Captain Wilbur Dale Latimer
May 23, 1944 – January 19, 1971
My brother, Captain Wilbur Dale Latimer, was an Army helicopter pilot who was killed during his second tour of duty in Vietnam on January 19, 1971. This poem is the account of a visit by a fellow soldier who was there the day Will died. Clyde, who was 19 at the time, was supposed to fly that mission, but at the last minute Will bumped him. Clyde caught a ride in another chopper and witnessed it from afar.
I will always be grateful for Clyde Romero’s visit which took place shortly after the first Gulf War began. I hope it helped him as much as it did me.
New wars stir old soldiers in search of peace to bare their souls;
thus came Clyde’s call, long deferred, an offering of remembrances,
precious details of Will’s last day. Official notification reveals
so little when measured against a comrade’s recollections.
A visit held promise of new understanding and perhaps freedom
for him from an enduring guilt.
I called Mom and Dad; best friend, Jeff; wife long, remarried.
Jeff declined; the prospect too costly; why risk the peace he’d found.
Goodbyes said, he’d folded up their golden days and stowed them
securely out of sight. I understood such things allow no touching,
lest in the taking out and unfolding, one might disturb some invisible valve
that would inflate old sorrows till they filled the room and smothered life away.
But in a sister’s way, I had set our loss squarely before me that I might
take up this dark grief and turn it over in my hands to comprehend
and grow accustomed to its hollow feel, always looking for the why,
for a way Will’s death was not in vain. So as girls are wont to do,
I said, “Please come,” and we welcomed Clyde as he fearlessly unrolled
his tattered tale of a mission changed that gave him life but snatched our Will’s away.
As he laid the story out and smoothed it straight, we forged a bond,
based not on war but on love for his young captain who made the choice
to fly the chopper that awful day into the sights of an elusive enemy
whose careful aim and sure shot forever changed those left behind:
ours, an awful emptiness, for Clyde, the burden of survival,
a youth colored by the gray question, “Why Will and not me?”
As he spoke, I made my peace with our costly sacrifice.
A time to live, a time to die, who’s to say the why of it?
Our family’s only son, though gone from us, was still present
when an old warrior straightened his shoulders and
headed home in a strength only veterans understand.
Dorothy Latimer Johnson
I believe one of these days, I’ll see my big brother again.
What a day of rejoicing that will be.
“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me.
2 In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so,
would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?
Copyright © Reflections from Dorothy’s Ridge 2015. All rights reserved