It has now been 50 years since that overcast Tuesday, June 1, 1965, when a taxicab driver came to our home at 504 Jamestown Ave. in Fayetteville and delivered a telegram that revealed the tragic news that would forever change the lives of your devoted wife of 18 years, Ann, and your five sons — Billy, 9; Charlie, 10; Mike, 12; Buddy, 15; and me, age 17. Killed in an ambush near Pleiku, South Vietnam, you now lie in Arlington Cemetery, where Mom joined you on July 11, 2011. You share the same tombstone with Buddy, resting a few rows away. Nearby, your name — Bernard W. Dibbert — is in the first panel at the Vietnam Memorial.
Our family remained in Fayetteville, near Fort Bragg, and all five of your sons graduated from nearby high schools before Michael, Charlie and I headed to Chapel Hill; Buddy left for Raleigh and N.C. State, attracted to State’s Army ROTC program, and Billy transferred to UNC; both he and Michael also earned master’s degrees at Carolina and met their future wives there.
Over the five decades since that day in June 1965, I’ve often reflected on the years we were all together — moving from Seattle to San Rafael, Calif., while you recovered from wounds in Korea; on to Columbus, Ga., where you became a Ranger and attended Jump School at Fort Benning. Then on to your first assignment as a company commander in the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg before moving to Mainz, Germany, where you again were a company commander. We traveled extensively in that ’57 Ford Ranch Wagon across Europe — sometimes all sleeping in the car and always visiting historic sites — Bastogne, Verdun, Barcelona, Venice, Pisa, Rome, Milan, Amsterdam, Oberammergau and Dachau come readily to mind. When you broke your leg jumping, you had to give up your jump slot and move to Bad Kreuznach, where you soon received good news: You’d been selected for the Command and General Staff College in Fort Leavenworth, Kan.
We spent six weeks together driving (with a trailer) from New York through your native Michigan across the Mackinaw Bridge and on to your birthplace in Mitchell, S.D., through the Badlands and Yellowstone on to Seattle, where the first three of your sons were born while you attended the University of Washington and Mom worked at Boeing. We visited your mother and sister and our cousins near Los Angeles before hurrying to see Mom’s family in her birthplace — Fort Collins, Colo. After our year at Fort Leavenworth, you were back to Fort Bragg as the senior officer for plans and operations at the 18th Airborne Corps’ headquarters.
These family experiences were life-shaping, although I didn’t fully appreciate that until I became a husband and a father. We sought and welcomed opportunities to be together and to share time with our extended family, to discover new places and to learn the history of many different countries.
Each of your sons treasured your interest in travel and continuous learning. But the greatest gift that you and Mom gave your sons was your daily modeling of commitment to family and your obvious love for each other. I never doubted that your meeting, marrying and becoming loving parents provided you each sustaining joy. I have some regrets — you did not live to witness each of your sons graduate from college and share in our professional challenges and successes; you couldn’t attend Debbie’s and my wedding or join Mom in being a grandparent to our sons, Brian and Michael. You’d really love our daughter-in-law, Carolyn; you’d be pleased that our Swiss-born granddaughter, Cassidy Adelia, is named for Mom. You and Cassidy’s younger brother, Jamison, would be “best buds.”
So, Dad, as another June 1 approaches and I reflect on how many years I’ve lived without your physical presence, please know that you and Mom shaped who I’ve become — particularly as husband, father and more recently as “Papa Doug.”
Thank you for the enduring life lessons. Thank you for your unconditional love. Thank you for modeling commitment to family. Thank you for your devotion to Mom.
I remain eternally grateful for those 17 years we all had together.
I miss you.
Yours at Carolina,
Douglas S. Dibbert ’70