It is Veterans Day, 2012.
Back in March of 2006, I wrote a story about accompanying Doug to The Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC. It was a trip that took him 36 years to make. You can read the original here.
The story's synopsis: Doug was an Army Warrant Officer and helicopter pilot in Vietnam from 1969 to 1971. Shortly before Doug finished his tour of duty, a fellow Warrant Officer named Mark J. Robertson and crew switched missions with Doug and his crew. Mark and his men were shot down and the whole crew lost.
Doug found Mark J. Robertson again at The Wall that cold day in DC.
And Doug finally, finally wept.
It is a story that has happened often to so many in warfare...maybe not when flying through the air, but when boots have been firmly on the ground. But stories also have a way of turning themselves inside out for a different view. That's the thing about tragedy: it can start off at one extreme and then pivot and run in the opposite direction. Some people call it catharsis. I think it is also known as soul.
Five years after that day at The Wall and the publication of the original story, a comment was posted on this blog by a man named David P. Fella. He wrote:
"Mark J. Robertson is my wife's first cousin. The traveling Vietnam Wall was recently in our home town in Michigan. When we first heard it was coming we both knew that we wanted to go and see it and find Mark's name. When we got there we went into the information tent and were asked what name we were looking for. After mentioning his name, a volunteer named Lisa pulled out a information sheet with Mark's picture and what information she had and asked my wife, " Is this your cousin? " To my wife's surprise it was him. The volunteer was so excited and had informed us that they had a march for Mark over the Memorial Day weekend two weeks prior. This has brought much excitement to Mark's family and has sparked a renewed interest in finding out more about what happened to him and we came across this blog. What a mind blower. Doug, you and Mark will forever be linked together by fate and God's will. God chose to spare your life and bring Mark home that day. Mark is survived by his father, two brothers, and three sisters. We would like to thank all who have become a part of keeping Mark's memory alive as well as the many other soldiers and their families who have paid the ultimate price for our freedom. Thank you and May God Bless America."A day later I received an email from Lisa, the volunteer David wrote about:
"Hello. David Fella was kind enough to pass on your email and share Doug Hoyt's story. Doug's visit to DC is such a beautiful story, and I hoped you would be kind enough to share this photo with Doug. This is the sign that was carried in honor of Mark during the Dearborn, Michigan Memorial Day parade in 2011. Additionally, the link below is to the parade itself. You can see the Boy Scout group marching in Mark's honor at approximately the 1:38:52 mark. His name was read aloud during our Memorial ceremony as well. The reading of the names begins at about 2:58 on the video.
So on this Veterans Day, I am thinking about how it would have felt for my own father to have lost a son at war and know nothing about what really happened for so many years. Then, one day, a relative comes to my father with a simple story printed out on a piece of laser paper that proves that his son was a very brave man, that his son is not forgotten, and is honored in thought every day by someone who was there, one of the last people to see him alive.
The soul never dies.
A few years ago Doug and I took a trip to New Zealand. We met an Australian on our travels named Max. Max owns a large station in Australia, and had recently purchased a helicopter to travel about his ranch. When Max found out that Doug was an Army Warrant Officer and flew helicopters in Vietnam, Max stopped, looked up at Doug and simply said, "You guys were legend."