Meet our writers

 







Reflections May 2018

Old Soldiers Never Die

By Lynn Walker Gendusa

I looked at her and she at me. From Poland to America to Vietnam to Georgia to a dining room. We both stared at the doll. Tears fell down my cheeks, and I felt as if two fallen soldiers were standing with us looking at two women utterly aghast at the curious, mysterious junctions where lives meet and why.

The war in Vietnam was raging by the time we graduated from high school in 1965. If college was not your destination, you were more than likely traveling to battle.

Some young men wanted to go into the military. A lifelong goal was to serve their country. Many gave their lives for their dream. Way too many.

It was a difficult time for our country. Protest, anger, death, and politics mixed in a boiling pot, spilling over into divisiveness and apathy.

Our young men came home to no fanfare or parades. They returned scarred both mentally and physically to a world that forgot to say "thank you" to the soldier who wanted only to protect and serve.

In 1965 I headed off to college, and my brother was heading into the dark waters of North Vietnam. By August of that year, Lt. John Walker and his entire destroyer, the USS Pritchett, was nowhere to be found. The Navy did not explain their whereabouts or mission.

Finally, after almost a year, a letter from President Lyndon Johnson was handed to my mother. The USS Pritchett had been on a secret mission. They traveled further into North Vietnamese waters than any other ship had ventured before. Everyone on board was safe and on their way home.

During John’s service in Vietnam, I received a Vietnamese doll. These dolls became a symbol of the war to many. She came to me in traditional dress with a straw hat that hung by a strap down her back. She would move wherever I would go throughout my life, usually winding up safely tucked in a dresser drawer.

My brother finally arrived home in late 1966 after serving over four years in the Navy. He never discussed Nam, but his love of his comrades and the Navy never wavered.

After a diagnosis of terminal cancer in 1994, John returned to a gathering of his old shipmates on the USS Pritchett. It was there that he found the inspiration to write a history of the destroyer and present it to the US Navy.

He, along with many on the Pritchett, left this earth long before we were ready for their commissions with us to be over.

For many years during the war, I wore a POW/MIA bracelet for another warrior whose name was Major Robert Dyczkowski. These bracelets were worn by many of us to honor the fallen. They merely bore the name and rank of the soldier and the date they went missing.

When your soldier was found or set free, you were to break the metal. For me, it symbolized that the soldier was not bound any longer by shackles or life. They were found either on earth or heaven.

My bracelet is still intact. Major Robert Dyczkowski never returned nor ever found.

The bracelet was with my doll in that safe drawer for over 40 years. Now and then I would wonder about the Major and hope that somewhere, someday they would find this Air Force pilot and bring him home.

When I married in 2005, my husband wanted me to have someone help me clean our house. After a search I found Violet, who came to the U.S. from Poland. She speaks perfect English, and I have loved her as part of our family for years.

One day, right before she was to arrive, my husband and I decided to create a wall of art in our dining room.

Most of the paintings were his and previously hung on various walls throughout the house. We loved the new art collection, but there was a hole that needed something else. A narrow tall space was requiring a "piece."

I ran upstairs and got the doll and the POW bracelet.

“David, why can’t we put these together in a shadowbox and display them here?” I said pointing to the odd space. "I always wanted to take these out of the drawer, and now we have the opportunity to showcase them!"

After I picked the shadowbox up from the art framer, I hung it immediately, and it was perfect. The doll with the POW/MIA metal bracelet around her waist was now in an honorable place.

Violet came the following Thursday.

She was dusting in the dining room and admiring the gallery. I was getting ready for work.

“Lynn, Lynn!” she shouted.

I ran to her. She was holding the feather duster in the air as if frozen while staring at the shadowbox.

She could hardly speak, so I explained to her what the bracelet meant.

“No, no, you are not going to believe this!” She continued, "That is Robert Dyczkowski! He was found in 2001 and brought home. He is my husband's uncle. He was promoted posthumously to Colonel and is one of that last Americans from Vietnam to be buried in Arlington."

I looked at her and she at me. From Poland to America to Vietnam to Georgia to a dining room. We both stared at the doll. Tears fell down my cheeks, and I felt as if two fallen soldiers were standing with us looking at two women utterly aghast at the curious, mysterious junctions where lives meet and why. Suddenly it seemed as if the war was finally over. Peace had found two soldiers.

Memories of war and those that served never should be tucked away in a drawer. On this Memorial Day we need to remember that old soldiers never die, nor do they fade away. They should always live on in the hearts and minds of those that they served and forever be honored.

 

Lynn Walker Gendusa is a Georgia newspaper columnist. She can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

Meet Lynn