out that Jo wrote me because I had the brothers, Gary and Larry in my genealogy program. The brothers are my 5th cousins. Jo googled their names and came across my information.
From Jo, I learned, "My brother Bob, served in the Vietnam War with Gary. He was there when he died. They were really close friends. I think they trained together and went over together. He talks about Gary after all these years and still grieves over his death. He grieved terribly when Gary died. He has been trying to find his family for years. He asked me to help find them. He knew that Gary was from Detroit, Mich. My brother was from Ohio. My brother has Agent Orange. He got it in Nam. He is under constant medical care from the VA."
There were very few facts, but I was up to the challenge. Once I realized this was a real life situation of a soldier trying to find another soldier's family, this was my priority until all the pieces came together. Was I ever in luck Or I should say, we were all in luck.
I located Larry, via internet, but didn’t want to write him, because if this was a true event, I thought an email stating, “I know who the person is who held your dying brother” would be too painful. Fortunately, Larry and Gary’s cousin, also found via internet, is a movie director / producer, so I wrotePamela Peak for information and to see if the story was true.
An immediate reply came from her, and yes, the story was true. Being a writer in addition to her director / producer roll, Pamela had a lot to say. “WOW! I was 10 when Gary died and we, as family, always wanted even more clarification about his death. Gary was such a patriotic person and received many more medals than what we could comprehend based on what was told to the family about his death. I attended many of those medal ceremonies.” Pamela and I wrote many letters and everything came together.
From Jo (the sister of Bob):
“My brother Bob was only about 17 or 18 when this happened and Gary was only a couple years older. Bob said he cried for his mother when he was dying and that memory was burned in my brothers mind as he was so close to our Mom. What happened in the last minutes of his death was important to him and helped him get closure also.”
A week or so later, I received this message from Jo. “My brother and Gary’s brother talked a long time on the phone and my brother got some closure on Gary's death. My brother held Gary in his arms when he died. They were best friends in Vietnam. My brother has grieved over his death for years and talking to Gary's family has helped them all. The war was really bad for my brother and when he came home he was a mess. I am glad we finally found someone who knew Gary that he could talk to about him. We wish to thank you for all the help you gave us in finding this family. Barbara, again we thank you so much. You were a life saver for my family."
From Pamela (the cousin):
“Of course you can write about this on your blog. I am a writer and I totally want you to write about it. In fact, I'm due to give a speech at the foot of the Polar Bear Monument on Memorial Day in Troy, Michigan, just a short step away from where Gary is buried. The speech is about my film dedicated to the Polar Bears, and I will now be telling this incredible story about how you contacted me and how we found Bob so he could deliver his communication after all these years. It's quite a story isn't it? (I still have chills and tears in my eyes as I am writing this).”
“Thank you for all the work you do and for being the wonderful person you are to put us all in communication. Please let me know when you write about this on your blog. I would love to see it and I love knowing that others will now share this incredible story and pass it on.”
Bob, Larry, Jo, Pamela this is for you, and for Gary who will forever be in our hearts. Pamela, I am sorry I waited so long to write this, it was extremely difficult, but at last, I quote you, “I love knowing that others will now share this incredible story and pass it on.”
Note: This was originally posted, May 30, 2010.