Thursday, April 23, 2009

American's Personal Effect Returned to Germany

Tag "Worth it's weight in gold," travels around the world to family

Berlin, Germany--TOP (Tours Of Peace) Vietnam Veterans has reunited the personal effect of Killed-In-Action soldier Russell Fordham, with family in Berlin, Germany. Son, Michael, received the dog tag on behalf of family. In addition to the dog tag's long journey from Vietnam to Germany via America, the effect has a long, poignant story.

Born in 1933, Russell was a highly decorated soldier, who served 2-tours in Vietnam and received the Bronze Star; he also was awarded medals from service in Germany and Korea.

During Russell's service in Germany, he met his bride-to-be, Christa. The Fordham's lived the life of a military family in America. Sadly, Russell died in Vietnam, September 4, 1969. After the loss of husband & father, Christa and the Fordham children eventually returned to Germany, where they reside to this date.

TOP is grateful to German journalist, Ilka Hahn, in assisting with the final arrangements of the tag's return to family in Berlin. In the past, Ilka traveled & participated with TOP, in Vietnam, as an Education Program participant, and documented TOP's work in several European venues.

Ilka wrote about the Russel Fordham dog tag and Michael Fordham supplemented the story with family heirloom pictures of Russell receiving one of his decorations, and standing next to an American flag for the article.

Ilka's article reflects the German perspective and is translated in English for our blog and web site:
By Ilka Hahn
“The German Mail recently delivered a worthless piece of metal to Michael Fordham in Berlin-Spandau. Still, Fordham did not know whether to laugh or to cry. The reason: This piece of metal is the last memory of his father who died in Vietnam. It is almost 40 years ago that Russell C. Fordham, a multiply decorated SFC, served in Vietnam for the second time. In September 1969, artillery hit a recovery camp where Fordham stayed at that time. He died on the operating table shortly after. Nobody knows if he was still wearing the piece of metal around his neck in that moment or if he had already lost it before.

The Americans call these pieces of metal “Dog tags.” To quickly identify the wounded and dead, the essentials are stamped on them: name, confession, blood group et cetera. For many veterans, however, this piece of metal means more than just an ID in times of war. They keep it for a life time – as a part of themselves. The US-organization “Tours of Peace” (TOP) has now found the dog tag of Russell C. Fordham. TOP helps American veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder: Soldiers who, due to their war experiences, became alcoholics, aggressive or unable to keep up personal relationships. And TOP returns old dog tags, that are still dug out or found in Vietnam, to their owners or family.

When Russell C. Fordham died, his son Michael was just seven years old. Fordham met his German wife Christa in Berlin. He was stationed in Germany for five years. “My mother used to work in an American shopping center called 'PX' in Berlin-Zehlendorf. After three proposals she finally accepted. That was in 1961”, says Michael (46). The family then moved to Columbus, Georgia, and Michael Fordham today still holds an American passport. “My dad taught me how to play baseball and how to calculate. I inherited his technical understanding. Back then I often watched him repair cars.” On the desk in his office he still keeps a photograph of his father.

Two years after Russell’s death, Michael Fordham, his younger sister Susan and his mother moved back to Berlin. At their weekly meetings his today 71-year-old mother regularly tells Michael stories about his father. Also, his five aunts and uncles in the US often talk about how Russell was like. And still: The worthless piece of metal held a surprise for him, after all those years. “I didn’t know that he was a protestant. I always thought that he was a baptist. For me, this tag is like an important piece of a puzzle that was missing”, says the telecommunication engineer. “It was a sad but at the same time wonderful feeling to actually hold it in my hands. I wish it could talk and tell me what happened back then.” But even if this will never happen: “This tag will get a very special place. It is worth its weigh in gold.

No comments: