“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.