I thought I had told every possible story related to my uncle Bill Newvine, a Vietnam veteran who died in a car accident six months after returning from military service.
Over the years, I have written about what his life was like growing up in my hometown of Port Leyden, New York. With the help of an organization that connects soldiers from the same unit my uncle served in, I was able to talk to men who knew him in the Army.
In recent years, Bill’s sister Betty and my dad Ed have provided me with letters from their brother written while he was in Vietnam.
I thought we had covered it all, but thanks to social media, a new wave of Bill Newvine memories have surfaced in recent weeks.
On May 5, 2018, I posted Bill’s high school photograph on Facebook and told my followers that the date marked the fiftieth anniversary of his death.
Naturally, the post got several likes. But some comments from friends and classmates of Bill provided some additional insight into who my uncle was.
One woman knew Bill from Port Leyden Central School where he graduated in 1963.
“He was a seemingly shy young man but when we got together as a group, he opened up to his fun-loving self.”
This comment reminded me of interviews I did with some of the men who served with Bill in Vietnam.
They had similar observations about my uncle: quiet at first, but someone who opened up after getting to know you.
Being just eleven years old when he died, I never experienced that fun-loving side of him. But my Dad confirmed that his brother was shy, but after getting to know someone, he lost that shyness.
Another woman who commented on the post said, “I had the biggest crush on him in high school.” This reminded me of something I saw posted on the Port Leyden Central School Facebook page from a few years ago.
That post recalled the class of 1963 Senior Trip to New York City that included a ride on a Ferris Wheel. The person posting about that trip recalled how scared she was on that ride, but “Bill Newvine rode with me so I wasn’t so scared.”
A friend and neighbor of our family commented by speaking to Bill’s depth of sincerity. “Very nice neighbor and friend... Made many memories growing up.”
There was a comment about his service to the country as well as to others who were in the armed forces. “We owe so much to those who served.”
Bill Comeau, the organizer of Alpha Association, a group that was instrumental in my getting to talk to the soldiers who served with my uncle, weighed in with this comment:
“Bill was a very likable soldier in Vietnam and had many friends. It was tragic that he survived the year in Vietnam and lost his life in such an unfortunate way.”
Bill Comeau knew Bill but did not know him well. His work with Alpha Association has brought a lot of Vietnam era veterans together in a safe place where they can open up about their experiences, celebrate their successes, and honor those who served.
It was my hope that posting Bill’s high school yearbook photo and reminding folks about him on the anniversary of his passing will keep his memory alive. His two brothers and one sister have done a lot to remember him.
The passing of that responsibility has now been made to the next generation including me.
On this Memorial Day holiday, we’ll do a lot of remembering. I am aware of at least four soldiers who served with Bill in Vietnam and were killed in action.
I made Bill’s visit to the Vietnam Memorial for him in 2012. I found their names on the wall of the Vietnam Memorial and paid my respects to those men.
This journey to learn more about Bill has helped me drill down to find my own memories. Being so young when he passed in 1968, it was hard at first to get past the tragedy and the family grief. Over the years, I’ve grown to appreciate the moments that have churned up in my memory.
I remember his snowmobile, an Evinrude. I recall a farewell party his parents had before he went off to basic training. I remember playing cards with him along with my family sometime shortly after he returned home from Vietnam.
I remember seeing him every Sunday morning at the nine o’clock Mass at St. Martin’s Church with my grandparents. The three of them sat in the same pew week after week.
It’s my hope that justice has been done in trying to tell the story about Bill Newvine; not so much by how he died, but by how he lived. His passing permitted me to learn so much about his life.
Whether it was the sharing of Army stories with the soldiers who served with him in Vietnam or the many reflections from friends and neighbors who posted their thoughts on social media, the memory lives on.
There are many friends in my hometown of Port Leyden who still remember him.
We’ve done our best to be sure no one has forgotten Bill.
Steve Newvine lives in Merced.
He wrote about his uncle in the book Finding Bill, available at Lulu.com