"It's been almost 25 years
and it still seems as though it happened yesterday... it still hurts."
Lorene Traphagan still cries for her first born son, Steve. The horror
of war and the price of freedom were cast upon her family's door in
the month of June 1968.
A Western Union
Telegram,explained the news;
MR. AND MRS. ALBERT H. AUSTIN
4057 MAIN STREET
I DEEPLY REGRET TO CONFIRM THAT YOUR SON CORPORAL STEPHEN E.
AUSTIN, USMC, DIED ON 8 JUNE 1968 IN THE VICINITY OF QUANG NAM,
REPUBLIC OF VIETNAM. HE SUSTAINED GUNSHOT WOUNDS TO THE HEAD AND
BODY FROM HOSTILE RIFLE FIRE WHILE ON AN OPERATION. THE FOLLOWING
INFORMATION IS PROVIDED TO ASSIST YOU IN MAKING FUNERAL
ARRANGEMENTS. HIS REMAINS WILL BE PREPARED, ENCASED, AND SHIPPED
AT NO EXPENSE TO YOU, ACCOMPANIED BY AN ESCORT, EITHER TO A
FUNERAL HOME OR TO A NATIONAL CEMETERY SELECTED BY YOU.
"Steve's death messed up my whole family.
His father had the same problems because of WW II and Korea that the
guys who came back from Vietnam are having now" she said. Steve's
father , a 12- year veteran of the U.S. Army died of a rare bone
cancer in February of 1980. She later remarried Clyde Traphagan and,
in just three months, he died of a massive heart attack.
"For about two or three years, it was just
like I didn't care. We received sympathy cards from President (Lyndon)
Johnson and his wife and from Gov. (Ronald) Reagan and all I felt like
doing was sending them back," she said. "I'm glad now that my husband
wouldn't let me. But, at that time, Steve and all those others were
just numbers. It seemed like they didn't matter at all."
Her middle son, Dean, was in the Army and
had received orders for Vietnam. She had to fight twice with the help
of her congressman to prevent him from being sent there. Shortly
after, the government instituted a policy of refraining from sending
to Vietnam siblings and sons of those who had already died during
tours of duty there.
Steve had already served one tour of duty
in Vietnam and was wounded. After his recovery he was sent to Hawaii
for more training, or so he was told. Under suspicious conditions he
was reordered to Vietnam . He was killed while on a search and destroy
mission called Allen Brook, in Quang Nam Province. It was only six
days after his 21st birthday.
As his mother was reflecting she said "
the last time I ever saw him he was standing alone at Travis Air Force
Base, I looked back and ran back and hugged him. They brought him home
in a sealed casket and I couldn't ever see him."
"I found him out in the yard the day he
got his orders, he had a far away look in his eyes. He said ' oh Mom,
I don't want to go back over there. I don't want to kill anymore.' I
told him surely, you won't have to go back there." Though he had no
specific orders to Vietnam, he had a feeling that he would be sent
again. While training in Hawaii his company received assurance that
they would not go back, which turned out to be an outright lie.
In 1989 Lorene began to work with a local
Veterans group towards building a memorial in Porterville. She became
the focus of many articles in the newspaper and was able to touch many
of the Veterans themselves. It proved to be a time of healing for
many. The memorial is beautiful and outstanding in it's tribute and
acknowledgment of those precious lives who paid the cost. She received
a letter of appreciation and acknowledgment for her contribution and
efforts from the local VFW and American Legion. Many of the Veterans
have a strong empathy and have made individual efforts to console her.
At the 1993 Memorial service she was given
a special plaque designed by one of the local veterans. It represents
the names of those who were killed from the local area. It was
sponsored by Steve and Jan Brown, who have been the main driving force
and foundation of the Memorial. Steve served in Vietnam himself and
two of the names on the Memorial are close friends that he grew up
with. There has been hard work, determination and many obstacles to
overcome through the whole process, it would have been easy to give
up. I'm sure it took its toll on him and his family, as well as with
others involved, but many will always be thankful for the
acknowledgment of their loved ones.
I'm confident that there is a day coming,
which the Bible promises, when I'll see my mother embracing her son,
Stephen, and all the years of separation and suffering will not even
compare to the joy of that day, when CHRIST shall shine about us.
Romans 8: 17-21 says "And if children,
heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we
suffer with Him in order that we may also be glorified with Him. For I
consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be
compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the anxious
longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of
God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will,
but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself
also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom
of the glory of the children of God."