Bringing Captain Barden Home

Bella back in her chair.

There’s no place like home!

By now my regular blog readers are most likely on Bella overload. We’re so glad she’s home and so grateful to everyone who took their e-mail mailing lists in hand and got the word out. A local television news producer received a tweet from one of my fans and sent it out to his 18,000 followers!!! But what won the day? A posting on Craigslist.

You can now color me a Craigslist Believer. And a social media believer as well. There was an army of people out there who sent their love, prayers, and support, and believe me, all of them were appreciated even though in the darkest hours of yesterday, just reading through them made me cry.

So Bella is here. She’s asleep on a cushion on a chair in true princess style, and you will notice she is DEFINITELY wearing her collar and tags!!!

Our week did not turn out the way we had planned. Last night when we were supposed to be at an Outstanding In The Field event and sleeping at the Ritz in Phoenix we were still at home in Tucson and not sleeping at all!! I believe we did have some kind of scrambled egg concoction for dinner, but it wasn’t the gourmet dining experience that we had been anticipating. Even so, I’m not complaining. We skipped the event and got our dog back. For all the dog owners out there, that means we had our priorities straight. We’re also brain-dead and headachy today.

I’m writing this on Thursday afternoon. That means tomorrow, Friday, we’ll be in Scottsdale at the scheduled Friends of the Library event. I’m looking forward to that, but before we go to the library we have an important errand to run in Phoenix.

First a little background. (My husband says that with me there are no short stories, and he’s probably right!)

Second Watch, my most recent Beaumont novel, includes a segment in which Beau meets up with a former schoolmate of mine, Doug Davis, a West Point graduate who died in Vietnam in 1966. Through the magic of fiction Beau and Doug meet and interact in Vietnam. In the book, Beau eventually also meets up with Bonnie Abney, the girl who was engaged to marry Doug at the time of his death.

Last March while on the Deadly Stakes tour, I often mentioned Second Watch under the heading of previews of coming attractions. After an event at Third Place Books in Lake Forest Park, a fan chased me down and asked if I knew about Michael Reagan. At first I thought she meant the radio commentator, but she explained she was referring to Michael G. Reagan, a Vietnam War vet and a talented artist, who is the driving force behind the Fallen Heroes Project. Michael lives in Edmonds, Washington, and he has made it his life’s work to do pencil portraits of fallen soldiers for Gold Star families. By the way the framed portraits come at NO CHARGE for those families.

Those of you who have read Second Watch already know that the back of the book contains a photo of Doug, that very real fallen hero from Bisbee. That photo, taken in Vietnam two days before Doug’s death, came to light solely as a result of my writing Second Watch. As I was finishing the manuscript, a review copy of some of the material was sent to one of Doug’s fellow West Point classmates. The piece was then forwarded to another classmate who went down into his basement and found the photo, hiding in a box where it had been left forgotten through all the intervening years. It arrived in Bonnie’s life for the first time in an e-mail sent in early January.

After Lake Forest Park, I contacted Michael Reagan and asked him to do a Fallen Hero portrait of Doug based on that photo that we would give to Bonnie. When it was completed, I picked the framed portrait up from the artist’s studio and took it back to our house in Bellevue to wait for Bonnie to come pick it up. As I carried the portrait into the house from the garage, I had this sense that I was bringing Doug Davis home. The portrait stayed with us for a period of time. At one of our family dinners this summer, I explained to the kids and grandkids about Doug Davis, the guy whose picture was sitting in a chair in the living room. Sometime later we gave the portrait to Bonnie during a quiet private afternoon in our garden.

Those of you who attended this fall’s Second Watch events know that Bonnie, the real one, accompanied me on tour and so did Doug. He came along in the form of a copy of that portrait along with several other photos. At one event my grandson, Colt, was in attendance. He wanted to sit next to me, but the portrait, once again sitting on a chair, was in the way. “Grandma,” he said. “Do you mind if I move Doug Davis so I can sit down?” That really struck me. Doug died almost forty years before Colt was born, but that portrait turned Doug into someone Colt recognized on sight.

On tour the portrait and the other photo memorabilia traveled with us in a black art valise that we came to refer to jokingly as Doug Davis. As we were going to or from events all over the country, one of us would say, “Who has Doug Davis?”

In San Antonio, as we were setting up the photo display, a man in the front row looked at the portrait in slack-jawed amazement and said, “Isn’t that Doug Davis?” This was someone else who had been at West Point with Doug. He came to the event with no idea that Doug’s story would be part of Second Watch, but Michael Reagan’s portrait instantly bridged all those intervening decades.

There are almost 60,000 names on that wall in Washington. Bonnie and Doug’s story of loving and losing is only one of them and yet it is emblematic of them all. Along the way we met up with several of those women, ones who had watched as the loves of their lives went off to the Vietnam War and came back home in flag-draped coffins.

Which brings me to what, as you’re reading this, should be today’s errand.

One of those still-grieving women is a Phoenix area resident. Her name is Beverly Barden. Her husband, Captain Paul Barden, went off to war and never came home at all. He is still MIA in Southeast Asia, even after all these years. His remains have been located but the local authorities will not authorize their retrieval and return.

We told Beverly about Michael Reagan. She sent him a photo, and Michael worked his pencil magic. Captain Barden was and is a handsome man, captured in the portrait proudly wearing his country’s uniform. Bill and Bella and I will be delivering that portrait to Beverly.

Because I wrote Second Watch and because that fan put me in touch with Michael Reagan, Beverly will be the sixth person to have a portrait of his or her fallen hero as a result of Second Watch.

Yes, I’ll be talking about that book at the Friends of the Library in Scottsdale. I’ll probably be telling them something to the effect that I consider the book a literary thank you note to all of those who served. But the most important part of the day will happen earlier in the afternoon when I knock on Beverly’s door to bring Captain Barden home.

I know it’s going to be a difficult moment. I can only hope I’m up to the task.

16 thoughts on “Bringing Captain Barden Home

  1. I just finished my signed copy of Second Watch. I enjoyed it so much and being associated with the military for many years, it brought some tears.
    My husband had 42 yrs in the Air Force before retirement and I have two sons in the Air Force with over 30 yrs each. My daughter and family live in Tucson, so I try to come on for the book fair. Needless to say, I have quite a few of your books signed. Hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving and looking forward to Joanna’s next adventure.

  2. God bless you. Fortunately, my father was one of those that came home, although grievously wounded. He continued to serve his country for another 20 years. He has continued in a wonderful life that is an inspiration to his children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren. It breaks my heart in sadness, but also in laughter to watch those littles, follow him around, trying to walk like he does, swinging his leg from the hip in his brace. He is the linchpin of our family, at at 73 years old, is much younger than many of his own generation. Your words here moved me immeasurably, and reminded me yet again, how lucky I am to still have my father.

  3. You have a GIANT heart! What a fabulous story and gift you are going to give today!! I have always loved your books, now I love you even more for your dedication to Bella and Doug and Captain Barden!! You are TOPS!!!

  4. What a super way to begin November 2013—having Bella home and sharing more of the of the real stories behind Second Watch! Bringing Captain Barden home to Beverly is another inspiring event that can trigger other past memories and stories for so many of us. One day I’ll share with you the loss of 8 young men in Iraq and Afghanistan…all former students of mine from the same high school.

    Keep on smiling and sharing your wonderful stories and real life events with the world.

  5. You are a ‘hero’ in your own right. You have managed to rescue memories for these people, then have them replicated into a form that can be enjoyed for years to come. In doing so, you also make those individuals come to life, just like your story about Colt asking to move Doug Davis. What a wonderful service you are performing. There are no doubts you are up to the task at hand. You are a strong individual as shown in your “After the Fire” book, and through your postings. You continue to give to others and that is a memorable legacy and wonderful example for your grandchildren. I truly look forward to every post from you as it inspires me. Thank you!

  6. This blog brought me to tears. I lived in Great Falls, MT during part of the Viet Nam. Malmstrom Air Force base is located there. For young, single women it was a great place to find young, single guys and it was “party central” by the weekends. But one memory is etched in my mind. The sight of two uniformed airmen, always accompanied by a chaplain, going to a neighbor’s door always stopped you in your tracks. You knew why they were there and the pain and anguish they were bringing to the young wife.
    I have read about Michael Reagan and know the good he is providing to these families. What a wonderful gift he has. Thank you for sharing this with all of us.

  7. One member of our 1965 graduating class of 72 at Hamilton High School in Hamilton, NY, came home from Vietnam in a coffin. His name is Tom Cook and his parents owned the one liquor store in town. Recently, another graduate posted a link to an interview of his mother and how she had a feeling when he left that she would not see him again. It was a sad sad time in our history and changed so many of the young men who did come back. I can remember sitting in a theater watching Mash, the movie with a 24 year old vet and the story of him being on a dangerous flight to bring lobster to a higher up. All the best and worst of people comes out in these horrible circumstances of war. Thank you for writing a book that honors these unsung heroes and for carting Doug Davis to your book signings.

  8. Bless you. The Viet Nam vets are the forgotten ones. Thank you for using your special gifts and your time to give them the respect they deserve.

  9. That is a beautiful story. I think all of us in a particular age bracket know someone who didn’t come home or who came home in a casket. Our friend was Dale Kenyon from South Dakota. My late husband and I grew up with him. My cousin’s husband died years later from agent orange. So many sad stories.
    My husband died 22 years ago (wasn’t in the service) but I now have a boyfriend who served 3 tours of Nam. He came home damaged but is OK now. When the got off the plane in Long Beach CA they were called baby killers. That was a sad time for Vets. He could name many, many friends he lost.
    Michael Reagan is a very special person and I only hope he can continue to do this for as long as he is able.
    Thank you Judy for your service.

  10. Bless your heart, Judy. I’m a 1966 graduate of Ingraham High School (Seattle) and so many of my male classmates were caught in the draft. And of course at least one of the best came home in a box. Even worse, so many of my peers were irrevocably changed, not in good ways. Now I’ve seen my daughter’s peers killed and maimed in other senseless conflicts. At least they weren’t drafted, but that’s small comfort.

  11. So glad Bella is back safe. We have 2 mini doxies and I can’t imagine not knowing where they are. What happened to the stray that escaped with Bella?

  12. I am loving “Second Watch.” But is the timeline messed up? Karen is pregnant with Kelly in 1973. Kelly has a daughter at age 17-18. Kelly’s daughter is in 4th grade, so 9 years old. So Kelly would be 17 in 1990 and 27 in 2000. So how is the story in 2010? Isn’t that 10 years off?

    • I bear full responsibility for any timing errors in my books. I have enough trouble keeping my own life straight to say nothing of the lives of all my characters.

      JAJ

  13. What a truly amazing story. Doug and his family were our neighbors and I remember his death vividly although I was quite young. I used to spend a lot of time at his house with his brother Jack Cook. I remember all of the West Point items Jack had in his room. I know that Jack was extremely proud of Doug.

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