My sweet friend Joyce Leidig sent me a message last month to tell me Sandra Campbell had died. I stood where I was for a moment – a bittersweet moment – remembering the kind, soft-spoken lady whose brother, Jack Osborn, was killed in combat in Vietnam. Sandy and I met one afternoon in May, 2012, in her neat, well-kept home in Shamrock Shores so she could tell me about Jack for a Memorial Day story for the paper.
I remembered sitting with Sandy at her small dining table where she had spread square black-and-white snapshots of her with Jack, post boot camp, him standing proudly in his uniform, her in shorts and crop-top shirt; pictures of the Vietnam memorial in their hometown in North Texas; a few handwritten letters; and some military official correspondence concerning Jack’s death.
“For me, every day is Memorial Day,” Sandy told me.
Jack Osborn died Easter Sunday, 1968, with his friend Gary Bowers holding his hand, telling him it would be OK. Bowers was anxious, and worried, of course. He did all he could to get the medics to “work” on his friend to save him. But too many wounded, quite a few missing limbs who seemed in much worse shape than Jack Osborn, had been brought in that night and they got the priority.
In the end, Bowers said, “Jack just kind of smiled, and he was gone.”
But I’m getting ahead of myself, telling that part of the story.
I take seriously the charge of remembering the fallen on Memorial Day. My career writing for newspapers made Memorial Day observances a professional responsibility for me. But there’s something in the clank of a chain as a flag is pulled to the top of a flag pole and slowly lowered to half-staff; something about hearing the mournful notes of bugles echoing Taps, and the flap-flap-flap of flags fluttering in the breeze over a quiet and peaceful cemetery that stirs my soul and makes me wish I knew better how to express my gratitude for those lying there. That part is personal.
There’s something in knowing a few stories of those who came home in flag-draped caskets that gives me greater appreciation for all those who served, but especially the many, generation after generation, who fought and died serving this nation, believing we should be safe, secure and free.
So, in my heart, there’s a roll call of men I never met, whose stories I know, who made that ultimate sacrifice. In 2012, Jack Osborn made it onto my list.
But here’s the rest of my Jack Osborn story. Sandy Campbell had wished for 44 years for some sort of closure; to find someone who had known Jack; but she didn’t know how to begin to look. Meanwhile, two of Jack’s closest friends – brothers in arms whom he’d served with in Vietnam – were seeking their own closure, wishing they might find a family member or someone who could assure them Jack Osborn was remembered.
Their twain met that Memorial Day in 2012, when the Brownwood Bulletin published the story I’d written – and posted it to the website. As he did each Memorial Day, Jack’s friend, Len Corsetti, from Lexington, Michigan, said an extra prayer in honor of Jack Osborn, over dinner, even adding the petition to find closure. Untold Google searches had never turned up anything before, but, in 2012, Corsetti’s son tried again, and there was Sandy and Jack’s story with my contact information at the end.
Corsetti contacted Bowers, by then living in Aberdeen, Ohio, who, as a veteran, now retired, was dealing with the grief and loss of a friend. Bowers still believed Jack might have been saved, if only he could have done more. The memory 44 years later was bitter and raw.
But now, thanks to modern-day communication, there was a connection. Len, Sandy and Gary were able to share their grief and their good memories.
Jack couldn’t have been saved, Sandy told his comrades. His internal injuries were too severe. Jack was loved – one of the most popular guys in the company – and he didn’t die alone, the men assured his sister.
Sandy always thanked me for writing her story. I always told her, it was a story that needed writing, because, unfortunately, remembering is the least we can do; and unfortunately the most.
We should never forget. I hope we’ll all remember, because, for those who have lost a loved one, every day is Memorial Day. Their sacrifice is great.
Editor’s note: Candace Cooksey Fulton, formerly of Brownwood, is a freelance writer now living in San Angelo. She writes weekly columns for the Brownwood Bulletin and the San Angelo Standard-Times, each unique to the particular paper. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.