When Henry Died

It was March in 1975 - my two sons were just two and not quite one years old.  My husband was stationed at a little base in Val d'Or Quebec, where he would say - where the Canadians guard the missiles and the Americans guard the Canadians, while I am fairly certain it was the reverse.

We had been in Val d'Or for almost two years.  He had been invited to go on a small Cessna plane to Hudson Bay with two other Americans (one our commander) and two French.  He turned them down because he was working that shift.

It was a big deal - big news - that they were on a joy ride in a Cessna, that they'd planned on returning Sunday.

Sunday came and went - everyone was certain they had crashed.  The whole community of both French and English were rooted where they stood, waiting, waiting, waiting for that plane to appear in perfect condition and everyone aboard would be laughing as they left the plane.

Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday - all day long, every day, encased in the sounds of helicopters over head.  Helicopters looking for that plane.  I stood in my kitchen and watched and sobbed because I knew they weren't finding live bodies.  I knew it was awful.  I knew that plane had crashed.  Which it had, on Sunday, 10 miles from the base.

My husband was one of the Airmen sent to the site to collect everything - pieces no bigger than a piece of bread.  One wrist watch that he found was flattened as if it had laid on a railroad track.

There was a memorial service for all four (one, the Commander, a good friend).  It was very formal and mostly in French.  I couldn't stand it.  It was unbearable to think that in this SMALL unit, we lost four of our men.  I was beside myself with grief.  And in front of the four caskets was a flower display made to look like a little yellow Cessna.

My husband kept telling me to get a grip.

That night (of the funeral) we decided to try to laugh about something (and be in English) - it was March 18, 1975, the night of the funeral.  We were looking forward to another funny episode of M*A*S*H.

That night, March 18, 1975, the last five minutes. . . . . . . . . . .M*A*S*H killed off Henry Blake!

The air whooshed out of my lungs and I clawed my way to my children's bedroom where I sobbed until I could sob no more.

I cannot even watch that episode anymore without tears.

In August our base was closed.  Everyone left.  We left together, and made a caravan to our new locations - several of us posted to Missouri.  One of them was supposed to be the Commander, who left a 6-month old child.

I think of those four men and the wives and children left behind.  When M*A*S*H is on; when helicopters fly over the house; when small planes circle around for the small air strip a mile down the road.

Good night, Henry.

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