Jun 07 2013
Recently I had the pleasure of meeting three families who were brought together by extraordinary circumstances. They came from Florida, Tennessee and Delaware to meet me in Wilmington for one goal – to provide closure to the family of a fallen Vietnam War soldier, nearly 45 years later.
From left: Mark Momcilovich, Sen. Carper, Luu Van Vo, Ngoc Van Vo, Bill Melfi, and Kristin Momcilovich James.
Nancy Lynch of Bethel, a former reporter for The News Journal and the author of "Vietnam Mailbag", a book of local soldiers' stories from the Vietnam War, called me earlier this year to tell me that she had been contacted by former South Vietnamese non-commissioned soldier, Ngoc Van Vo. Ngoc had found the Military Driver's license of Army Capt. Mike Momcilovich, Jr., a Vietnam Veteran from Wilmington whose letters were published in her book. Now living in Florida, Ngoc had been searching, without success, for relatives of Capt. Momcilovich for more than 20 years in order to reunite them with what was perhaps the last tangible memento of Capt. Momcilovich's life and service: his military ID. But now, with help from his friend Bill Melfi, also a Vietnam Veteran living in Florida, they found Capt. Momcilovich's story on the book's website and reached out to Nancy with the hope that she could connect them with Capt. Momcilovich’s family.
She happily agreed, and after weeks of trying to bring together three families from three states, we all decided to meet in Wilmington over Memorial Day week, a fitting time to honor Capt. Momcilovich. On Friday, May 31, we gathered at the Vietnam War Memorial in Brandywine Park. Nancy, Bill and his wife Andrea of Sebastian, Fla., Capt. Momcilovich's brother Mark of Bear and his daughter Kristin of Nashville, Tenn., and Ngoc and his wife Luu Van Vo of Florida met at the base of the statue where Capt. Momcilovich's name, along with hundreds of others, is etched on a plaque. We met and heard the extraordinary stories of Ngoc and Luu's life in South Vietnam – from Ngoc finding the charred fragments of Capt. Momcilovich's military ID in a helicopter wreckage during a salvage mission, to their journey to America. We learned about the remarkable friendship between Ngoc and Bill, and their decades-long search for the relatives of Capt. Momcilovich. I learned that Kristin, who was only an infant at the time of her father's death, never got a chance to know her dad, but how this gave her a piece of his life for her to cherish forever.
Capt. Momcilovich was only 24 years old when his helicopter was hit by hostile ground gunfire. He was decorated with the Purple Heart, the Air Medal, the National Defense Medal, the Vietnam Service Medal and numerous Vietnam campaign medals. I hope that this reunion, in some small way, will help bring closure to the Momcilovich family, and it was certainly a meeting I was honored and humbled to witness. I will never, ever forget it.
I just wanted to share that moving story with you, and I hope you'll join me in remembering Capt. Momcilovich's brave service and sacrifice – and that of so many other men and women in uniform – for our state and our country