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Monday, March 24, 2003

One Step Ahead...Two Steps Back

Capt. Quinlan R. Orell; USN That's what it said on my POW-MIA bracelet when I was in 7th grade. I'll do the math for you; it was 1971. Vietnam. It's funny that I can remember that name. At the time, it was the last name I saw before I fell asleep, and I usually fell asleep thinking about what he might be going through in a faraway land...this sailor that I didn't know. If he were alive, that is. It was also the first name I saw when I woke up, or while I was brushing my teeth and the bended metal bracelet moved back and forth on my wrist while I watched in the mirror. While I fiddled with it at breakfast, I wondered if he had anything to eat, or water to drink...this sailor that I didn't know. If he were alive, that is. I never found out what happened to him. Until today.

In the midst of this insanity, Captain Orell's name has been flooding my brain waves for days now. Images of our newest war casualties splayed over the newspapers, the internet, Reuters, CNN, everywhere..bring back thoughts I haven't had since I was 12 years old. In the middle of tropical paradise, where your average 12 year old should be playing in joyful ignorance in the 70 degree Pacific waters, or wondering whether the Brady Bunch would be on this Friday, I was wondering about a missing sailor that I did not know. Praying for his safe return. I'm reminded what is said about prayers. Not that they are not answered. Just that simply sometimes the answer is "No". Today, I found out that the answer to all of my childhood prayers for Captain Orell was no.

For some reason, I had an epiphany today. Why not go to the Vietnam War Memorial website? It seemed so logical, but a thought that had not occurred to me until just now. I wonder if it's because I know that sometime soon, there will be more bracelets on more wrists. Quite possibly on the wrist of one of my very own daughters. And I think that it's also a likelihood that she too, will wonder about what that person is going through in a faraway place....a name, on a bended metal bracelet, wrapped around her wrist. Yes, Pua. Go to the website. Find out why this name haunts you. So I did. And there it was:

--- General / Personal ---
Last name: ORELL
Home of Record (official): BARNESVILLE
State (official): OH
Date of Birth: Wednesday, January 8, 1930
Sex: Male
Race: Caucasian
Marital Status: Married

--- Military ---

Branch: Navy
Rank: CAPT
Serial Number: 298248194
Component: Regular
Pay grade: O6
MOS (Military Occupational Specialty code): 1310

--- Action ---

Start of Tour: Sunday, October 13, 1968
Date of Casualty: Tuesday, January 10, 1970
Age at time of loss: 40
Casualty type: (A3) Hostile, died while missing
Reason: Air loss - Crashed on land (Pilot - Fixed wing aircraft)
Country: North VietNam
Province: Unknown/Not Reported
The Wall: Panel 41W - Row 060

I sat there staring at the screen with a dropped jaw, and then I began to cry. I honestly didn't expect that it would be there. But there it was. All of it. More than I wanted to know, and more than I felt I could handle. The funny part was, the depth of sadness had changed from the wonderings of a 12 year old girl, to something more agonizing. The agony of a mother whose child was lost. No matter how old you are, you are always your mother's child. The despair of a wife who would never share a touch, a smile, an embrace, or the warmth of a shared bed with her life's companion again. The indescribable darkness, yes, the abyss of sadness of a child who misses their father so much that the pain seems unending. He wasn't just a name on a bracelet on my wrist. He was a son, a husband, a father. Today, all of that is relived again as the news drives it home to us in horrifying detail. Names that were once so strange sounding back then; Da Nang, Me Kong have a current counterpart today; Nasariya, Baghdad. Though the sound is different, the feeling of helplessness, despair, and sadness are overwhelmingly the same, in some ways worse. Because the naivete of a 12 year old is gone. The Innocent Age over. They are someone's sons and daughters. They are someone's husbands and wives. They are someone's parent. At this moment, for me, it is irreconcilable. I would pray, but I'm afraid the answer might be "No". I'm not willing to take that chance.


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