This I believe: “He who is remembered never dies.” This quote from an anonymous source has always meant something to me and it sprang to life again today when my daughter forwarded an email she had just received. It came from the man I knew as “Little John” when he and my husband, “Big John,” were both fighter pilots in the same squadron during the Vietnam War.
My husband, LCdr John Bartocci, was a tall, hefty guy with a booming laugh. His knack for telling stories, playing guitar, and singing songs made him the center of many a group. He was also a pilot flying the last of the single seat fighters used by the Navy—the F-8 crusader. And, as a graduate of the Naval Academy, he was a dedicated naval officer.
Forty years ago this very month—on August 31, 1968—while returning from a night mission over North Vietnam, “Big John’s” plane went down. He was killed, and his body lost at sea.
“Little John” Miller contacted my daughter after he read on-line the poignant story she wrote about the night she and her two little brothers learned of their father’s death. It was not the first time her father was remembered in print. In October, 1982, Readers Digest published the letters John wrote to me during his second—and last–combat cruise. Publication occurred the very month and year that the Vietnam War Memorial was unveiled on which John’s name—and 57,000 others–is inscribed.
John’s letters found a world-wide audience; I even received a phone call from a Japanese businessman who had read “Letters Home from War” in the magazine’s Japanese edition. “Your husband’s letters express the way all men feel who go to war because they love their country yet are torn by the love they feel for the families they leave behind,” he said to me. Our children were 9,7, and 5 when their daddy died. When Andy, the youngest, married 4 years ago, he said in a speech at his wedding reception: “I hope all of you men who are dads realize how important you are. I only had my father for five years, but he has remained the most important influence in my life.”
He could say that because his father’s letters had revealed in writing how much John’s family had meant to him. Because Andy was able to hear audio tapes of his father singing that John made especially for his children when he was at sea. Because through the years, people like “Little John” have let my children know how much their father still means to them. And because we continued, as a family, to tell the stories and keep alive the vital memory of a husband, a father, and the man that his friend “Little John” called “a hero.”
Because John Bartocci is remembered, he has not died; he lives—still–in our hearts today. I believe this is true for anyone who is loved and remembered.