I never knew my Uncle Bob. He was my mom’s youngest brother, the youngest of five children born near the coal-mining town of Beckley, West Virginia to my grandparents, Ray and Effie Mae Patton. He died in 1944 at the age of 19 during a kamikaze attack in the western Pacific on his aircraft carrier, the U.S.S. Suwanee. His body was never recovered.
Over time, my grandparents came to accept the grim reality that they would never see their son again. But long after his death, his memory lived on. For more than half a century, a framed black and white photograph of him in his dress blues sat on a table in their dining room where our family gathered for meals together, including those years when I came home on leave as a naval flight officer during the Vietnam War.
Growing up, people who had known Bob would tell me that I was a dead ringer for him. When my sister and I would visit our grandparents in the summer, my grandmother called me “Bobby” almost as often as she called me “Tommy.” Our grandfather had a nickname for me – “Joe.” When Sheila and I would leave them to return to our home in Virginia over the years, there were times when I wasn’t quite sure who I was. But one thing I knew for sure. They loved their youngest son Bob with a love that would never die.