Remembering Her Vietnam Veteran Brother Through His Uniform

Why her hometown will always hold a special place in her heart.

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Posted in , Jul 23, 2021

Carla's brother, Gary in uniform; Photo credit: Carla Rye Faherty

When I opened my closet, my eyes immediately fell on my late brother Gary’s Army uniform. The brass buttons shone, the ceremonial ribbons and pins were bright, the nameplate proudly announced RYE.

Gary Rye had been smart, kind and funny. The best younger brother anyone could ask for. In 1966, he enlisted in the Army and was shipped off to Vietnam.

I was so grateful when he returned in one piece. But the war’s effects were long-lasting. He died from lung disease a few years later, probably the result of Agent Orange, a defoliant chemical used in Vietnam and known to cause respiratory disease.

As executor of his estate, I’d had the job of cleaning out his house and going through his belongings. I donated what I could to charity, but I couldn’t bring myself to part with his Army uniform. Instead, I brought it home, zipped it in a plastic garment bag and put it in my closet, where it had remained for the past 26 years.

Lord, what should I do with this? I wondered. I worried about what would happen to it once I was gone. I wanted Gary to be remembered. But now wasn’t the time for such thoughts. I had a trip to pack for.

Recently, I’d had an overwhelming desire to travel to my hometown of Spur, Texas. I hadn’t been back since my father’s funeral in 1986. All of my family and friends had moved away years ago. I wouldn’t know anyone. But no matter how I tried to dismiss the notion, I couldn’t stop thinking about Spur. I needed to see it again. I asked my husband, Rick, if he’d be up for a road trip. He agreed. So I booked us a room at a bed-and-breakfast for the weekend.

Returning to Spur was surreal. The streets were familiar but slightly different. After we got settled at our B&B, Rick and I took a walk downtown. I enjoyed giving my husband a tour, pointing out what I remembered from my childhood and what had changed.

On our second day, we visited the museum across the street. It showcased artifacts from Spur’s long history. There were photos, displays, desks from old schoolhouses. But the exhibit at the back really got my attention. There, against a backdrop of American flags, were mannequins dressed in United States military uniforms. According to the plaques, they’d belonged to Spur residents who had served their country. Just like Gary…

My heart raced. I found the museum attendant and told her about my brother, a Spur boy, born and raised. I told her that he had served in Vietnam and had since passed. That I still had his uniform.

“Do you accept donations?” I asked.

“Yes!” she said. “Most of the donated uniforms we’ve received are from World War II. We’d be proud to display it.”

I was elated.

As we were packing the car to leave the next morning, a man on the sidewalk outside approached us. I waved. Everyone in Spur was friendly.

“Hi there,” he said. “You folks visiting?”

“Yes,” I said. “I grew up here. My maiden name is Rye.”

“Gary’s sister?” he said.

“Yes! You knew him?”

“Sure did,” he said.

He introduced himself as John. He explained that decades ago, he’d met Gary in Fort Worth. Gary had applied for a role at John’s company, and John had hired him. John had lived in Fort Worth for years. Recently he’d returned to Spur to retire.

What are the odds? I thought. We stood there talking for a while, swapping stories about Gary. It meant so much to me, to know that even after all these years, someone in Spur still remembered my brother. And now others would too.

My latest trip to Spur was to see Gary’s uniform on display. I now understand why I was being urged to return to a place I thought I’d never see again. But I know I’ll be back. Because now, part of my heart is there.

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