mikeken10

Me with my brother, Mike, circa 1965

Here in the southern mountains of Western North Carolina, we have just come through one of the coldest weeks on record. Ice and snow fell and the temperatures plummeted to below zero, with the blustery winds making it feel much more frigid. Most mornings I am awakened by our ten year old Bichon Frise, named Beaux, and together we begin our daily excursion down Pine Spring Drive so we can have our bonding time and he can take care of his doggy duty. With this walk occurring in the early hours of the day, the weather is always somewhat cool, even in the summertime. Winter mornings are definitely more challenging, with icy precipitation making it more cumbersome and extreme, bitter cold making it almost intolerable.

And by “intolerable,” I mean “wrap-yourself-completely-in-layers-except-for-your-eyes-so-you-can-see-where-you-are-going” intolerable….like the icy, frigid cold we had for the last week, or so.

You would think that after living in these mountains some 20 plus years, I would be better acclimated to the cold, dark days of winter. Partly due to the fact that I have passed the half century mark, and partly because these last few winters have been somewhat brutal, I have found myself more challenged to get through them.

I would imagine the setting was similar during the winter of 1965 in Dachau, Germany – the season that would be the backdrop for the disappearance and subsequent death of my father.

Thirty years after his disappearance and death, I was finally reading first hand accounts of what happened to him in the last hours of his life. The “dossier” had arrived at my doorstep and even though there were hundreds of pages, I had managed to peruse and read through most of them in that one spring evening in 1994.

With the revelation that he had been found in that shallow stream of water in Dachau, Germany, and the findings of the medical examiner who concluded that my dad died of accidental drowning with no signs of foul play or self-infliction, you would think that would have been enough to satisfy my inquiring mind. But there were two things that jumped out at me when I read through the entire report. One was the finding of a 6 cm laceration on my father’s head, along with other “deformations on the head that were clearly noticeable.” The other was the shredding of his pants on his left rear pocket and the mysterious disappearance of his wallet, which included, at least $25 or more dollars in cash, and $100 in American Express traveler’s checks, which in 1965, was a substantial amount of money.

After my father’s death, an investigation into what exactly happened to my father and how he ended up in the Wuerm River began. The officer assigned to the case was Criminal Investigator Jackie Leach. Leach first conducted a search of my dad’s belongings. A set of keys found on my father’s body led them to his locker where they found his plane ticket, his leave papers, and a suitcase, neatly packed and ready for an excursion across the Atlantic.

In the coming days, Leach would interview several of the soldiers who last saw and talked to my father on the Friday that he disappeared. Included in the dossier were sworn affidavits from four men – Charles Clements and Harold Hoard, two of his commanding officers. There were also statements from Jerry W., one of his roommates, and Charles D., the man thought to have seen him last at the Enlisted Men’s club on the evening of December 17. Except for some of the details unique to some of the men’s testimony that I have included in previous posts, all of the witnesses pretty much said the same thing. They all testified having seen my father that day; they all said that he didn’t make bed check that evening, and they all assumed he had taken off early for the states when he turned up missing.

As for the lacerations on my father’s head, Leach concluded that those could have come from the various rocks and debris that were in the stream. Concerning the traveler’s checks, Leach contacted the local American Express office to see whether or not the checks had been cashed. Since each check was recorded and logged with a unique identification number, it would have been easy to determine if those particular checks had, indeed, come through their office for processing. The American Express office reported that the checks had not been cashed, and Leach concluded that my dad must have lost the checks when he went into the water.

That evening in April, 1994 was totally overwhelming and filled with a variety of emotions that affected me on many levels. There was a sense of satisfaction that, at last, I knew something, even though there was much I still did not know. There was much sadness, given the raw details surrounding my father’s demise. It occurred to me that I had never truly grieved for him, and on that evening, this grief process truly began. There was also some small amount of self-pity, thinking of what I had missed out on by not having him around.

In that moment, however, something supernatural happened. I can’t say that I have ever audibly heard the voice of God, but in that moment, it was as if I sensed His still, small voice whispering in the deepest confines of my soul. He seemed to reaffirm what I felt in the aftermath of the significant dream just years earlier….

“Now will you believe that I have taken care of you for all these years, and that I will always take care of you?  Will you believe that I hold you in the palm of My hand and that I have wonderful plans for your life?  Will you believe that I have always been your Father, and my promise to you is that everything will be all right?”

It is a scientific fact that the sun is less evident in the winter, more than any time of the year. After reading the account of my father’s death in the dossier, it was clear that the winter of 1965 was definitely a cold and dark period of time for our family. However, in the middle of the winter of our discontent, a bright light emerged that would carry our entire family for the rest of our days. And in the aftermath of reading the details of my father’s death, the Heavenly Father was getting ready to open up avenues of illumination that would be some of the greatest treasures of truth that I would ever find.