The digital archiving efforts of someone I've never met made me cry today. Thanks to the work of a Colorado woman who goes by "barefootmeg" at findagrave.com I saw the face of a relative who died while serving in the Vietnam War in 1969. He was just as handsome as I'd always imagined.
I was four years old when my cousin Paul Robert Dew died in a helicopter crash in Vietnam. I never met him but his death inspired my three older sisters and me to wear POW bracelets during my early elementary years. Every night before we fell asleep we prayed for peace and the souls of all soldiers. We sang endless verses of Where Have All The Flowers Gone in the car.
I've helped many Priceless Preservation clients with important family history preservation projects since I began helping Rob with the business a few years ago. But I've never had the importance of digital archiving hit home as it did today.
It started with Facebook. A friend who served in the military posted, "Remember Memorial Day Is To Remember The Fallen." It made me think about my "cousin" Paul Robert Dew who died in 1969 in a helecopter accident in Vietnam. My dad told me his helicopter was lifting wounded soldiers out of the jungle when the accident happened. But until today I'd never seen Paul Dew's photograph or an official obituary or story about his death.
I am honestly not exactly sure he's a cousin. I think so, but in big Catholic families there are so many people you forget the connections. I remember Paul's dad, who we called "Uncle Bob" even though I think he was a second cousin. He was my father's peer, not mine. And he was an excellent dancer. My three older sisters loved dancing with him at family weddings and his wife, Bonnie, didn't dance much herself. But behind the smile on the face of our lively, dancing "Uncle Bob" who was a Detroit Firefighter, we were aware of sadness. Bonnie and Bob had lost their only son in the Vietnam War.
He's the only family member I know of who died in combat although we have several veterans of war including my father who served in the Korean War and his brother who served in World War II.
Paul Dew brought the reality of war home to me at a young age. In my mind he was handsome and brave and his death was tragic. But Irish Catholics don't talk much about sad things, so I didn't know the details. And it would have felt rude asking Bonnie and Bob about him.
Thanks to the digital archiving of barefootmeg from Colorado, this Memorial Day I can put a face with the story. Thanks to another digital archivist who posted details about his military record, I know what military honors he achieved. And thanks to a comment from a fellow soldier on the page devoted to Paul, I have a sense of how hard it was and the sacrifice that was made.
The soldier wrote:
"Paul, I ran across your memorial while doing some research. We were so young not much more than boys when we served in that far off land. I remember we had a saying 'It an't nothin but a thing.' We used this when the world around us erupted, our buddies were wounded or died, our young minds just couldn't make sense of it all; it was our way of coping, trying to be macho & not show our true emotions. I have lost many soldier/buddies since those lonely days & nights in the jungles of Vietnam. As I matured I realized that it is not unmanly to cry & show emotion at the death of a fellow soldier. Paul, you guys on those choppers were awesome; you carried us out to the boonies on missions, picked us up at the end & would fly through hell to protect us with air support or evacuate us when we were wounded. So many of us owe our lives to you guy’s courage & guts. Thank you Paul, you gave the ultimate sacrifice & I firmly believe that you are presently sitting with our Lord & Master GOD."
Thank you, cousin Paul for all you sacrificed. Thank you Barefootmeg in Colorado for uploading beautiful photos of Paul so that I can put a face with the stories.
If anybody who reads this post wants help scanning, archiving or restoring important military photographs, it's one of our specialties at Priceless Preservation. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or (734) 219-3916 or stop in to see us between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. Monday through Friday at 122 S. Main Street, Suite 110 C.
Paul Robert Dew, 1948 to 1969, Died In Vietnam