Memorial Day thoughts by Lyn Fenwick, Macksville, Kansas.
Memorial Day is a federal holiday in the United States, established to remember and honor those who died while serving in the military. In most local communities, remembrances are not limited to soldiers buried there but rather, flowers are placed on the graves of family and friends as well.
Traditionally, Memorial Day was observed on May 30th during the years from 1868 to 1970. Since 1970, the date has been the last Monday in May. Many traditions have changed over the decades, but it seems that by changing Memorial to a holiday weekend, the recognition of fallen soldiers on the day set aside for that purpose has diminished, with people now using the weekend for pleasure trips.
Reminders of the service to the nation by our men and women in uniform deserve to be observed, and this years Memorial Day blog is going to reflect back half-a-century to another form of recognition. A few months ago I was going through keepsakes and discovered a simple silver bracelet baring the name of Commander Raymond Vohden. Beneath his name is the date 4-3-65.
Some of you may remember bracelets like the one I wore during the years of the Vietnam war, a symbol to remember American prisoners of war. It had been a long time since I had worn the bracelet remembering Commander Vohden, and I decided to do some research. Did he eventually return home? How long was he imprisoned? Is he still living?
This is what I found: Raymond Arthur Vohden, an Air Force Pilot, was one of those ‘lucky’ prisoners who survived to be released. Upon his release, he is quoted as having said, “After the ordeal I’ve been through for the past seven and one-half years, I can handle any situation that comes up when I get back.” However, returning soldiers did not always find it easy to slip back into their old lives. Vohden had written to his wife after six years as a prisoner of war, expressing his permission that she file for divorce and “make a new life.” She did file, but when the cease-fire was negotiated not long after, he asked her to dismiss the divorce proceedings. She did.
He was not alone in finding it difficult to acclimate to the changes that had occurred. In some cases wives had entered new relationships, lonely and uncertain whether their husbands would ever return. In other cases, wives had changed, becoming more independent and less willing to hand back the responsibilities in the marriage that they had assumed, which these women now preferred to continue doing. In still other cases, the 60s had brought social changes to those at home that were unacceptable to the returning POWs and caused friction in their marriages. Not only their wives, but also the children they left behind had changed, adding to the difficulties of rejoining the family.
A newspaper article shared the story of difficulties experienced by Vohden and his wife when he returned. She described the initial exhilaration of his return, but said he became depressed by how things had changed during the almost eight years of his absence. He acknowledged that he struggled with cultural changes, particularly the ‘sexual revolution.’ The newspaper article ended with his decision to get away by himself for a while and “just to kind of enjoy life.” His wife agreed that he needed to be alone to work out some of the issues he was facing.
I did not find a follow-up to their story. I do know that Raymond Vohden died November 21, 2016, leaving behind a wife, four children, eleven grandchildren, and one great-grandchild. Interment was to be in Arlington National Cemetery. Because the given name of his wife was not included in the 1973 New York Times article, I do not know whether they resolved the issues caused by their long separation during the war or if the wife mentioned in his obituary was a second marriage. I am certain, however, that he paid a high price not only during his imprisonment but also in re-entering a changed society following his release. I hope he found the happiness he longed for, and I am glad that the POW whose bracelet I wore was able to return.
On Memorial Day, not only the men and women who died in service to their country, but also those whose lives were inevitably changed by their service, deserve the nation’s recognition and thanks.
Author’s Notes: The term “Commander” can be used in Air Force language but it does most often to refer to a specific rank in the Navy. The Times article stated that Raymond Vohden was an Air Force Pilot.
Lyn (Beck) Fenwick was raised near Pratt and after college she joined her husband Larry at two Air Force postings in New England. Careers took them to five different states, and they are now living at the farm four generations of her family have called home. Lyn posts a weekly blog about history of the region at https://lynfenwick.blogspot.com