In 1967, James Van Bendegom joined the Army to fight in the Vietnam War. Unlike some high school seniors who planned to attend college and avoid the draft, James enlisted. He quit school and left for Vietnam on Father’s Day.
On July 12 of ‘67, 18-year-old Van Bendegom was on patrol in the Ia Drang Valley, near the Cambodian border, when the enemy ambushed his company and nearly wiped them out. Fifty-five American soldiers died, many of them executed as they lay wounded in the battlefield. James and at least one other survivor were captured.
The name James Lee Van Bendegom joined the long list of American MIAs, whereabouts unknown.
James was classified as missing-in-action for several years. Then, based on circumstantial evidence in 1969, his family received word that “Jim” might be alive and a prisoner of war. That hope was dashed, however, in 1973 when returning war prisoners reported that Jim had died of his battlewounds. His body, they assumed, had been left in a mass grave.
Life went on. Jim’s brothers married and had children, Jim’s parents grew old, his dad died in 2002, and his mom turned 89 this year—
Then, a few weeks ago on October 17, Jim’s mom received a phone call. A portion of Jim’s remains have been found and positively identified through DNA testing.
Jim is finally coming home.
This week, a police escort will lead Jim back to Kenosha, Wisconsin. Citizens there will line the streets to pay their respects as his motorcade passes by. Then on Veteran’s Day, James Lee Van Bendegom, a casualty of the Vietnam War, will finally be laid to rest, at 11 AM, with full military honors.
His mother will be there to welcome Jim home. And as her son’s remains are lowered into the grave, in her heart she might hear him whisper, “Mom, I’m not dead . . .
“God armed me with strength, and He made my way perfect. He made me as surefooted as a deer, enabling me to stand on mountain heights. He trained my hands for battle; He strengthened my arm to draw a bronze bow. He gave me His shield of victory. Now, His right hand supports me, and His help has made me great.” [paraphrased from Psalm 18:32–35 NLT]
Welcome home, Jim. Welcome home.
We honor you,
the 522 American soldiers still classified as MIA,
and all those who served . . .
Read more about James here.
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