Their courage

In memory of Earl Glenn Cobeil, my April 2012 visit to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

In memory of Earl Glenn Cobeil, my April 2012 visit to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

“The brave die never, though they sleep in dust:
  Their courage nerves a thousand living men.”Minot J. Savage

In April 2012, I planned to take some visiting relatives to Washington DC, where they would spend the day sightseeing.  I decided that, after dropping them off in town,  I would stop by Arlington National Cemetery, where a good friend of ours was interred in 2011.  I also wanted to visit the grave of Earl Glenn Cobeil, whose POW bracelet I had worn while I was in high school.

In the decades since I first wept over the news that Colonel Cobeil had died in captivity, I had often sought information about him but still knew very little.  On one of my visits to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial (known as “The Wall”) I had learned a few facts, including the notation that he was buried at Arlington, so I wanted to find out where his grave would be.  Before leaving home that day, I made what I thought would be a brief search online to find his grave’s location.

In searching for this information, I came across the devastating truth about the savage and unrelenting torture that had led to his death.  A long-buried grief stabbed at my heart again as I realized that my worst fears for this man had been less horrible than what actually happened to him.   The one bright spot amid this sorrow was the discovery of contact information for his family.  I resolved to write to them, and after visiting Arlington that day, walked across the bridge and into DC to The Wall.

Before taking a photo of his name there, I pulled out a tissue and polished the surface surrounding the engraved letters.  A photographer with an SLR and a tripod approached me, telling me he had made “some really good photos” of me, apparently for a newspaper.  I asked him if he would take a photo with my camera, and he agreed.  “Touch the wall again,” he said, and I reached up and put my fingers under the name.

After taking the photo, he asked me why I was there; whether this was a family member or friend who was lost in the war.  I explained to him about the POW bracelet I had worn, as had so many others in the late 60’s and early 70’s, and briefly described what I had just learned that day about how Colonel Cobeil died.  I thanked him for his interest and for the photo.  Later, I left this tribute at the Virtual Wall, one among many others for a man I never knew, but will never forget.

I did contact his wife Patricia, now remarried, and she called me.  We had a wonderful conversation, as well as further written correspondence.  In talking with her I mused that, during the years I wore the bracelet, I could never have imagined that I myself would someday be married to an Air Force Colonel.  What I also never imagined was the heartbreaking news Jeff and I would soon receive about his stage IV cancer.  During the very difficult early days of coming to terms with his grim prognosis and the hard battle that lay ahead for him, the courage of Colonel and Mrs. Cobeil was an inspiration and source of strength to me.

Today, I hope we all will take time to remember the brave sacrifices of countless people whose names and faces we will never know, as well as those we have loved who are no longer here with us on earth.  May their legacy live on in those of us who have been blessed by their example.

20 Comments

  1. God works in mysterious ways, doesn’t He? What an amazing set of coincidences…big hugs to you! ♥

    • Yes, I agree. Whatever else can be said of life, it is certainly remarkable, isn’t it? Thanks for being here, and for the cyber hugs!

  2. Karen

    Thank you for remembering the Viet Nam Heroes. I cried reading this blog today.

    • Thanks, Karen. Over the past few months that Jeff has been taking chemo and hospitalized a couple of times at Walter Reed, I have been very happy to see that the level of support for our wounded soldiers is so high right now. So many civilians are present with donations, gratitude and care; for example, restaurants often bring lovely complimentary meal buffets for wounded troops and those who care for them. I can’t help but feel saddened when I think how little support our Vietnam veterans got when they returned home. However people feel about the current wars, it is clear that almost everyone honors the sacrifices made by the men and women who serve, and also by their families.

  3. hilzonsix

    Thanks, Julia, for sharing from your heart. Most interesting about the Wall memorial. We visited it our last time in DC. I understand about the devastating news. My husband is suffering from Alzheimer’s and is now at the Veteran’s Victory House here in Walterboro. It is a wonderful facility. If you are not familiar with it, check it out on line. Blessings to you and your family.

    • Thanks so much, I did read about the Veterans Victory House and saw that they have several locations. I am so happy to know it is a good facility. You may feel, as I do, that the bright spot amid these medical woes lies in knowing that our loved ones are receiving top-notch care. So in all our prayers I try to remember to say “thank you Lord” for all the blessings that continue despite our sorrow. Thanks for being here!

  4. I didn’t know that people wore POW braclets of people they didn’t know. That is such a great idea…I love how much it meant to you over the years. His wife must have been so surprised and happy to hear from you.
    Your photo is very moving. Thank you for sharing this poignant post.

    • Hi Denise, thanks for your visit here and your comment. I think the vast majority of the POW bracelets were worn by people who did not know the service members named on them. A great many of the people I knew in high school wore POW bracelets, and I never knew anyone who knew the soldier on their bracelet. When the POWs began to return home there was tremendous excitement among the students, especially when “their” POWs came home, and many contacted the families if they could find out where to do so. Among my friends, I was the only one I knew whose POW did not come back. The POW bracelets were a very real, personal reminder of the cost of war which is so easy to forget when we remain distant from the suffering.

      It was so wonderful to talk to his wife recently after all these years of wondering about her. She and her second husband (and sometimes her children) visit Arlington each year. She said several people have contacted her over the years to tell her they wore her husband’s bracelet. Some of them sent the bracelet to her and she now has one for every child and grandchild. I told her if she ever needed another, she will know where to find me! It would be a great joy to give the bracelet to one of his family members, but I would not part with it otherwise. Many bracelets have been left at the Wall, from what I have read. All items left at the wall are archived and sometimes they create displays of them. Thanks again for your comment; I am glad you liked the tribute.

      • That is all very interesting…It is so easy to stay disconnected from anything related to war -we are too comfortable in our own lives to remember those who are sacrificing so much for us to continue living this way.

  5. MaryAnn

    Each time I read about your MIA bracelet & your prayers for Colonel Cobell, I get a lump in my throat. Thank you for sharing the valuable lesson. It stirs my heartfelt appreciation for all the brave soldiers who have died & those who are fighting today for us! My brother & I will visit our daddy’s grave today. The headstone states “WW1 PVT”.

    • WW1? Really? Wow, you don’t seem old enough to have a Daddy that fought in “the Great War” – that wasn’t a typo, was it? I know it’s possible because according to family lore, my paternal grandfather fought in the Spanish American War. He was pretty old when my father was born. Jeff and I recall seeing Sam Smith’s name at the USS San Francisco Memorial at Land’s End in San Francisco. We had heard from people at church that he fought at Guadalcanal, and it was memorable to see his name inscribed on the monument. Thanks for being here and for honoring our troops, something you are faithful to do every day and not just once a year!

  6. Viet Nam, it seems is fraught with even more tragedy than most wars. The F-105 Thunderchief (known to fighter pilots as “the Thud”) Col. Cobeil was flying was a relic of the Cold War; designed with an internal bomb bay, for a single nuclear weapon, it was pressed into service in Viet Nam, overloaded with external stores (fuel tanks and MER bomb-racks hanging from its wings). In its original configuration, the F-105 could have flown to 50,000 feet, and at 1,500 mph. But, over Hanoi they became “sitting ducks”, struggling as they climbed above 20,000 feet; and not usually flown above 500 mph. We think of only the infantry as being “cannon fodder”; but over Southeast Asia, the Thud drivers came close to the same risk. I knew of one F-105G squadron who lost half their number of assigned aircraft! I add a wish of R.I.P. to Col. Cobeil, and all his brave fallen comrades!

    • Yes, I had read recently that the F-105 was pulled from service due to the high loss rate – I think it said it was the only plane ever retired for that reason? Also I read they were cover for other aircraft, and supposedly “first in last out” which is similar to what you refer to as infantry “cannon fodder.” I had never heard them called “Thud” but they were called “Wild Weasels” at that time. I agree that the Vietnam war has always felt a bit more tragic than others, but I had always wondered if this is because it was the war we grew up with. I remember you and Larry Smith watching the draft on TV when it was your year to be called into service if your number was among the first drawn.

  7. Carolyn

    Please give Jeff a hug and thank him for his service. Terry and I went to the memorial service here in Bartlett today. Hot but I made it. I hope Jeff is healing and is feeling as well as possible. Take care of yourself and the family, love to all. Keep us posted on Jeff.

    • Thanks Carolyn, Jeff is somewhat better today and we are praying he continues to improve, and maybe gets to go home on Wednesday. Today was a perfect, sunny but cool day, so it was a great day for the big parade in DC. Of course we didn’t get to go but did see a bit of it on TV. Thanks so much for being here – our prayers are with you also. Love to you and Terry

  8. Sheila

    Julia, I have so enjoyed the recent blogs pertaining to Washington DC. Bill and I have participated in the Rolling Thunder motorcycle ride and the feeling of patriotism that day was just incredible. Even though that was 2003, the memories themselves are monumental.
    I’m sure that the halls of Walter Reed must feel the same way.
    I so hope that today has been a good day and the start of a very good week.
    Until tomorrow, Sheila

    • Sheila, the Rolling Thunder riders are still coming in full force every year. Some of them were at Walter Reed this weekend; we saw them on Jeff’s floor visiting the Wounded Warriors. It was very touching to see them. The week before, Gary Sinise and the Lt. Dan Band gave a free concert and there was a big free barbeque on the grounds, but of course with Jeff in the ICU at that time I didn’t go. But I have been happy to see how much support our injured soldiers are getting from the community. Perhaps that is one legacy from the sadness of Vietnam. I am happy to say that today was much better for Jeff and we hope that he might be able to go home Wednesday. Thanks so much for your kind thoughts, prayers and concern!

  9. I really felt moved by your tribute here Julia. I was pretty young during the Vietnam War, and while Canada didn’t officially participate (some volunteered), I do remember being worried by the news of the war and loss of life. How did you come to wear a bracelet of a POW? Was it a school program? I linked to your Virtual Tribute as well. I imagine Col. Cobeil was very touched by your words too.

    • The POW bracelets were sold by a nonprofit and spread by word of mouth from students; it was never anything official, just a grassroots movement. Initially I resisted it because it seemed to be just a fad, but eventually I came to agree with and respect the underlying purpose. Those who bought and wore a bracelet did so with the vow that they would never remove it until the POW named on it was accounted for. I never once took mine off until I saw the newspaper story that told he had died.

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