Saturday, September 10, 2011

A Mother Who Lost a Son

Her name was Dorothy. I had written a story about her son - a man whose name is carved on the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial in Washington, D.C. I only spoke with her one time – by an odd coincidence it happened on the night of one of the most significant and tragic days in American history – September 11, 2001.

 On June 28, 1966, I was a boy in Bozeman, Montana. I recall that morning standing in the kitchen listening to the radio and gazing out the kitchen window at the spectacular sight of the sparkling blue Montana sky and sunlight glinting off a mountain to the east of town. That picture is burned into my mind and remains crystal clear even now, more than 45 years later. The picture remains so clear partly due to the memory of what happened that day and on another day 35 years later.

As I listened to the radio that fine Montana summer morning in 1966, I heard a news announcer deliver a bulletin stating that a local man, Air Force Captain Charles Glendon Dudley, the son of a prominent Bozeman businessman, had been reported missing in action and presumed dead in Vietnam. I didn’t know the family personally, but I knew who the father was – his voice was familiar from radio commercials as he promoted his business.

Years later, early in 2001, I saw a television advertisement announcing that the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial Mobile Wall would be displayed in our area in the next few weeks. I took my family to see the display – my wife and our 9-month-old son. After finding Captain Dudley’s name on the wall, I did some research and learned a little more about the man who had been shot down in combat on that long ago summer day.

I wrote an article about my experience visiting both the original Wall in Washington, and the Mobile Wall, mentioning Captain Dudley and a little of his history. Dudley had been shot down and his body never recovered. 

Losing a child is an unimaginable tragedy, but to lose one and to not ever know for certain what happened, or where he came to rest, is something I cannot fathom. Captain Dudley had been shot down on his mother’s 61st birthday. As if it wasn’t enough that her son was taken from her, it happened on what should be a happy family day.

Realizing that the loss of a son was an intensely personal thing to any family, I decided to seek their permission to use their son’s name in my article. I discovered that Dudley’s father had passed away years before, but his mother Dorothy was still living in Montana.

I wrote a letter to her, and included a copy of my article, hoping she would appreciate my effort to honor her son. I had no idea how she would react; having this painful memory rekindled by a strange writer. I was prepared for the possibility that she would simply ignore my request. Months passed and I hadn’t thought of my article or Captain Dudley for some time, when one morning, the course of history in America changed.

Like millions of my fellow Americans, I watched the tragedy of the September 11 attacks unfold. While our 16-month-old son played around us, my wife (who was pregnant with our daughter at the time) and I sat riveted to the television all day and into the evening. By ten o’clock that night, after hours and hours of anger and tears, we finally reached a point where we could take no more. We were wrung out and exhausted, and we reluctantly turned the television off.

Just as I was about to turn out the light and try to sleep, the phone rang. I looked at the caller I.D. – it was Dorothy Dudley, Captain Dudley’s mother. I don’t remember how long we spoke, but we talked about the horrible events we had witnessed that day, and we spoke of her son. She told me her son Charles had been a fine, honorable man. He had left a young son and an infant daughter who was born after he died. I told her I also had a toddler son and a daughter yet to be born. By another odd coincidence, the day Captain Dudley was shot down – his mother’s birthday – was also my wife’s birthday.

She thanked me for honoring her son. I thanked her for her son’s service to his country, and for her sacrifice. She reminded me – softly, lovingly, in a way only a mother can - that I had an opportunity her son Charles never had – the chance to watch my children grow up.
MIA bracelet honoring Capt. Dudley

Mrs. Dudley died three years later – never knowing for certain what happened to her son. 

My children were (at the time of this writing), 9 and 11, and I have told them the story of Captain Dudley and how his children never knew their father. They have seen the MIA/KIA bracelet with Captain Dudley’s name carved on it that I carry with me.

For us, remembering the heroes and victims of September 11, 2001, includes the memory of Captain Charles Glendon Dudley – an American serviceman who never returned home. We also remember his mother, Mrs. Dorothy Dudley – an American mother who lost a son.

Author's note: If you wish to read the original story I wrote about Captain Dudley, you'll have to buy my book, 'Between the Fuzzy Parts'.

Larry Manch is an author, teacher, guitar player, freelance writer, and columnist. His books include: 'The Toughest Hundred Dollars & Other Rock & Roll Stories', 'A Sports Junkie', 'The Avery Appointment', 'Between the Fuzzy Parts'.

He also writes about baseball for Climbing Tal's Hill, food and travel on Miles & Meals, and music/guitars on The Backbeat, and is a member of the Internet Baseball Writers Association of America.

He lives in Central Texas with his wife and family.

No comments:

Post a Comment