My first boyfriend was a happy local boy, and we went to the same high school in Honolulu. He loved fast cars, smoked, and gave me a gorgeous double pink carnation lei for the prom we went to. I remember the white dinner jacket that he wore, and that my mom took photos of us all glammed up for the big night. We had many good times together. I thought he was wonderful and was more than a bit surprised that he was interested in me. He was a good sport and took me to another dance even though I’d just seriously injured my knee playing tackle football (!) and couldn’t do much dancing.
He joined the Army after high school and we lost track of each other. I moved to the mainland, and he went to Vietnam some years later. Years ago, I wondered what had happened to him and another high school friend of mine told me that he’d been killed in Vietnam. I was devastated. Dead? That carefree boy whose smile lit up a room? I didn’t have anyone else to ask, and no other resources, so I had to let it go. But I never stopped wondering about him.
Back then there weren’t the cyberspace availabilities that we have now, so for years I just let it go. But then, along came the internet, and I checked the website for the Vietnam Wall to see if I could find his name on it. I came up with nothing. I emailed someone in a link I’d found on the website asking if he could help me find my boyfriend’s name. He couldn’t find it either, so the mystery remained.
Two years ago, I discovered http://newspapers.com and just for kicks looked up his name in the Honolulu Star-Bulletin. And I found him. He was an officer in the Army. And yes, he had died. But his death remained somewhat of a mystery. He was indeed wounded in Vietnam and was evacuated to a hospital in Japan, where he died. But so far as I know, his family was never notified as to the exact cause of his death. Was it from the gunshot wounds or something else? I’ve never been able to find that out. And that’s probably why his name isn’t on the Vietnam wall in Washington D.C. He left behind his wife and two kids. I feel some sense of peace that I know more about what happened to him, but I still mourn that his life was cut short, however it happened.
He was buried with full military honors at Punchbowl Cemetery in Honolulu.
When I was in school, our classes would go to Punchbowl each year and decorate the graves for Memorial Day. It was a sobering experience, although as keiki we didn’t fully understand the gravity of the holiday. And of course, I never dreamed back then that my future boyfriend would be buried there.
If I were there now, I would find his grave and decorate it, and say a final “aloha ʻoe” to the always-laughing, brown-eyed, young man who stole my heart all those years ago.