It turned out Mike was actually recuperating from a minor wound in Tokyo, Japan. He called soon after we received the mistaken report.
It was at this point that my older brother Bill determined to put college on hold and rejoin the Marines. He asked for duty in Vietnam to be with my younger brother Mike. His hope was to convince Mike to file under the Sullivan ruling, which states no more than one family member has to serve in a life-threatening situation at a time.
Bill wanted Mike in a safer place-out of the combat zone-while he served in `Nam himself. Bill had always looked out for his three younger siblings, and he was determined to do so again. If Mike refused to leave, Bill figured they could at least support one another.
The last thing my father did on the day Bill was to leave for retraining was to make sure he was wearing his Sacred Heart badge. My parents had my sister, two brothers, and me consecrated to the Sacred Heart when we were babies. They made sure we made the First Friday devotions that were given to St. Margaret Mary. It was to her that Christ revealed his promises concerning devotion to His Most Sacred Heart....
After training, Bill landed in Vietnam on August 21st. Sadly, the very day Bill landed, our brother Mike was again wounded. This time his wounds were much more serious. A land mine struck his amphibious mobile unit and Mike was badly burned. Bill managed to track him down in a hospital in Dong Hoa.
In order not to worry us, Bill wrote letters home telling us he was assigned in Da Nang as a clerk. He jokingly referred to his great quest to serve as being reduced to shuffling papers. That was our Bill-always protecting others. His ploy worked, and we believed that he was fairly safe in Da Nang.
But then, during the night of September 21, 1967, I had a terrible dream. I dreamed I was standing on a small incline and I saw my brother Billy carrying a machine gun. I heard a horrible sound of rockets and mortar going off. In my dream I screamed: "Run, Billy, run!" And then a big flash and explosion landed close to him. Through the smoke and fire I saw him lying wounded. Both of his hands were gone and there was blood everywhere. He was moaning in pain but I could not reach him. My heart broke as I watched and tried to run to him. My beloved Billy was all alone. I was so close to him and yet so far.
Then, suddenly, I saw a Catholic chaplain run over to Bill. He appeared to be wounded also but leaned over Bill and began to comfort him. He prayed and anointed Bill as best he could. He was so calm and reassuring to my brother. He said: "Don't worry, son. God is with us this good day." I was crying so hard by this time, I woke up from this awful dream. As I always did as a child, I wanted my dad to soothe me from this nightmare. I got out of bed and called him at 1:30 A.M.
When I called, the phone barely rang once before Dad picked it up. He was crying softly when he answered. To this day I don't remember which one of us said it first: "Billy is dead." Dad and I related the exact same dream and the exact details. We consoled one another and clung to the hope that it was just a warning. "Maybe it is just a sign we need to pray harder for Bill," Dad said. We both so desperately wanted to believe that.
One week later, on September 28th, the Marines again paid a visit to my parent's home. This time there would be no phone call saying it was a mistake. Instead, our nightmare was confirmed. Billy was dead.
The Marines reported that on September 21st, while on night patrol, Bill's entire unit was caught in an ambush. They were trapped in a crossfire of rocket and mortar fire, which claimed the life of every man in the unit. Bill managed to survive alone until another unit found him. One of the letters we received later related how the Marines, who ministered first aid to Bill before he died, had promised to honor Bill's request: "Please thank the Padre for helping me die well." They unfortunately did not know the name of the priest who had administered the last rites of the Church to Bill. There wasn't one in their unit.