|To all Sisters and Brothers
Who Lost Someone in Vietnam
by Julie Kink
April 15, 1997
|Dear Sisters and Brothers,|
|I write simply to tell you that you are not
alone, and to share my own experience of healing that can
come from the connections that are being made between
Vietnam veterans and family members like me, in hopes it
may help you too.
My brother, Warrant Officer David R. Kink, died on August 3, 1969 as a result of injuries received in a light observation helicopter crash on July 21. He was a helicopter pilot with Charlie Troop, 1st Squadron, 9th Cavalry. He had only been in Vietnam since June; at the time of his death, David was 19, and I had just turned eight.
It was about 1993 when I first began trying to find people who might have known my brother, although I had always had an interest in the Vietnam War, and a persistent nagging ever since my college years that I should hold myself more accountable for studying it. In June of 1993 I wrote a letter to President Clinton giving the particulars about David's death and asking for help in obtaining information concerning U.S. Army personnel who served in Vietnam in 1969. The response was a memo indicating that I could write to the VA Records Processing Center for rosters and that there is an hourly fee for searching the records.
In September of that year, I visited the Moving Wall in Shakopee, Minnesota, and there I picked up literature on the Friends of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and the "In Touch" program. I filled out the "Person Who Did Not Come Back from Vietnam" section of the "In Touch" registration, but it wasn't until February 1994 that I received my first response. Christopher McGorman wrote that he may have known my brother. However, McGorman served a year later than my brother. I knew I had to call him but was nervous, partly because I was afraid that he hadn't known my brother, and partly due to the movie stereotype of Vietnam veterans as "wacky" and plagued by flashbacks, drug and alcohol addiction. Never again will I propagate that hurtful image after talking with Chris.
He had not known my brother, but talking with Chris for a few minutes on the phone opened a whole new world to me. A few days later, I received another letter from him, with information and advice as to where to continue my search, a membership directory of the First Cav Division Association, and a Cav pin.
Chris wrote in part, "Your brother was in one of the finest outfits in the finest Army Division during that war. I know he was proud to be in C Troop 1st Battalion 9th Cavalry, and you should be proud of that fact as well.
"I feel confident you'll find your brother's friends . . . David would be proud to have a sister like you."
I spent hours going through the First Cav directory, cross referencing listings, and came up with the names of eight men who would have been in David's unit during the time he served. I sent letters, hoping at least one would write back. Two of the letters were returned with no forwarding address. One of the men called, two wrote letters with names and additional sources of information and lots of encouragement. None of them had known David.
In the spring of 1996, I found the Vietnam Helicopter Flight Crew Network, a group of 327 former helicopter pilots, crew chiefs, door gunners, and other crew members who have an organized presence on the Internet and a strong commitment to each other and also to helping family like me learn more about what Vietnam was all about and what they did over there. This turned out to be one of the finest organizations of genuinely caring and knowledgeable people that I could ever have found to help me in my search for friends of my brother. The first time one of them emailed me offering to help me find friends of my brother's from flight school, it brought tears to my eyes when I read "Your brother was our brother."
Since that time I have found out over and over again that this simple little statement is the truth. What's more, they have welcomed me as their "little sister" and helped me understand Vietnam. I made a visit to Washington, DC the first time in November 1996 and saw the Wall on Veterans' Day (my brother's birthday) so I got a chance to meet about 30 of my new big brothers and they are a VERY special group!
In addition to the veterans I have met through the Vietnam Helicopter Pilots Association and Vietnam Helicopter Flight Crew Network, I have been in contact with five men who were friends of my brother's in flight school. They shared memories with me about happy, funny times they had with Dave. It's a fantastic feeling to think that the people whose lives were touched by this one person have found each other after 27 years.
Looking back, I see the time was right for me to begin my search because, after so many years, "David" had come to mean the name on a marker in a cemetery I visit once or twice a year; the color green; an insignia and some medals; the musty, overseas smell I will never forget, associated forever with the strange words, "personal effects"; a box of letters with U.S. government seals on them, brown newspaper clippings and scraps of paper with my mom's handwriting in between; and a few photos.
Each time I stared into the face in those photos, I tried so hard to remember the time and place, especially the ones I'm in - the tone of his voice, how long his fingers were, when he smiled at me, how his jacket felt. But I can't. At this point, my goal is to create some new associations in my own mind, qualities to re-remember, new memories that do more justice to the 18 years he lived BEFORE Vietnam. I have to visit where he was at the end of his life in order to realize who he was up until then.
I didn't get to know my brother while he was alive, but I'm determined to get to know him while I'M alive. I don't see anything out of the ordinary about that. I'm sure there are many others like me who have this yearning to find out about the person who loved them long ago.
I continue to be amazed that so many people are so willing to help me - I'm just a little sister, I wasn't even there, and I have nothing to offer in return. I'll always be grateful for the help I've received from organizations like Friends of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. These are essential links between those of us who were left behind and all of our brothers on the Wall. If anyone reading this has memories to share with a buddy's family, or wants to find out about the person they lost, but fear of contact has stood in the way for too many years, I would urge you: don't wait! We all need to heal together.
Julie Kink, sister of WO1 David R. Kink,