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Oglesby: The time I was lost in South America — almost

POSTED: April 24, 2012 1:00 a.m.

Several friends have asked me to write about the time I was killed in action in South America so they could send a copy to other friends and relatives. I don’t remember whether I’ve written about it before but I don’t think so.

Before I retired from my active Air Force Reserve days, I was the ranking public affairs operational officer nationally. I had a number of extended active duty service projects. I was on a 75-day mission in South America.

One night, I was covering an after-midnight parachute drop near Tocumen Airport. When I returned to my quarters, a note was taped to my door reading “Col. Oglesby, call me at my quarters regardless of the hour.” Maj. John Moscatelli was the public affairs officer for the Southern Command.

I called and he said to call my command post at Warner Robins, Ga. My wife had the phone number of the command post so that, when I was away, if I needed to know something she could contact me.

My surgeon brother, Jim, from Kissimmee, Fla., who like me retired from the (Army) Reserve, didn’t know I was on the special tour and I didn’t know he was taking his annual two-week tour, his wife with him. He returned home to find a message on his answering machine: “Your brother has been killed in South America.”

He figured it must be our youngest brother, John, who lives in Memphis. Though it was well after midnight, he called his home and John answered. That left me.

They had John’s wife call my home. Jan co-owned three travel agencies in Memphis and Knoxville. We often worked together in our respective travel businesses, helping each other fill spaces in each other’s trips.

Jan called Betty for me to call her. She needed a few travelers to fill her allocation on a trip. Did I have any who might be interested? Betty answered the phone and said I was in South America.

Knowing that casualty notifications aren’t made before 6 a.m. or after 9 p.m. unless there is a chance they would get out on the news, Jim called my command post to find out what happened. The on-duty officer checked and said all our planes were accounted for and on the ground, no casualty reports whatsoever.

Jim asked that I be notified. That’s why the message on my door. I felt it necessary Betty hear my voice. She was a teacher and we had a son in elementary school and daughter in day nursery.

It was nearly 4 a.m. Answering, she told me Jan had called. I told her what had happened and wanted her to hear my voice in case she got some weird call. I was alive and well.

“That’s nice,” she said. ”Goodnight” and hung up.

When I got back, she said it didn’t hit her until she was fixing breakfast and started trembling, realizing what could have happened —becoming a young widow with two small children. She almost couldn’t go to school but did get there late.

To this very day, we have never determined who left that message and why.

Sunday April 15, we were visiting my brother-in-law at The Oaks at Limestone nursing home and found him sitting in a room where a birthday party was getting started. Last year, Brandee Thomas wrote an excellent feature on two 103-year-old widows who roomed together in room 103, and her son showed me the section with Brandee’s feature. One died during the year.

The descendants of the other, Laura Ann Poole, were throwing her a 104th birthday party with decorations and a huge cake. We didn’t want to crash someone’s party but before leaving, I asked a granddaughter about her and the number of descendants. She has four children, all boys, 14 grandchildren, 26 great-grandchildren, 16 great-great-grandchildren and one great-great-great-grandchild.

Comparing her picture to last year’s, she looked even healthier. All were taking pictures. Should Brandee want to follow up, pictures are available.

Ted Oglesby is retired associate and opinion editor of The Times whose column is in its 54th year. You can reach him at P.O. Box 663, Gainesville, GA 30503. His column appears biweekly on Tuesdays and at gainesvilletimes.com/viewpoint.


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