The journey on which I had embarked began with a simple dream. (See “The Dream, March 31, 2014) In that dream, my father and I embraced and the words that instinctively rolled off of my tongue were, “I just needed you to put your arms around me and let me know everything would be all right.” In seeking to make things “all right,” I sought answers to the many questions I had concerning my father’s disappearance and death. Obtaining the dossier of official Army documents was a valuable and important occurrence in this process. In the final analysis, the dossier served to give me a concrete timeline of the events surrounding the disappearance and subsequent death of my father, however, it fell far short in providing me with any definite information as to how he died. In the summation of his investigation, Jackie Leach concluded that my father died of accidental drowning and that there was no foul play involved.
After reading the dossier, I began to deal with all the plethora of emotions that came with it. There was a sense of great gratification that came with finally knowing something. While it failed to give me all the answers I wanted, it did fill in many of the blanks. The account of my father’s demise also brought about a great deal of sadness and grief. I realized I had never properly grieved for his death, and this evening would be the start of that process.
In the days that followed, I would look back over the material to see if there was something I might have missed or overlooked. After a while, I compiled the papers and put them into binders, then packed them away in the closet. At that time, I had accepted, with some reservation, Leach’s conclusion that my dad had an accident that caused him to go into the river, and that accidental drowning was the likely cause of his death.
For many years, I held that opinion, despite the fact that there was circumstantial evidence that pointed to possible foul play. It was not until recent years that I began to rethink those earlier opinions and proceed to dig a little deeper into other possible theories.
I had an interesting conversation a few years back with an Hispanic gentleman who had been a career serviceman during the time my dad was in the Army. He listened to my story with great interest and proceeded to give me his personal opinions about what might have happened to him. He quickly arrived at the conclusion that my dad’s disappearance and death were likely the result of foul play. He told me that, given the fact that my dad was new on the base, was somewhat of a loner, and was Hispanic, he probably was branded as an easy target. Racism, the gentlemen said, was very prevalent in the 1960’s, not only against blacks, but also against Mexicans.
My dad was a Mexican-American, born and reared in Cheyenne, Wyoming to two Mexican immigrants. I was born with half of that heritage, but having been born and reared in the deep south, I always had the mentality that I was Caucasian – a “good ol’ southern redneck boy” from the mill villages of Gaston County, NC. The thought that racism may have played a part in my father’s death had not crossed my mind before, but in many ways, made sense to me.
Another good friend in my church also served in the Army for many years. He and I have had several discussions in recent years about what possibly happened to my father, and he concurred with the speculations of the Hispanic gentlemen – that racism could have played a role. However he added a whole new dimension to the story that I would have never considered.
He said that when a serviceman overseas was scheduled to go back home to the states, that usually meant that he would be in possession of a good deal of cash. It was a common practice among the more deviant enlisted men to take that particular soldier to the bar, get him drunk, and then steal the soldier’s money. My friend said that was a common occurrence; and, that he wouldn’t be surprised if that was the fate my father suffered that evening in December, 1965.
These new speculations began to resonate with me and change the way I initially viewed these events. I pulled the dossier out of storage and began to read through the material again, with these new viewpoints and filters in mind. For years, relatives on my dad’s side of the family have believed that foul play was involved. In my visits to Wyoming which I will detail in later posts, some in the family believed he was, indeed, beaten and robbed, and they even said they had heard that some of those missing traveler’s checks had been cashed here in the states. I had not heard that before, and wondered where that story may have originated. I was beginning to doubt the conclusions of the initial investigation, giving more attention to the “foul play” theory, and wondering if there were any leads I might utilize to make that determination.
In the original dossier, I had copies of sworn affidavits from four soldiers who were interviewed by Jackie Leach during his investigation – Charles Clemens, Harold Hoard, Gerald Whyel and Charles Duncan. As I read through them a couple of years ago, I gave more attention to the details of what they had said, and greater attention to their dates of birth. One was about three years older than my dad, who was 38 at the time; another was four years younger. Two of them were significantly younger, 18 and 22, which meant, if alive, they would be in their late 60’s and early 70’s. I began to wonder where these men might be now and whether or not they were alive. And if they were alive, would I be able to locate them, and maybe even personally talk with them.
In 1994, the internet was in its infant stages. Google had not come on the scene yet, and there were really no sophisticated ways to search for individuals. Now, with the internet growing to more than 600 million websites and 2 billion users, my chances of locating these individuals were much better than they would have been. In 1994, I made a bold move to request my father’s service records, and it proved to be a worthwhile endeavor. Now, 20 years later, I would make an even bolder move – to search for the men whose names were on the affidavit, and attempt to make contact with the ones I might find.