In the aftermath of the fall of Saigon, soldiers were left to their own devices to lick their wounds or bury the dead. Some never returned. They were the “Lost Ones,” many of whom had such little family, either overseas or at home, that they could not bring themselves to bury the dead.
Dr. Harry McReynolds was one of those who didn’t feel he could face that moment. He had been struck and nearly killed by a napalm bomb, just 19 years old, during the Battle of Hue in 1969. He was in shock, and it took him two months to die. He held out until he could get back into the car with his two sons. “What was I supposed to say to them? I’m sorry about everything,” he would recall thinking.
A year later, in November 1970, he asked Margaret Kathryn Barrett, “My God, the war’s over, but I don’t get to bury my friends. You’re going to come and bury them?”
She said yes. But she didn’t talk much about it. The doctor put on a brave face.
“He went to work with a lie, a photo-op,” Margaret wrote in a journal kept under her byline after his death. “He told me he loved me, but he did not.”
When Dr. McReynolds died in 1976, the death certificate read: “Found in apartment of a deceased individual.”
Photo: The story of an Army doctor whose plans to bury his Vietnam comrades were thwarted by a 1967 Army regulation on burials.
He had seen many things during his short, barely-more-than-a-year life. But he had experienced a shock that none of his friends, colleagues, or patients would have ever expected. He had ended his life three days after his 37th birthday. He had planned to die at home on a Thursday, when many soldiers could go home. But he waited until Sunday to complete his suicide.
After 10 years of barely being at home, his death came as a shock. The larger shock was what had happened to his grief and devotion to his mission to save and heal.