I want the record to reflect that on the morning of Dec. 31, 2008, as I was making the daily commute from Pinehurst to my former job at the Fayetteville Observer, I was quite literally lost in prayer.
I don’t tell you this as an excuse, I am telling you this because I want a written record of my love and concern for my friend, my buddy, Gordon Flash Wofford.
I met Gordon in 2005, shortly after my book, After the Flag has been Folded, was released. Gordon had seen part of the interview I did on Good Morning America. He caught enough of it to know that I was the daughter of a soldier killed in action.
That mattered to Gordon because he had served with the 25th Infantry Division, the same as my father. Only Gordon was a young kid of 20 when he was shipped to Southeast Asia. And he was a young kid when that sniper blew off his lower jaw and killed the medic who tried to rescue Gordon. That medic left behind a young pregnant wife. That medic’s daughter, Angela, had recently contacted Gordon.
Gordon bought my book, read it, and then began to turn out at every book signing I had within a day’s driving distance. Our first meeting was at a Barnes & Noble in Johnson City, Tennessee, not far from where my father is buried. Gordon’s wife, Pam, had to remind me of that. I can hardly remember a time when I didn’t know my buddy Gordon.
At first I was worried. I thought maybe he was one of those troubling stalkers. But I have a soft spot for Vietnam Veterans in particular, and over time, Gordon and I became the best of buds. He had contacted me primarily because he didn’t know how to respond to Angela, the medic’s daughter. He was afraid that she might be mad that he had lived and her father hadn’t.
I told him that wasn’t likely the case, that probably all she wanted was stories of her dad. I assured him there was no way she was going to blame him for her father’s death. Gordon and Pam eventually invited Angela and her mother to their home. It was a beautiful reunion and as Gordon told me on several different occasions that it meant the world to him.
Only somebody who has seen a buddy die in the field and only the daughter or son of such a dead man can appreciate the true sacredness of such meetings but the rest of the world ought to hear about it anyway. Just so you can stand back in awe and appreciation for the sacrifices these men and their families have made.
Gordon, as I stated earlier, lost half his face on that battlefield that day. He spent 19 months at Walter Reed where his jaw was rebuilt. At age 21 he grew a beard to hide the scars that he thought hideous. The folks at Walter Reed taught him to eat again and to talk. And boy were they successful.
Nobody loved talking more than Gordon. He was the finest storyteller I’ve ever met. He knew a whole cast of characters from Ault the junkyard owner, to Hassel Ray the slaughterhouse proprietor, to Lanny the attorney, and Bill the World War II era veteran.
When I visited Gordon and Pam he took me around and introduced me to each of these people. It was like meeting the characters of a well-loved novel. They were exactly as Gordon had described them. My buddy Gordon opened up a whole new world for me. I will draw from the wealth of his stories and his friends for the rest of my writing life.
I only have known Gordon such a short time, but I couldn’t love any friend more.
I spoke with Pam last night. I told her I was going to court this morning to tell you why it was that I was lost in prayer the morning of Dec. 31. Pam told me it’s been a week since Gordon has had anything to eat or drink.
He lies in a bed in the same sunroom where we spent hours watching the cardinals and finches and nuthatches play and telling stories to each other.
The nurse told Pam that veterans like Gordon defy all the odds because they are trained to survive.
The other reason I wanted to put this all on the record is because no one would find it more hilarious that I got a ticket for speeding while praying than the very man I was praying for, my buddy, Gordon Flash Wofford.
A Manchu brother to the very end.
Gordon passed away at 5:21 a.m. this morning. Guess he was waiting for me to have my day in court.
Deb, Angela, Gordon and Pam.
Gordon & Shelby
Gordon, Mike, Charlie, Red. Where’s Rick & Ron?