Author's Name: Kitty Buttermore
My brother-in-law was in Vietnam. It was 1972 and he was 27.My husband, 5 years older, along with just about everyone our age in our slice of America, had avoided fighting in this unpopular, controversial war. They were always one step ahead of a deferment. First, they were in college. Then, there was critical skills, teaching, married, a father. Later, the only thing left was to go to Canada it seemed. So, my younger sister's husbands ended up in the Army. One got sent to Korea and the other to Vietnam.
Ken, in Vietnam, had decided to make a career of the Army. He thought to do so, even if there was a way to avoid it, he needed to do a tour in Vietnam. Still, we thought he was lucky. He was assigned to the cash office and only came close to combat when he took a helicopter ride to distribute pay. Still, we worried and prayed.
He was two weeks away from coming home. We were beginning to breathe a sigh of relief. He was delivering the payroll one last time.
One the way back, the helicopter was hit by a heat-seeking missile. Everyone was killed. His 2 year old son would never know him.
Two days later, the military arrived at my sister's door to tell her the news. She phoned us. She was crying, keening from the depth of her soul. I will never forget it. It was the start of the other side of our lives, innocence and naivity gone. Now we knew that bad things could happen to people our age. Life was not a given.
The military spare nothing to honor their dead. My brother-in-law was flown from Korea to escort the body back home. Of course, we never saw what was actually in the casket, we had to believe it was Ken. We flew to Arlington for the burial. It was all just very, very sad.
For years afterwards, I would think I had caught sight of Ken in a crowd. To this day, whenever I hear or see a helicopter, I think of him.
I know that Ken's death was one of thousands and thousands. Only the details differ. And, each one was just as overwhelmingly wrenching for another someone.