What if ......?
What ifs are a part of life: What if a relationship had gone differently? What if another career path had been taken? What if a missing loved one had come home from war?
My family recently moved our mom into long term care. Many folks go through this heartbreaking life change. As we help Mom struggle down this final path – fighting to regain balance that had once been so graceful; straining to distinguish between present and past realities, imagined fears and anxieties - my father, missing-in-action, will come to mind. He is still the youthful, strong, vital man from scalloped edged photos, looking on from somewhere undefined. He is surely pleased to see his children caring for his wife, filling the shoes he once assumed would be his own.
What if he had come home from his war, a father who went on to have a past that went beyond twenty-six years old; a man who reached into his own old age? Like with my mother, we would be catching hold of him when his equilibrium failed, indulging his puzzling dance with realities that seem real but he knows are not.
Maybe he is doing this somewhere else, alone, or with someone at his side. Probably not, but you never know. That’s an issue itself.
Either way, this is another phase of life we missed sharing with loved ones who remain missing-in-action. They have become extraordinary through their unknown losses, superheroes who never lived through the everyday challenges that come with a full lifetime, including the indignities of old age, a normal sunset to a lengthy life.
We would love to slide him in beside my mother - frail, forgetful, dependent; and do so with appreciation of how special it would be that he was there, fulfilling an end we never will share.
Rick Downes, President
(Lt. Hal Downes - MIA 1952)
Soldiers sent into battle face dire realities. One of these ends is the possibility that, like disappearing into a Stephen King fog, he or she will simply never be heard from again.
This kind of enigmatic loss ripples through generations of the man or woman’s family. There is no ending to their story. There is no grieving to begin healing. There is only uncertainty, longing, and an ever-present hope that he or she will return one day.
It is a wound that never heals.
No matter how much one tries to accept this kind of loss, a place in the heart simply needs to know what happened to someone that important in our lives. It is an essence of who we are as human beings. In a tragic way, all the missing soldiers, airmen, sailors, and marines remain alive, simply because it’s not known how, or even if, they died.
This leaves generations of family members, who when asked what happened to such an important person in their life, can only answer, “We don’t know”. More than 7500 families from the Korean and Cold Wars live this life. They are still searching for answers. And they face a clock that keeps ticking. Too many have already passed without finding closure.
As a nation, we promised that their loved ones would never be left behind. They were. The same promise is made to the families of today’s soldiers, airmen, sailors, and marines. If this promise is to hold credibility for present day servicemen and women, it must be honored to the finish for those who have gone before. There is much to do. Much that can still be done.
Thank you for joining with us.
Rick Downes, President
(Lt. Hal Downes, father, MIA North Korea 1/13/1952)