On October 23rd, I made my way to Ellis Grove to visit the grave of a soldier I lost in Vietnam. I could not have found him without the efforts of people in the area who went above and beyond.
I will be eternally grateful.
I pass this on for your use as you may or may not see fit.
Two weeks ago, I came to Ellis Grove to visit the gravesite of Leonard Nitzsche. Leonard lost his life while on patrol in South Vietnam.
My name is Perry Dotson, of St. Paul, Minnesota. I was his platoon leader.
I was not allowed to write a letter to his family. Like many Vietnam vets, we came home and resumed or started new lives, but we did not share much about the old one.
In my case, and that of many others, we felt then and still do feel that people just would not understand our stories.
The terrorist attacks of 9/11 changed everything. I went online and found that one of my old units was having annual reunions. I began to attend in 2003, 32 years after returning home.
I have never forgotten Leonard and his courageous, selfless contributions to his fellow platoon members.
My failure to bring him home has left a hole in my heart that brings tears frequently.
I thought I had found his gravesite on find-a-grave.com and stopped in Ellis Grove to visit the cemetery.
A friend and I walked the cemetery twice searching for a tombstone. We found nothing.
Meanwhile the town clerk, Linda Butler, began calling all the Nitzsches in the phonebook to no avail.
While on a third walk of the grounds, she threw open the city hall door, waved her arm and called out "we found him."
The "lady at the Chester library" had done some research and found him in the Palestine Cemetery.
We drove over and found his grave. I grasped his tombstone, spoke some words to him and left behind some flowers, a note and a unit emblem. Then just hung around for a while before saying goodbye.
I know I feel different, but am not yet sure why. Upon discovery of the death of another of my platoon members, of natural causes, about five years ago, it hurt as though I had lost him "over there."
It took me 18 months to realize that I regretted I had never had the chance to tell him "thank you."
Thank you, Leonard, thank you Linda Butler, thank you "library lady" and thank you Linda Rader, Leonard's sister, whom I was able to call when I was emailed her phone number as I was several hours down the road.
Thank you, Randolph County, for helping me find Leonard.
St. Paul, Minn.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Leonard Nitzsche served with Company B, 2nd Battalion, 3rd Infantry, 199th Light Infantry Brigade. He was killed in action on April 8, 1970, 25 miles northeast of Saigon Providence-Long Khanh. He was 20 years old.