Though they sleep

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

Dear readers, though I don’t typically re-blog earlier posts, today I wanted to share this one again. Arlington National Cemetery is very much on my mind for so many reasons. May this Memorial Day bring you somber reflection and grateful hope. This post was originally published five years ago, on May 27, 2013. 

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.

May 28, 2018, a short postscript: I now have a lovely silver bracelet with a message of hope, sent to me by Colonel Cobeil’s family after I wrote them of Jeff’s diagnosis. The grave that Matt and I will one day share with Jeff is not far from that of Colonel Cobeil, an easy and lovely walk when the weather is favorable.

36 Comments

  1. raynard

    Julia as I just got thru making Baked Beans with Chicken& Apple smoked sausages, I read your post. It reminded me of 2007. That is when we visited both the Statue of Liberty and Vietnam Memorial. I used to share my experience with younger people at my job who are in the National Guard and Reserves. When you get a chance, there has been an article in the USA Today about” How to talk to Veterans on Memorial Day and every day. It put things in a different perspective for me, especially when people say ” Thank you for your service”. I went back and read your previous comments about a trip to Shady Maple. There are people asking me” when is the next time you are going? This year my birthday is on a Saturday so if I do go” it’s a free meal on your birthday. We sold our van this week after 11 plus years. It was ” nickel and dime on repairs. I will keep you posted on the details as we are looking for an SUV to travel with our dogs. I’m not” yet there on hybrids and electric cars. That’s like” sending me to ” Lowes” and I look like” Smokey the Bear trying to fit into” a pair of skinny jeans” I digress. Be blessed.

    • Hey Raynard, if you do go to the Shady Maple on your birthday, let me know. We might be able to make it up there then although I’m guessing the traffic is pretty bad in the summertime. I’m glad Jeff left me two fairly new cars because I would not know how to begin thinking about getting a new one. Good luck with that. Traveling with the dogs sounds like lots of fun, though. I looked up that article you mentioned and I found a short video of it which I’d like to post below, because I think everyone should watch it. Even though I’ve never been a soldier at all, let alone been deployed to a war zone, I identified deeply with what they were saying about people being almost dismissive even when saying nice things like “thank you for your service” as a way of distancing themselves from stuff they’d rather not think about. As a widowed mother of an adult son with multiple disabilities, I’ve known my share of that sort of dismissal, and it’s gotten ten times worse when Jeff died. The closing words are powerful: “The can’t come back into the community if you’re not talking to them.”

      https://www.usatoday.com/videos/news/2018/05/30/how-talk-veterans-memorial-day-and-every-day/35333571/

      http://myedmondsnews.com/2018/05/from-usa-today-how-to-talk-to-veterans-on-memorial-day-and-every-day/

  2. Julia, thank you for sharing this post. It is very touching. I remember praying for my cousin who was serving in the Army in Vietnam when I was in junior high school.

    • You’re welcome, Nancy. I’m glad you found the post meaningful. Those of us who remember Vietnam and the days when people got drafted whether they liked it or not, have a different understanding of these stories.

  3. Rita Thompson

    Julia,
    Such a touching and beautifully written post. Sad, but uplifting. Thank you for what you do and for being wise even as a teenager.
    Rita

    • Thank you, Rita. I so appreciate your presence here. It means a great deal.

  4. Sheila

    Good Monday morning, Julia. ☕️☔️ Happy Memorial Day! 🇺🇸 “Somber reflection and grateful hope” is the perfect phrase for today, and many days! This morning I read more about Col. Cobeil and it’s such a sad story, his pain and suffering. A happy note that years later there’s another chapter to his story, one of friendship that defeats despair. 🇺🇸 Although I’ve seen this photo before it’s still one of my favorites. At Jeff’s service, I remember thinking that it was such a lovely section of Arlington. That day was somber but so serene, as the snow fell and the soft notes of the bagpipes filled the cold air! It warmed my very being, It was a moment to cherish! Let’s walk on some virtual 🌞 because it’s 💦 🐈’s and 🐕’s! Hi to Matt!

    • Sheila, the pilot who was shot down with Col. Cobeil survived POW captivity, and gave some very graphic testimony about the details of what happened to Col. Cobeil and the things that were done to him. I almost wish I had not read it because it’s like something from a horror movie, stuff you could never make up. His wife told me she never read the details and did not intend to, which I think was wise on her part. It is truly heartbreaking and tragic. Yes, “somber but so serene” is a very good description of Arlington, even on days when there are lots of tourists. In some otherworldly way, it helps to reassure me that rest and peace can follow the most nightmarish of times. WOW, it surely is 💦 🐈’s and 🐕’s! My poor yard and plants don’t know what to think. Some are growing like crazy and some are drooping from seemingly too much water. Remind me of this when I’m complaining about how hot and dry it will be soon!

  5. MaryAnn Clontz

    What a lovely, loving tribute! Praying for you & Matt!
    Love, MaryAnn

    • Thank you, Mary Ann. ❤

  6. Judy from Pennsylvania

    My heart goes out in memory of the ones who died from wounds in Viet Nam but whose names are not on the wall. You see, I was a neuro rehab therapist at a large VA hospital where the wounded were sent after they stabilized at Clark Air Force Base in the Phillipines. I worked with some of the veterans who suffered the most horrid injuries. Injuries that they lived with for months and which left them totally disabled in the hospital. Injuries which inevitably led to secondary complications and, later, death at the hospital.

    Years later when I searched for a couple of the names on The Wall, they weren’t there. How could this be? I went to online chat rooms and asked the question, and some veterans explained that you had to die in Viet Nam to have your name on The Wall. I still remember some of those young soldiers I was honored to serve in their very difficult months. All were Marines who had been in terrible battles. All were young. I still have tears remembering them. I wish their names had been included. I wonder how many others aren’t listed.

    • Judy, sadly, probably more names than we can even imagine. I think that’s why they could not be listed. The Wall is massive as it is, and searching for names is all but impossible without a guide. Even when one knows precisely where to look, section number, line number, etc., there are so many names of those who died overseas, that it’s very difficult to find the one you are looking for. That is the genius of Maya Lin’s design; it is fittingly overwhelming. All the weeks I spent at Walter Reed made me very aware of how many gravely injured soldiers are coming home all the time in recent years, too. And yes, so often these injuries, even when not immediately fatal, lead to secondary complications that end in death. The sad thing about the young Marines you remember is that many– perhaps most– of them never intended to be soldiers; they were drafted and forced to leave their homes and families. We now have an all-volunteer force, which is a blessing, but which does tend to separate the military even further from mainstream society, as so many families are totally untouched by the death and destruction that goes on day in and day out, having “outsourced” national security to others. As one writer hauntingly put it several years ago, “America is not at war. The military is at war. America is at the mall” (or the ball game or in front of some sort of screen). Do watch the video Raynard shared. It might bring more tears on behalf of those young Marines you remember, but it also will reassure you that there are some people who get it and who have not forgotten them.

      • Judy from Pennsylvania

        I’m glad that Raymond posted the link for the video, which I watched and have now shared with others. Your quote, “America is not at war. The military is at war. America is at the mall”, says volumes about the disconnect between Americans living their everyday lives and Americans serving in her wars. So many wars. So much loss and woundedness. Wars take visible and invisible tolls. I like the way the video helps us know a bit more about bridging the gap when we talk to our military war veterans.

        • Yes, thanks to Raynard for sharing that video. Even for those of us who are part of the military culture, it’s often hard to know what to say when words are so inadequate. There are those who argue fairly convincingly for the draft to be reinstated, so that the burden (and therefore the sober understanding) of war is more equally distributed among all demographic groups. I am thankful for the all-volunteer military, because I think it helps no one to drag people kicking and screaming into military service. Nevertheless, those who argue for the draft have some good points. Outsourcing something as cataclysmic as warfare– even when outsourcing that heavy burden to one’s fellow citizens– can lead to frightful ignorance, misunderstanding, complacency and ingratitude.

  7. Julia,
    How strange that we should think ourselves so foreign to one another. Your touching experience shows that all of humanity shares so much. In our trials, dreams, failures, successes, sorrows, joys, loves and losses our hearts find commonality.
    -Alan

    • Thank you, Alan. What bothers me is that, although people have so many common experiences, we seem more distant from each other than ever. I keep reading headlines about how lonely everyone is, and apparently millennials are the loneliest of all, which seems counter-intuitive. All the more reason to keep reaching out– and not to depend on getting a response. I can’t count the number of times an old friend has told me “I love reading your blog” but I had no idea they even knew about it, because they never leave comments or otherwise get in touch. I only find out about it when chance brings us together. My, this sounds depressing, doesn’t it? Here’s a funkier take on that same question, one of my personal favorite posts (not least because the photo features someone of whom I think very highly). 🙂

      • But, that is the reason to keep reaching out. Someone you may know or may never know might take hold of it. And by it, sometimes lives are changed.
        May our out-reach be always virtuous.
        -Alan

  8. So gut wrenching, so beautiful, so sad and so true. xo

    • Thank you, Alys. ❤

  9. Mike

    Wonderful post Julia. My uncle Lloyd- WW2Navy vet- is buried in the Veterans cemetery in Ocala, Fl. Hope to lay a bouquet there on my soujourn in the South. He retired to the Key
    West area and flew PT119’s in WW2. He led a polar expedition in th e 60’s u nder the pole-Operation Deep Freeze and has a glacier named after him in Antarctica. Quite an original.

    • Wow, he sounds like a fascinating guy. So many unsung heroes among us, and those of past generations have much to teach us, if only we will remember them.

  10. I’m sure I was happy to read your tribute before Julia, but it’s still such a nice read today. It’s interesting that a man you never met, but meant so much, is so near to Jeffs resting place. Life gives us so many challenges, some break us, some make us stronger and then, some will do both. It’s hard to really understand how human being’s can do such evil things to one another. I think it’s a place for evil to hang out under the guise of war, as we’ve learned from history. I certainly would be the first one broken in a captured situation I think. I remember how moved I was visiting the Memorial Wall with you. The endless names that meet your eyes is socking. The reality of this enormous sacrifice really landed on my concious all at once. I hope we’ve learned something from it all, yet I fear it’s never ending. xo K

    • Yes, evil has many hiding places on this earth, some more obvious than others. I agree with you, the more we should be learning from hard experience, the more quickly we seem to forget it all in the face of immediate emotions and perceived insults and needs. Places such as The Wall, with its overwhelming silent testimony, give us only a glimpse of an overwhelming reality that most of us would just rather forget. So yes, it is never-ending. The only consolation– and it is a bright one indeed– is that the goodness, compassion and decency of most humans is also never-ending. We once had a minister who was the most articulate and educated person I have ever known (quite a statement, but I stand by it– he did postdoctoral studies at Oxford but his unique genius was in connecting all that higher-level learning to daily life). He once said that people understandably question how there could be a God, with all the evil that goes on in the world. The conclusion he reached personally is that only the presence of God could explain all the love, heroism, devotion and sacrifice that goes on all around us every day. Rather than ask how God could allow such evil, he asked where people, in the face of such atrocities, could maintain goodness? His answer was that it had a divine source. Like one of my favorite fictional characters, Pi Patel, I think that’s the better story. ❤

      • Ann

        I would love to know more about the minister or mentioned towards the end of your comment. What an interesting perspective on evil in the world.

        • Ann, through the wonders of technology, you can actually hear him preach some of the sermons Jeff and I listened to during our Memphis years, 1980-1984! When I got your comment, I went hunting for info on Harold and found an entire archive of his sermons at the Harding School of Theology. I’m so excited because I never tired of listening to him. His sermons were brief (never more than about 20 minutes, which in those days, was SHORT) and always left us wanting more I believe he was in born the middle of a huge brood of siblings — maybe 13? and grew up somewhere in Kentucky. He was unassuming and humble through and through, but what an intellectual giant he was, although his genius only revealed itself to us over time. Jeff and I both could say without reservation that his sermons were the best we ever heard…and we heard some great ones. In fact, scrolling through the titles, I actually remembered some of them. I hope you will enjoy a sermon or two here. https://scholarworks.harding.edu/hst-hazelip/

      • I agree! The goodness, compassion and decency of all living beings far out-weighs and out-shines that of the haters. They just happen to be louder, brasher and like a mosquito, persistant and annoying. Hooray for the majority! xoK

        • Yes, and until the time when the chorus of good will consistently drowns out the nastiness, I suppose we just need to be aware of where we focus our attention. If Anne Frank can say “I still believe that people are really good at heart” surely we can do the same. Or as it says at Ronald Reagan’s grave:

          https://defeatdespair.com/2014/03/22/our-highest-business/attachment/4952/

  11. Harry Sims

    “This Magic Moment”.
    Harry

    • Thank you, Harry.

      • Harry Sims

        Thank you Julia.

        • You’re welcome. 🙂

  12. Sheila

    Good Friday morning, Happy June 1st, and I’m meeting you on the gorgeous Bridgehampton verandah! 🌞 I love the little cabana’s, as well. I hope you’ve had a good week. My antenna picked up a BUSY SIGNAL regarding YOU‼️ Have a good weekend and “Hi” to Matt. 💛

    • HOORAY FOR COLOR!! Whoever picked that May photo needs some Southern Verandah training!! As I said, those flowers were bound to be there, they just didn’t know how to frame the photo. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. 😀 Well, the signal is definitely busy, but if you said “crazy” or “freaked out” that might be closer to the truth. Wish me luck in the next couple of weeks — I’ll fill you in on ALL the details (or as many as you want) once I’ve survived it all. 😀

  13. Ann

    This post is so poignant to me on many levels. My husband was an infantry officer in Viet Nam in 1968-1969. Plus I am the age that many of my friends served in VN. I see the Wall and think of all the lost lives. Plus all the marriages that were destroyed and the mental and physical disabilities of those who came home. “War is Hell.” My husband wrote an article about coming home from VN that was published in Saturday Evening Post and Readers Digest. This was on our 20th anniversary. If I can figure out how to post it, I will. By the way, May 30 was our 48th wedding anniversary!

    • Ann, did you ever find the article? I’d love to read it. Yes, “War is Hell” and no one knows that better than the soldier, sailor or airman. It is impossible to calculate the ways it affects each and every veteran or family member. Your husband must be a very good writer because those publications are quite hard to “break into” for a writer. Congratulations on your 48th wedding anniversary!

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