It is my honor today to share my memories of Roger Edward Heustis, a Navy Seabee, who gave his life in the Vietnam War. Roger and I grew up about a street apart in North Merrick, a quiet suburb on Long Island, NY, during the 1950s and early ’60s. We began school in the same kindergarten class. My first memory of Roger is on the last day of school that year. He was the only child who upon leaving not only hugged our dear teacher but planted a kiss on her cheek! I don’t think any of the rest of us would have had the courage to do so. This act describes Roger perfectly. He was filled with love and not afraid to show it.
Roger’s family was no stranger to tragedy. His father passed away from lung cancer when he was about fourteen. This left Roger’s mother with a teenager and two younger sons about three and four years old. Somehow Roger found my dad. Roger’s father had been a carpenter and my dad was a self-employed carpenter at the time. When Roger was sixteen, he began working for my dad part time and during the summer. This was especially odd since my dad never wanted a helper and preferred working on his own. Now I can see God’s hand in the relationship.
As an only child, I must admit I was a bit jealous of Roger, but I have thanked God so often over the years for warming my heart, enabling me to accept him as the brother I never had. I enjoyed his evening visits with my family and fondly remember his last Christmas with us in 1966. We laughed and joked, he gave me advice on what to wear on a date with my new boyfriend, and my parents snapped a picture of me sitting on his lap. I gave him a scarf I’d knitted to go with his Navy pea coat and spent some time with him, helping him study ohms and watts for the electrical part of his test for the Seabees.
When Roger deployed for Vietnam, I can still remember my mom being so upset. She remembered WW II and my dad’s service in England for three and a half years, but my dad came home. She had a foreboding, I guess, but Roger and I were twenty years old and all of life lay ahead of us. Well, he arrived in Vietnam in the beginning of December 1967 and was killed within two weeks on Dec. 14th. He had volunteered to serve and was looking forward to a career in construction when he got out. My parents and I were heartbroken.
My dad and I attended the funeral and went to the burial site. Roger was gone, buried before his twenty-first birthday, which would have been January 27th, 1968. What a loss to all of us who had the opportunity to know him. He had not a mean bone in his body, he loved everyone that he met, I do believe, and I will never forget him.
In 2009, Jim and I went to Washington, DC. It was my desire to see the Vietnam Wall in person. We found his name almost exactly 42 years after his passing. I thought of the relationship he’d had with my dad, who passed away in 2003. I’d discovered Roger’s obituary safely tucked away in my dad’s desk. How blessed we were to have shared in some of his short life. I think of him whenever the Beach Boys are mentioned or one of their songs are played, whenever I see young teenage boys with surfboards and oh, he chose to drive a retired hearse as his first vehicle because he could fit surfboards in it. I regret that he didn’t return and have the opportunity to fulfill his dreams, but I thank God for him and others like him who gave their very life so we could live in this great country and work to see our dreams become reality. I know my parents never forgot him, and I certainly never will either. He loved others with all his heart and gave the ultimate sacrifice. Praise God for our fallen heroes!