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  • Writer's pictureJoni Topper

Fifty-One Years of Questions

Today is a day I will always remember. I’ve been married to Ernest for forty-two years. We attended a memorial service for one of his extended family members that I never met because he’s been missing in action in Vietnam for fifty-one years.

My brother-in-law Don is a twin. Don’s twin brother Ron has been fondly spoken of often in the years I’ve been part of the family, but he was gone before I knew any of them. In December 1972, USMC Captain Ron Forrester’s plane went down in North Vietnam. On December 5, 2023, his family was notified that there was a positive DNA match with a bone fragment at his crash site.

That’s fifty-one years of waiting, wondering, imagining, and longing for a loved one. “This is the best Christmas ever!” Don’s words when he heard the news that his brother’s whereabouts had been located. In my wildest dream, I cannot imagine not knowing for such a long time.

As we arrived at the service today, every aspect of the event was immersed in grand gestures intended to honor both the fallen soldier and his family. Veterans lined the parking lot standing with flags. A general attended the service. Numerous veterans wore clothes that identified them. Former governor of Texas Rick Perry attended. He visited with us in the family room. Representatives from The National League of Families, Run for the Wall, The Ride Home, Texas A&M University, D.A.R., Veterans Service Organizations, and active duty men and women came. The Texas A&M Corps of Cadets made the presentation of colors and retiring of colors.

Speakers remembered Ron by explaining the impact he had on their lives. Most of them never met Ron but the lasting impressions he made on their parents and grandparents spanned the generations leaving a sense of respect and loss with even people like me who never met him.

Ron’s daughter, an avid supporter of efforts to remember those who did not come back and an advocate for families of MIA service members, shared some breathtaking statistics. She said there are still around 1,700 U. S. military personnel missing in action from the Vietnam War.

After the speakers completed their testimonies, the scriptures left their mark on our hearts, the music caused a response in our souls, and the Aggies rallied their battle cries, we exited the building for yet another part of the ceremony. Twenty-one young service men stood in formation in their white uniforms for a twenty-one-gun salute. Two trumpet players ricocheted taps from one side of the crowd gathered in the late afternoon sun to the other. Their somber melody ringing out the signal “lights out.” Indeed, it was time for this family to rest from their weary battle to know what happened to their loved one.

In the reception hall, the honors continued. A band of around twenty-five members from Corpus Christi came to provide music. They played the military branch songs, recognizing each group as they played.

While we drove home, recalling the many wonderful moments of the day, I counted my blessings. The man who presented a flag to Ron’s daughter said that when he opened his sack lunch on the way to the service, there was a note from his eight-year-old daughter saying, “Daddy, I love you.” He recognized that the comforts and freedom he experiences with his child came at a high price from those who defend our nation.

Tomorrow is Sunday. We will get up early and prepare some food to take to church for a potluck lunch. We will share communion and thank God for the sacrifice Jesus made for us. We will raise our voices and sing in one accord. My prayer is that the experience shared today will forever press me to appreciate each moment I have the privilege of sharing with loved ones. Hearing how one man’s mere twenty-five years of life impacted so many in a positive way reminds me that I want to leave a legacy myself.

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