Roger Vanover was born in Camden. After I was assigned to manage the printing department at Sampson Air Base, N.Y., in 1950, I would take him to stay with me on his school break.
I would take him to my print shop and show him what we were doing for the war effort in Korea. He loved being with his big brother. I would also take him to the mess hall to eat lunch with the rest of my men.
Before the Korean War was over, he lied about his age and joined the 82nd Airborne as a paratrooper and saw some action. That outfit just did not take anyone. I was very proud of him. Four of us brothers have served over 75 years for our country.
He came home without a scratch. Then he got with the wrong people and was killed in Indiana in 1968. I was at Travis Air Base, Calif., at the time, and came home on emergency leave for the funeral.
When I walked into the church at Payne Gap, I saw this young girl standing in the middle of the room looking like she did not know what was going on. I was told she was Roger’s 11-year-old daughter, whom he had not seen in over 10 years.
I walked over to her and took her hand and told her who I was. She asked me who was the man in the casket. She did not know at that time that Roger was her dad.
I stayed with her the rest of the day. She never knew she was a Vanover until she went to get her driving permit at 16 years old. She knew my parents were her grandparents, but never knew how her dad fit into our family. She also knew my wife and kids that stayed at my parents’ home when I was assigned some place I could not take my family with me.
Her name was Kozetta — and I never saw her again.
Years later, after I retired from the military and was working in California, she would call my daughter, Karen Sue, who was her age, and talk with her. She also talked to my wife many times.
I answered the phone once and it was Kozetta, and we talked for a long time. She told me she always thought of the handsome man in uniform who held her hand and spent the day with her at her dad’s funeral. We have been talking on the phone every day since.
Her husband was in Viet Nam as a jungle fighter and thinks he has Agent Orange. I put him in touch with the Veterans Department and he will get free medical help and some money for the rest of his life.
Kozetta thinks of me as the father she never knew, and I love her like my own daughter. We are making plans to visit each other in Jenkins some time soon.
She now lives in Michigan with her husband, Wayne Smith.