A final battle: bringing best friend’s remains home from Vietnam
Los Angeles Times
By ESMERALDA BERMUDEZ
MAY 03, 2019
He took his lawn chair and his lunch and sat beneath the Chinese Elm tree, inches from Raul’s grave. He and his friend, they had a lot of catching up to do.As kids, Ruben and Raul thought they had life all figured out.
A framed photograph of Raul Guerra, left, as the best man for Ruben Valencia, right, on his wedding day. Dania Maxwell / Los Angeles Times
They would grow up and live minutes from one another, be best men in each other’s weddings, godfathers to each other’s children. They would sit side by side at Dodger stadium, two old men in a sea of blue.
The friends never imagined that after high school both would be sent to Vietnam — but only one would return.
The loss was so painful that for 40 years Ruben Valencia could hardly bring himself to say Raul Guerra’s name.
“I put everything about him away,” said Ruben, now 74 years old.
But the past can only stay buried for so long. In 2005, Raul’s remains, which had been missing since his plane was shot down in 1967, were recovered and flown to Hawaii. The plan was to hold them there until U.S. officials tracked down his family.
His family, however, was nowhere to be found.
So Ruben set off on a 12-year quest, determined to bring his friend home. The journey would rattle him. It would teach him things about Raul that likely no one knew, and in the end, it would bring the two friends closer than ever.
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