Wish Stories

Liz Honors Brother’s Service at Vietnam Veterans Memorial Anniversary

As the children of a military general, Liz and her brother understood the importance of service from a young age. It’s part of why Liz continues to actively honor those who served our country to this day.

Throughout their childhood, Liz and her brother were extremely close. They were three years apart. “He was my wall, my best friend, my rock,” Liz said. “I knew I could count on him. He was always there.”

When the Vietnam war began, Vic was of age to serve. He wanted to make their father proud and did not hesitate to enlist. The US Army sent him overseas right away.

Saying goodbye to her brother and best friend was hard for Liz. To fill the distance between them, they wrote letters almost every day and talked on the phone whenever possible. Vic would talk about his new experiences living in a foreign land and the friends he was making in the Army; Liz would keep Vic updated on life at home in Tennessee.

When Liz was 18 years old, she received devastating news: Vic had been killed in the line of duty. The Army did not provide much context about what had happened to him. Feeling like her entire world was shaken, Liz yearned for more answers. But the tragedy changed the dynamics at home, and Liz’s parents refused to speak about it.

“At 18, I didn’t have anyone to talk to about this,” she recalled. “My parents didn’t talk about it, so I locked Vic deep in my heart.” The questions about his death remained with Liz for many years.

Wish recipient Liz looks for her brothers name on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Washington DC
Wish recipient Liz reads her brothers name on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial

Liz found solace by helping others and worked as a teacher for most of her life. Inspired by her brother’s selflessness, she took every opportunity to participate in extracurricular activities, making time for anything that might enrich her students’ lives. Liz played a significant role in launching “Jump Rope for Heart” at her school, an educational program created by the American Heart Association.

She also catapulted herself into volunteerism for Veterans, continually finding ways to get involved and support this community throughout her life. For many years, Liz has volunteered for the Vietnam Wall Memorial Association, with “The Moving Wall,” a replica memorial that travels around the country.

When she retired, Liz continued to help school children by volunteering as a tutor. And today, her generosity of spirit is well-known in her assisted living community. Remembering the joy of receiving a handwritten letter from her brother, Liz now creates handmade cards for her neighbors every holiday. She teaches them how to make crafts and frequently leads group art projects. Liz is also working on starting a program in her community to support Veterans in hospice.

Liz has kept her brother’s memory close to her heart throughout her life. But she had never received the answers or closure she hoped for about his death. In 2005, that all changed.

“When my dad passed away in 2005, we found all of this information about Vic in a cabinet,” she explained. “It opened all of this up.”

With access to more information, Liz’s questions about Vic’s death resurfaced, and she dedicated herself to discovering more. Piecing together fragments of her memory with the cabinet’s contents, Liz tracked down Vic’s best friend from the Army.

After years of questions, Liz finally heard the whole story. Her brother had bravely volunteered for a secret mission crossing enemy lines, during which he was shot and instantly killed. She was comforted to know that Vic’s best friend was with him in those final moments.

Liz and Jessica walk along the Vietnam Veterans Memorial wall in Washington DC
Liz stands at podium during Reading of Names ceremony at Vietnam Veterans Memorial 40th Anniversary

Liz felt great closure upon hearing the truth about Vic’s death, and it spurned an even greater urge to honor him within her. When Wish of a Lifetime heard Liz’s story, we jumped at the opportunity to recognize Liz for her legacy, while helping her honor her brother’s service in Washington, D.C.

At age 74, Liz visited the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, accompanied by her close friend Jessica. She traced her finger along the wall until she found her brother’s name among the seemingly infinite list. Reading his name in the gleaming back granite resonated deeply with her, and she took a rubbing of the text to take home with her.

Liz’s trip to D.C. came at a momentous time—the 40th anniversary of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund held an in-person “Reading of the Names” ceremony as part of the commemoration. Liz was among thousands of people who had come together to take part in a special reading of the names on the wall.

Not only did Liz attend the ceremony, but she also played a role in it! As one of many volunteers, she stepped up to a podium to read her brother’s name and the names of many others who lost their lives around the same time as Vic.

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial is aptly nicknamed “the Wall of Healing.” And for Liz, being a part of this ceremony was deeply meaningful for her after learning the full story of her brother’s death.

“This was the frosting on the cake to the whole thing,” she said of the experience. “It put everything together and put it in perspective; it was so healing.”

Liz also visited Arlington Cemetery during her trip, where her father and brother were laid to rest. Upon returning home, Liz’s reflections on her wish experience were full of gratitude.

Wish recipient Liz stands with friend Jessica in front of Vietnam Veterans Memorial
Liz walks along the Vietnam Veterans Memorial wall in Washington DC

Want to see more stories like Liz’s?

Sign up for our email list and continue to be inspired by the stories of older adults fulfilling their dreams.

Liz traces finger over brothers name on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial

Wish of a Lifetime from AARP is changing how we age, one inspirational wish at a time.

Submit a life-changing wish in your community, and share your favorite wish story on Facebook and Instagram to inspire your network!