More than a name on a wall

Jane Meder, of Camden, holds a photo of her late husband, Air Force Col. Paul Meder, over his name on The Wall That Heals. Col. Meder’s aircraft was shot down in Southeast Asia in 1972. The wall, a mobile half-size replica of the Vietnam War Memorial, will be on display through Saturday in the Kent County Veterans Memorial Park in Dover.  (Delaware State News photo by Dave Chambers)

Jane Meder, of Camden, holds a photo of her late husband, Air Force Col. Paul Meder, over his name on The Wall That Heals. Col. Meder’s aircraft was shot down in Southeast Asia in 1972. The wall, a mobile half-size replica of the Vietnam War Memorial, will be on display through Saturday in the Kent County Veterans Memorial Park in Dover. (Delaware State News photo by Dave Chambers)

DOVER — Jane Meder always hoped her husband would return to her and their four children.

“I always thought he would come back,” she said Wednesday afternoon from her Camden home.

Col. Paul O. Meder’s AC-130A gunship was shot down over Laos on Dec. 21, 1972. He was one of 16 crew members aboard the plane; two survived, the body of a third was found near the crash site. Col. Meder was listed Missing in Action

On Wednesday morning, Mrs. Meder visited the traveling half-size replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial that will be in Dover through Saturday.

“This morning was hard. It’s real,” the great-grandmother said. “You’re looking at that wall and it’s real and there’s not a thing you can do about it.”

The people listed on the black wall extending across part of the Kent County Veterans Memorial Park on South Little Creek Road are more than names to Mrs. Meder.

They are fathers, husbands and children who committed themselves to serving the United States.

“They fought for that flag,” she said. The wall “is about them.”

It is Mrs. Meder’s first time seeing the replica.

“It does affect you when you see that wall,” she said. “It makes you think.”

She visited the original Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., when it was dedicated in 1982. She was struck by a difference in the traveling wall, often referred to as the “Wall That Heals.”

“When you see it in Washington you see light reflected in the wall. You see faces and color you don’t expect to see. It’s very striking.”

She plans on returning to the park to see the replica illuminated. It’ll be accessible and guarded night and day through Saturday.

After the 10 a.m. opening ceremony today, volunteers will read in shifts the more than 58,000 names on the wall, casualties of the Vietnam War. U.S. involvement in Indochina escalated during the early 1960s, with U.S. combat troops deployed in 1965. The capture of Saigon, the capital of South Vietnam, by the North Vietnamese in April 1975 is considered the war’s end.

The beginning

Jane Devenney met Paul Meder at Dewey Beach. A Wilmington girl, she was vacationing at her parents’ beach house. He was stationed at Dover Air Force Base.

“All the military was renting at the beaches,” she said. “We were beach people. We would put food in the back of the car and have dinner on the beach.

“On a moonlit night it was like having lights on.”

The two seemed meant for each other. Jane was on vacation from her job in a New York City design studio. Paul was from Queens. He would drive up from Dover to see his parents and visit Jane.

Long weekends would find them back at the beach.

There was uncertainty, too, because he never knew where the Air Force might send him.

“Looking at some of the letters recently it was like it always was ‘I may not make it this weekend,’” she recalled Wednesday.

They married when she was 23 and spent time stationed in Washington, Texas and Canada.

“Paul (had) left his job on Wall Street and joined the Air Force because he liked airplanes,” Mrs. Meder said.

She spoke admiringly of his math skills, his quickness at solving a child’s math problem with the briefest of glances.

She believes he would have went into business if he had survived the war.

A computer analyst, he was in Canada setting up systems, she said, when he was called up to go to Vietnam. He wanted the family to be near a base while he was deployed and “Dover was perfect.”

“It was midway between Wilmington (where her family lived) and the beach,” Mrs. Meder said. “The kids have saltwater in their blood.”

It also allowed Mrs. Meder to help her mother, Ruth, who was running the family business, “William G. Devenney Trucking,” in Wilmington.

“I was a go-pher,” Mrs. Meder said.

Col. Meder, stationed in Florida before leaving for Vietnam, came to Delaware as often as he could to help get the house in order and establish three of their four children in various schools.

“Paul put them on the bus the first day,” she recalled.

MIA

It was almost Christmas when Mrs. Meder learned her husband’s plane, on a mission to interrupt enemy cargo movements along the Ho Chi Minh Trail, went down on Dec. 21, 1972.

“Life changed,” Mrs. Meder said. “It changed everybody’s life.”

His parents drove down from New York every month, even though it was hard on her father-in-law. “They were like my anchor,” she said.

Her family helped also. She was able to be a stay-at-home mom, just as her Paul wanted.

She never considered leaving the Dover area.

“He knew where we were even though we didn’t know where he was,” Mrs. Meder said.

“I have a lot of faith in God,” she said. “And I had a job. I had four children to take care of. One was a baby.”

The four children, three boys and a girl, ranged in age from 3 to 14. She lost the oldest, Paul Michael, who suffered from congenital heart disease, in 1976. She sees her husband in the other three, one of whom is in Texas, one in Florida and one in Delaware.

“The last one is like a clone,” she said.

“I was lucky, a lot of things didn’t happen that could happen,” Mrs. Meder said.

“We would go to the beach. It was as normal as it could be.”

Still, she couldn’t help but reflect on the difference Col. Meder would have made. “It’s said mothers are good with little kids, but fathers are better with older kids.”

She knows he would have been able to help them in ways she couldn’t.

Unanswered questions

After 43 years, Mrs. Meder still doesn’t know much about what actually happened on her husband’s last flight. She gathered information, went to Washington, D.C., for meetings, attended hearings about her husband’s status as MIA.

She eventually learned that intelligence reports said piles of bloody bandages and five deployed parachutes were photographed at the site where the plane went down. In the 1980s, a delegation was allowed to visit the area. Some bones were found.

“They came out with a bag of less than 10 pounds,” she said, that supposedly represented 13 people.

“All they had was a three-rooted tooth of Paul’s.”

Mrs. Meder said an anthropologist examined the remains. She said he concluded that it was not a compete finding.

“You have to go with the information you have,” she said. Her husband’s status was changed from Missing in Action to Killed in Action.

“It is what it is. You can’t do anything about it.”

Col. Meder was 41 when he went MIA, a tall, thin man who loved soccer.

“Paul played soccer in Canada in the ice and snow,” she said.

At www.vvmf.org is a virtual The Wall of Faces, images of the casualties of the Vietnam Wall. Organizers still need photos.

They want photos that show personality, she said.

Mrs. Meder has the perfect one, “a picture of Paul in his soccer uniform,” because he liked playing so much.

“He would have been playing soccer as long as he could have played.”

Email comments to newsroom@newszap.com

You are encouraged to leave relevant comments but engaging in personal attacks, threats, online bullying or commercial spam will not be allowed. All comments should remain within the bounds of fair play and civility. (You can disagree with others courteously, without being disagreeable.) Feel free to express yourself but keep an open mind toward finding value in what others say. To report abuse or spam, click the X in the upper right corner of the comment box.

Facebook Comment