LETTER WRITTEN BY JIM MOSGROVE'S AUNT RUTH UPON LEARNING OF HIS LOSS
THIS WAS WRITTEN TWO WEEKS AFTER THE NOTICE ARRIVED BY HIS AUNT RUTH
And then the phone rang. Joe my husband and I were having a cup of hot tea before going to church. We were talking about the good time we had the evening before. Our daughter Jane was playing with her little foster brothers. They were rolling on the grass, trying to stand on their head. They were laughing and calling, mama, daddy, look at me. It made us feel good to see them so happy and well adjusted. We were sitting in the lounge chairs, I remember thinking, what a perfect day.
We had moved in our new home just a few months before, we were so happy to have a nice yard. A small peach tree was covered with pale pink blooms, we had set out a Japanese cherry, a Russian Olive, and a Mountain Ash. They were covered with new green leaves. Our first rose bush was budding with deep roses. Small robins were singing, hoping around in the new cut grass. The sun was a warm touch on my face, the wind soft and gentle. I told Joe, I am so happy, I am thankful that we have this day.
My son Rex was on the U.S.S. Kitty Hawk, some where on the China sea. He wrote often, and had made several ratings. He would be home to stay sometime in November. My nephew Jimmie whom we called Jimbo was in Vietnam. His mother, my sister, and his father were divorced when he was just a small boy. He and my sister had lived with me off and on most of his life. He had been in Vietnam eight months, we missed him and Rex so much, that's when we decided to get the foster boys. We got two little brothers, Charles age three, Ernie two. They filled our home with laughter and happiness, but I was still lonely for our two who were so far away. Jimbo joined the army at Fort Holabird in Baltimore. He wasn't quite seventeen when he left for basic training. I remember how sad I felt the morning his civilian clothes came in the mail. I knew a boy had left, and that a man would return. He came home a few weeks later, shoes and buttons shining, his uniform neat and pressed. He said Aunt Ruth, I love the Army, when I hear the bugle in the morning, see the flag blowing in the breeze, tears come to my eyes. He was in Korea twice. He said it was a cold and lonely place, other than that he never complained. When he came home the last time, I could tell he had really grown up. He was soft spoken and sure of himself. He knew what he wanted to do with his life when he got out of the Army. He came in late at night, I didn't get up to see him, but I fixed his favorite breakfast the next morning. I burst out laughing when I went in his room to get him up. He still slept with his glasses on. After we had eaten, I showed him through the house, all the shrubbery and new flowers.
Sis had gone to work. He and I sat and talked for hours. He told me he was saving to buy them a home, he had plans to go into some kind of a small business. I asked him about going to Vietnam, He was an only child, maybe he could stay in the states. He then told me about the men in his Unit. He said some of them were like brothers to him. If he didn't go and read that one of them was wounded or killed, he would always feel bad. He said he couldn't stay behind. I felt so proud of him. I told him I would write a song about his beloved fourth division. I told Sis what he said, we never mentioned it again. He had a two week leave. Joe and I tried to make it pleasant and homey for him. I cooked all his favorite dishes, Joe took him to the steel plant where he worked. We told him of our plans to get the little boys, and he was all for it. A few days before he left, he told me that he was going to send all of his mail to my home. In case something should happen to him, he wanted Joe to tell his mother.
All too soon the last day arrived. Joe and I sat in the car when he went to tell Sis goodbye. She said he saluted her as he walked out the door, and said, "take care mother, I'll make you sergeant when I come home." He was whistling a favorite tune as he got back into the car. I held his hand on the way to the airport. There was so many things I wanted to say but I knew he understood. We had a fifteen minute wait at the airport we read the funnies and laughed at the cute jokes in the paper. I heard the speaker call it was time for his plane to leave. He and Joe Shook hands, then he put his arms around me. He thanked me for always being so good to him and his mother. Tears filled my eyes but I managed to smile. I told him I would be praying for him, he said, I know, I know, then, he walked away.
Joe and I went to a window to wave to him, but he never looked back. As he walked up the steps so erect, I felt my heart break. I wanted to scream, come back Jimbo, please, come back. I knew someone so dear to me had just walked out of my life. I cried all the way home, telling Joe, I'll never see him again. He tried to reassure me, telling me it was because he was going to a War Zone. The first week he was over there, I read where the Fourth Division was badly mauled. Sis had moved across town, I prayed she wouldn't read the news. We wrote him often sending him kool-aid and tea in every letter. Sis sent him boxes of chocolates, nuts, lifesavers and candies every other week. One of Jane's girlfriends began writing to him, this made me feel better. He wrote that he really looked forward to meeting her by her letters she seemed to be the special someone he was waiting for. Week after week, the news seemed to get worse. I prayed to god that he would never let him feel scared or alone. At first he tried to joke about the war, then, the letters became serious. He wanted me to ask the members in my church to pray for them. He had been bitten by a bug and had spent a few days in the hospital. Then we got a letter from him and Rex. They were meeting in Japan for three days. Sis and I were so excited, to think that our two boys were meeting all the way across the world. I wondered if Rex knew this was the last time the two of them would be together. They wrote telling us they had a ball. This was one of the happy things that happened the next was our foster boys coming to live with us. I let them talk on tapes and sent them to Rex and Jimbo. I had taught them to sing and yodel. They helped to fill the lonely hours. In February Jimbo sent his girlfriend a dozen of lovely red roses, tears came to her eyes as she picked them up. She said, I'll keep them always. This sadness continues to stay with me when ever I thought of him.
Around Easter he sent some pictures, his Commanding Officer was pinning stripes on his sleeves. He was now Staff Sergeant. He had made six ratings in one year. He had lost so much weight, I didn't recognize him. I couldn't look at Sis when she took the pictures out of the envelope, I felt so scared and helpless. He wrote about the sandbags that had to be filled and the bugs that made their life miserable. Some of his letters were written on odd pieces of paper and envelopes. The first week in May he caught a throat infection. After getting out of the hospital he could stay on base awhile. He had written me the week before about an experience he had. They were in the fields searching for VCs. He realized they were all around him; he hid in a small bush. He said he was never so scared in his life. He began to pray, all the prayers he remembered he sent up to God. He said Jesus come down to him in that lonely field he felt his presence for about twenty minutes. I thanked God that night when I knelt to pray. It made me feel so much better to know that my Jimbo had met God. When he wrote that he could stay on base, I relaxed. I thought maybe Joe was right, that it would be ok with Jimbo. He could stay on base it wouldn't be so dangerous there. He told me to write and tell Rex to wait on him in California, they would come home together. I was already looking forward to the dinner I would cook. We had gotten another little boy, David. We talked about going to the airport and watching them get off the plane. I felt happy again.
Then that Sunday morning the phone rang. A friend that Sis lived with asked if Joe was with me, she wanted to speak to him. I ask if Sis was sick, she said no. then I ask the question I always knew I would have to ask. Is it Jimbo? Then she told me he was dead. She wanted us to come over at once. When Sis had seen her and the strange soldier walk through the door, she knew and ran from the room. She didn't want to come out, to know for sure that all she had was gone. When we got there, the soldier told us what had happened. That morning, the 19th of May, Jimbo was patrolling the base in one of those large jeeps. A group of terrorist were hidden in a truck, had shot Jimbo several times. He died instantly.
Sis came home with me, we talked about the crazy things he and Rex did. We laughed until the thought came to us that we were saying he did this or he did that, then we would cry. The days of waiting for his body to arrive still seems like a bad dream. All of our close friends came to us, the special ones stayed through that awful week. His body arrived on Thursday. We could view him the next day. We thought the soldier that came with him was going back to Vietnam. Sis asked me if I could put his song on tape and let him take it back to his friends. I had to sing it three or four times, I couldn't seem to get it right. All the time I was thinking, this can't be.
The next day I went to see him he still had the boyish smile I thought how many others will have to go through this?, then came Monday morning. A cold mist was falling we buried him on a small hill. The sad taps, the sound of guns firing made us to know it was over.
In a chest upstairs we have the folded flag, an empty wallet a pair of glasses, two or three pens that don't write anymore. There is his faded sterling silver ring, the Purple Heart, the Bronze Star, some medals South Vietnam sent. Gone is someone we loved dearly, a little boy that could smell cookies baking a block away and be home by the time we took them from the oven, the boy that followed me to the alter when I took communion, the last time when he was a young man of sixteen. Gone is his laughter, his off key whistle, all the little things that is the some one we love. I cry inside when I see my grandchildren, I recall the day he died Sis said there goes all the grandchildren I'll never have. It's almost six years now, it seems the war is almost over, the pain is still piercing. I cry when I hear the song, The Green, Green Banks of Home. If there was only one young man to go into war, that's one too many. I pray that the leaders will soon learn that they have to live together, that wars never solve the world's problems. I can only thank God that he and Jimbo met that night six years ago. I know he is in a land where no guns or bombs ever still the voice and laughter of young men who died for their country.
GRATEFUL WORDS TO THE MEN WHO SERVED
WITH JIM MOSGROVE IN VIETNAM BY HIS FAMILY