I attended a fascinating presentation today by Doris Day, wife of Colonel George E. “Bud” Day who was a POW in Vietnam for almost six years. Her speech was different than any I’d heard before because it was all about what life was like for her and the family while he was gone, rather than what he went through as a prisoner. (For more of his story, see this link.)
Not one to sit around and wallow, Mrs. Day organized a group for wives of POWs and MIAs in her city, successfully lobbied for improved benefits for the missing/imprisoned servicemen and their families, and raised four children. At one time she flew to Sweden and met with a North Vietnamese Colonel to request that basic Geneva Convention practices be followed. What she wanted?
- The US to be provided with a list of names of all imprisoned service members.
- Prisoners to be able to send and receive mail.
- The sick and wounded to be released.
- The Red Cross to be able to inspect the camps.
When her husband finally came home after five years and seven months of internment, she barely recognized him, and his three youngest children didn’t know him at all. They knew nothing of a man’s habits and were fascinated by little things like arm hair and watching him shave.
Colonel Day returned to a new house, a new car, and a son who had been 11 when he left, but was now getting ready to graduate from high school. He could barely keep down food, and didn’t feel comfortable sleeping in a bed for the first few days. He slept on the floor instead.
Mrs. Day said he didn’t seem like himself right away, but after a while he started cracking jokes again, and she knew her “Bud” was back. The couple has now been married for 61 years and has 13 grandchildren.
A few of my favorite anecdotes…
- Whenever Mrs. Day received a letter from her husband (only seven total actually made it through to the US), the postman would ring the doorbell until she answered so he could make sure she got it.
- While her husband was gone, she talked to his picture every day and asked advice from him. That picture is still on her nightstand.
- At the urging of a friend, in one of her letters she included a photo of herself (instead of just the kids’ pictures). Her husband keeps several copies of that photo around his office to this day.
- After he came home, one of their young daughters (age 7 or 8) gave him a note that read: “I waited a long time.”
What Colonel Day went through was a true test of mental and physical strength, but I liked today’s presentation because we often forget about the families behind the POWs/MIAs and what they go through. Colonel Day said he thinks the families have it harder in some ways, because even though he was incarcerated and tortured, he knew his family was safe and being taken care of. His family, though, had little idea of his well-being and lived in constant worry. Plus, his wife had to carry on while under the strain of his absence and circumstances.
My take: we don’t realize how lucky we are when we have it good, or how strong we can be when times are hard.
For more information about POW/MIA/KIAs, please visit http://www.dtic.mil/dpmo/.
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