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The long-ago death of a Vietnam soldier recounted

By Dennis Baker
July 2, 2014

[EDITOR’S NOTE: Readers may recall a feature article in The River Reporter (November 6, 2013) about native son Dennis Baker’s book, “Restless Hearts: What if Fallen Heroes Could Go Home? a fictional account using the real names of local soldiers who fought in and did not return from the Vietnam War. Recently, we heard from Baker, who recounted this incident that is helping bring closure to one soldier’s family.]

The latest event took us all by surprise. Kristin, the real-world niece of the [book’s] character Ricky Wood, received a letter from a man in Oregon on her birthday on Memorial Day weekend.

Kristin, not fond of unsolicited mail, almost tossed it into the trash but opened it up to find the unimaginable. The man was a Vietnam veteran who found her dedication on the Virtual Wall for her Uncle Ricky. We put the information on Ricky up only a few months ago after the book came out. The veteran evidently read it and then waited to send the letter. The reason he waited to send it was that the information contained therein was pretty sensitive.

The letter read that he was only 10 feet from Ricky when he was killed. His words were hard for her to read, however they would have provided relief to his mother who always wondered if her son suffered. This brave soldier wrote to Kristin, “Ricky died well, quickly and he didn’t suffer.”

This man had lived with this memory and pain for 45 years, and pain, but with the stroke of a pen, it was what he knew they would want to hear. Kristin called her father and relayed the message.

In the letter, he wrote that Ricky would play “I’m a Believer” by the Monkees, driving his unit crazy. What was it that made the book get written, then a niece to take an interest in her uncle’s past, and then Ricky’s virtual information to be updated to have this fine Vietnam comrade find Kristin and connect?

Maybe it was because Ricky WAS a believer and that spirit remained alive within his niece and comrade.

We have to thank Ronald L. Standiford, the Vietnam veteran, who was strong enough and persevered to help Ricky’s family. I want to thank Kristin to make this journey for me one that has been the highlight of humanity in my life.

We watched a 93-year-old paratrooper who jumped behind enemy lines on D-Day and will do it again this year at the age of 93. It really does mean that much to many of us.

Keep them alive forever. After all, they have kept us alive through their sacrifice.

[A retired Navy commander, Dennis Baker grew up on a farm in Cochecton, NY. He now lives in Florida.]