On the day Charles V Redding III’s body was shipped back to the United States, my uncle was working. He was a part of the United States Air Force, and from my understanding, his role was to tend the bodies of soldiers who were shipped back home. And, although he was an uncle through marriage, our families were very close and he had no idea that it would be Charles’s body he’d see. I am not certain if he knew Charles, but he certainly knew his father and the rest of the family.
This is the narrative that my father tells of the loss of his nephew. My father, a Veteran of the Korean War himself, is still moved by the story and sometimes I think that it is the imagery that he constructs in his head that moves him most–the imagery of what it must have been like to be a witness to a familiar body coming in. I cannot imagine that experience either, or the experience of many other soldiers who witness, not just the lifeless bodies, but the actual incident in which their fellow soldier had fallen.
My father hardly ever discusses war or his years in service, but on occasion, he mentions a story or two. One story that he has begun to tell in more recent years is a story that addresses why he won’t fly from Maryland to Tennessee to see me. The story goes . . .
It was 1952, while awaiting a flight to Hawaii, a buddy came up to my father to give him some money he owed him. As the soldier fumbled looking for the money, my father told him not to worry about it and that he could give him the money after they landed. His friend and soldier said okay and they waited to get on their planes. His friend boarded a plane and my father, at the last minute, was told to board another plane. His friend’s plane crashed and he never saw him again. That narrative is also deeply ingrained in his memory. Those are the types of stories that soldiers remember.
This Veterans Day, I thought deeply about the my father and his experiences in the military and I considered the fact that there is still so much more I would like to ask him about the time he served.