Bittersweet homecoming for one Oklahoma military family

Friday, September 3rd 2004, 6:09 am
By: News On 6

After three decades, a Checotah woman finally knows what happened to the big brother she watched go to Vietnam and never return.

News on 6 reporter Heather Lewin has the story.

“It's like holding your breath all those years and then going, whoooooo." Growing up, Bobby Harris always had a special spark that delighted his little sister Charlotte Horde. "He always was laughing and smiling and his eyes just sparkled and laughed." At 17 he volunteered to fight for his country in Vietnam. Charlotte remembers being excited for her brother, because he wanted to go. "Bobby was so gung-ho and fearless he's Captain America, Superman all rolled into one he was gonna go fight the bad guys so that's what it was like for me."

“Being so young I didn't have the same concerns my parents did, their son going off to war." After two years in Vietnam, Bobby had extended his tour as a helicopter door gunner. Then on March 17th, 1971 his aircraft came under fire and went down. "My brother has crashed, he's in a foreign country and they can't get to him." The crash happened just over the Cambodian border. Bobby was thrown from the chopper and disappeared. "Hope's eternal he was always gonna come back, you always know there's a possibility he won't but you don't accept that unless there's facts."

For years Charlotte imagined her brother still alive, maybe even living in a foreign country with a family of his own. Then both her hopes and fears were confirmed in one phone call. “And he said there were remains that were found and using our blood samples was identified as Bobby."

For the first time in 33 years, she knew her brother was dead. "That was pain and a sense of loss. Being the sister of an MIA, just like your job it becomes a part of your identity, my brother being an MIA I've always talked about him as being alive."

For comfort, Charlotte still wears her brother's army shirt, all she's had to touch, until now. "To see it all out like this, it's reality." In her mind he will forever be the young boy, barely a man, who went off to be a hero and finally come home. "I'm spending some time with my brother, for the first time in a very long time."

Army Staff Sergeant Bobby Glen Harris was buried Friday at Fort Gibson National Cemetery. According to the Defense Department, there are more than 1,800 Americans still unaccounted for in Southeast Asia.