I originally wrote this story about my brother Jim back in the early 80’s on Nov. 4, his birthday.
The day started no differently than any other that morning. I was getting ready for school, looking forward to all the things a 13-year old girl looks forward to. Little did I know that within the next 10 minutes my life would be dramatically changed. I remember telling my daddy goodbye as he left for work, and the lingering aroma of his after-shave. I remember my mother telling us kids to come to the table for breakfast. I remember a knock on the door. I remember someone opening it and my mother screaming-a loud, painful mourning wail.I may have been young but I knew why those men in their military uniforms were there with the chaplain, their military vehicle, and their somber faces. I ran! I didn’t want to listen to what they had to say, thinking in my childish mind that if I didn’t hear them say it then it wouldn’t be true. I beat frantically on Miss Rachel’s door. She was my mother’s best friend and right then I knew she needed one. I ran over to Mary Ann’s house. I needed a friend too. I finally went home after a while. Someone, I don’t remember who, was talking to Daddy on the phone. We found out later that in his pain and grief he ripped his phone completely out of the wall. My sister Connie, 15, was crying and my little brother Mike, 11, was motionless, in some kind of deep shock.
Daddy arrived and the full story unfolded. Jim Jr., a door gunner, was flying a mission that was shot down near OD lake. They were caught in a crossfire between two .51 caliber machine guns and took multiple hits. At low altitude the tail boom separated from the aircraft. The pilot lost control and the helicopter rolled at least partially inverted before striking the ground where it crashed and burned. He had not yet been found so they listed him as MIA (missing in action). Deep down we all knew better. The war had come home. I remember daddy telling someone later that during his military career he had had to deliver bad news to many wives, mothers, and fathers, but he never thought he would be the recipient of such news himself.
My God! He’s only 19 years old! Why him? Why us? He’s my brother, my idol. I want him home now! Safe! Alive! Well!
The next few days were a blur. I wouldn’t, couldn’t, eat or sleep. Jim’s faithful companion, his dog Winner, knew his master wasn’t coming home. He brought in his favorite toy, an old chewed-up football that he and Jim played with endlessly, and laid it at Mother’s feet as an offering of comfort. He never again left her side until his death many years ago.
People were in and out constantly over the next few days. There were friends, relatives, neighbors and schoolmates offering their comfort and prayers. Jim’s fiance’ Pat came and stayed with us. For days we walked in a fog. Mike still showed no emotion, living day by day as if nothing had changed. We worried about him. It took almost a year for him to come to terms with it, break down, and accept it.
Armed Forces day arrived!. Jim’s best friend, Larry Saltee, came and took Connie, Pat, and I to the festivities. Mother said we needed to get out. The waiting was taking its toll on us. Mike didn’t go. He worked Saturdays at the local barber shop there in Daleville shining shoes.
In spite of our pain we had a good time – until we drove up to the house. That military car was leaving. Mother and Grandma were sitting at the table with red-rimmed eyes, trying to be strong. She told us that Daddy had gone to get Mike from work. We knew something was wrong for he never came home early.
“He’s dead isn’t he?” Pat asked. Everyone began crying. The waiting was over. Now we knew. We would never see him again. Never again would we see that winning smile or hear his laugh. Never again would we be the victim of his unfailing charms and practical jokes. We were even robbed of the chance to look upon his face one last time for all they found were his dog tags.
Lying on the table were photographs taken a week earlier. They were taken on Mother’s Day of a family that a young boy would never see again, for at the time we were laughing and hamming it up for the cameras, Jim had met his death. My God! He was only 19.
Today is Jim’s birthday. He would have been 70 years old. It’s hard to believe that he would have been that age. Sometimes, most times, it seems like only yesterday. The pain is still there. Now though he is remembered through wonderful memories, but he is sorely missed. His passing took its toll and destroyed a once-happy family unit. We love you and miss you PFC James E. Isaac Jr.
Brenda Isaac Riley