I had a few heroes when I was a kid. Besides the fictional ones that most boys have, I had a few real ones. 2 to be exact. One of them I still talk to almost every single day of my life. He is still one of my heroes. The other one I have not talked to in over 40 years.
Back in 1968 my father made a little go at running a hardware store. I think he made it work for about 2 years. I spent 2 summers in that store, helping out. OK, more like getting in the way. One of the guys who worked for my dad was a young college student named Jim. As far as I knew Jim was a great guy who my father really respected and who was very nice to me. Jim was in the Army ROTC and was to me, a big brother.
As a young boy I read everything that I could got my hands on about the military. I knew that lots of my family had served in the military and a few had died in wars. I could recognize any military rank at first sight, and would make my dad laugh as I called off ranks of military personnel coming into our store.
One day my father told me that Jim was coming over to say good-bye. I knew why. Jim was going into the Army full time. I will never forget how inspiring he looked at our front door, standing there with his Army uniform on, with all of his insignia and ribbons. To a 9 year old boy it was overwhelming. I never saw him again.
My parents divorced a few years after that and I basically never saw my dad again. Maybe one time. Once in my teens I asked my mom what had happened to Jim and she did not know. She promised to look into it. Months later she told me that he had been killed in Vietnam. I was heartbroken. But, I was sure that our friend Jim had died a hero. I never asked about him again.
Jim had a brother named John. John had worked for my dad a few times as well. I knew John was married to a girl that was a sister to a kid that I grew up with. I could have inquired about Jim but never did. After I became a father, my kids attended a private Christian school. One of the teachers at that school was John's adopted son, Jim's nephew. Once again I never inquired about Jim.
Our family had known quite a few soldiers who had served and died in Vietnam and at least to me, it was better to leave it alone. Grief is sometimes best left private. Especially my own, I calculated. Plus I was afraid of breaking down upon hearing what I already knew to be true.
Once in a while I would do an online search of the names on the Vietnam Memorial Wall, but I could never find Jim's name. Why was Jim's name not on it? Could my mom have been wrong? Months ago, I asked her and she stood by her information. She had heard it from a friend of my dads.
I did a search online for Jim's name. Just to be sure. Nothing. Darn. Jim and John had kind of a funny last name. Maybe I am spelling it wrong. How to check. I found my son's grammar school yearbook so I could find Jim's nephew, the teacher. No I was spelling it correctly. On a whim I changed the spelling by one letter. Lots of hits. A guy by that name is a top attorney in California. I need a picture of him. New search. He served in the Army from 68-73. There is the picture. It is him! A lot older but looking very trim and healthy.
My search is over.