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Two ends meet to close circle

First came the official word. A stranger heard it, too, and passed along a lasting memento.

By THOMAS LAKE
Published January 27, 2007


TITUSVILLE, Jan. 21

In the end they identified just one tooth. It belonged to the old woman's son. Now she sits on a brown wraparound couch in her living room, telling stories to a priest. On her wrist is a metal crescent with this inscription:

CAPT. HERBERT CROSBY

1-10-70

"Mary Lou," the old woman says. "Did you make any coffee?"

She once had another bracelet that bore Herbie's name, but she lost it in a fire. This one will take its place. It will keep him close to her, she says. It will mean he is not really dead.

One hour earlier

The metal crescent sits in a blue box on the front seat of a Toyota Avalon headed south on Oakhill Drive. A Catholic priest is driving. He is round and bespectacled, fond of watching birds, and he must finish this errand before his afternoon appointment with the Chicago Bears.

He stops at a salmon-pink house and walks to the front, blue box in hand. The door opens.

"Hello," a woman says. "You must be Father Steve."

The woman is Mary Lou Wade. She is the sister of the late Capt. Herbert Crosby. Their mother shuffles in, gripping a walker. Jane Wesley is 88. Her hearing and memory are fading.

People like to talk about closure, about healing through knowing the horrible truth. She preferred hope.

Father Steve offers up the bracelet, a tarnished metal cuff perhaps half an inch wide.

"Mary Lou," the mother says, "put that on my arm."

Cincinnati, Jan. 12

In the two-bedroom condominium where she lives alone, a 71-year-old retired real estate agent named Terri Stamm writes a letter and drops it in the mail.

Dear Mrs. Wade,

It was an honor to speak with you. I offer my condolence and best wishes to you and your family. I am having the bracelet personally delivered by the priest from my church - Fr. Steve Kolde. It so happens that he will be in Titusville on the 20th to visit his parents who are living not two miles from you. Unbelievable.

He will in all likelihood see you on Sunday the 21st. With your permission - and if at all possible - I should like to attend Capt. Crosby's funeral at Arlington.

I am still in awe of how this has all come together. May you all find comfort in God's peace.

Cincinnati, Jan. 7

Terri returns from the airport and opens her dresser to look for the bracelet. It is not there.

Her mind races through the possibilities. I didn't throw it out, she thinks. I didn't give it away. I didn't sell it.

She searches until 1:15 a.m., collapses into bed, gets up at 3, searches some more. She appeals to God. She appeals to her dead friend Ann. She falls asleep again at 3:30 and gets back up around 7, and at 7:30 she looks in a compartment of the cedar chest at the end of her bed and there it is.

New Port Richey, Dec. 22, 2006

Terri calls the St. Petersburg Times from her daughter's house, where she's spending Christmas. She tells her story to an editor and the next day a reporter calls. They talk for a while and then hang up. He finds Mary Lou Wade's number, calls to tell her the news, asks her to call Terri. Mary Lou does.

Terri pledges to mail the bracelet when she returns to Ohio.

New Port Richey, Dec. 20, 2006

Terri flies in from Ohio to visit her daughter. She arrives one day ahead of schedule, thus saving $30 on air fare.

The next morning, though no one has asked for weekday delivery, a carrier drops off the St. Petersburg Times.

As solstice dark falls outside, the woman who might not have been there picks up the paper that might not have been there and begins to read.

She skims Page 5B, a series of state news briefs beside a sprawling ad for LAST MINUTE SAVINGS at the Sears Appliance Outlet. Then she sees his name.

The remains of an Army captain missing nearly 37 years have been found in South Vietnam, his family in Titusville learned.

A helicopter carrying Capt. Herbert Charles Crosby and two other servicemen went down in bad weather in January 1970. Their remains were identified through DNA testing, the Defense Department reported.

Crosby. His name was engraved in the POW/MIA bracelet she bought in 1971. She had kept it more than 35 years.

"Oh my God," she says.

Thomas Lake can be reached at tlake@sptimes.com or 1-800-333-7505, ext. 6245.

Encounters

About the series

Encounters is dedicated to small but meaningful stories. Sometimes they will play out far from the tumult of the daily news; sometimes they may be part of the news. To comment or suggest an idea for a story, please contact editor Mike Wilson at mike@sptimes.com or 727 892-2924.