Why I Read: Engaged to Be Married, A Future Lost
Joyce Washburn met Dennis “Denny” Lobbezoo in a high school history class in Grand Rapids in 1966. They would do their homework together. He worked at the bowling alley and she would just go sit in the back with him while he was at work. He would often tell her “you know Joyce, we’re better together than apart.”
They went to Junior Achievement meetings together on Monday nights. One Monday night, he said “let’s go talk to the recruiters.” Denny felt very strongly about enlisting and he did just that in February of 1967. Joyce and Denny did all the typical things that high school seniors do that spring and spent those last several months together.
For graduation, Denny gave Joyce a pearl ring. He left for boot camp in San Diego the next month, right after his 19th birthday. He came home for three weeks that November and they officially got engaged to be married. He left for Vietnam on Thanksgiving 1967.
Joyce has kept every one of the letters Denny wrote her from Vietnam. She wrote him every day from the day he went to boot camp. Joyce went to junior college and every day after classes, she would call and ask her Mom, “did I get a letter today?”
When he first arrived in Vietnam, she got a letter about twice a week. Then he went to Khe Sanh. Denny was a rifleman for Echo Company 2nd Battalion 26th Marines, 3rd Marine division. In March 1968, while in Khe Sanh, he was injured and spent time on the USS Repose hospital ship.
Once Denny was well enough he returned to his unit, now located between Khe Sanh and the DMZ. In June of 1968 at Con Thien, his squad was ambushed and only two members of his squad survived.
Denny’s father called Joyce’s home and told her mother. “I knew right away before she told me. The night he was killed I was coming across the North Park Street bridge and I got this feeling that something was wrong. I feel like that was when it happened. It was the same day RFK was shot. On June 6, 1968 – one year from the day we graduated.”
Everyone told Joyce to move on. She eventually was married twice. She found out years later that Denny had told her first husband to care of her if anything happened. In all, she had five kids and as Joyce said, “we did all the things you do when you grow up.”
Joyce visited The Wall for the first time in the summer of 1983. “I just stood there. I was numb. When I go there, I stand there and we talk. I’m so thankful to have some place to go to talk to my Denny.” She also leaves messages on the Wall of Faces to keep him up to date.
In 2011, a man named Jim Kaylor sent Joyce an e-mail. He was one of the two survivors of the ambush that killed Denny. Through Jim, she found out more about what happened the day that Denny was killed.
“It was like a gigantic light went off in my head. When Denny died, my life changed immediately at that moment. My future was gone,” said Joyce. From then on, it’s been her mission to make sure he’s not forgotten.
Joyce made plans to read Denny’s name at the Reading of the Names in 2012. Jim wrote and asked if she would read all 13 of the names of those killed with Dennis in the ambush. She read all 13 names in 2012.
“I read the names in 2012 and I sat there and these people just kept reading these names and it was the most erie, calm, peaceful experience I’ve ever had in my life. Afterward, I went to the Smithsonian American History museum and I ran into two guys that were in Khe Sanh. It was like God was taking me on this journey. They had these Khe Sanh veteran hats on and I said my boyfriend was there and they knew Dennis and we talked for the longest time,” said Joyce.
On November 9th at 11:16 a.m. – Joyce will be reading Denny’s name again at the Reading of the Names. “Every time you say their name – they are brought back to life. It’s so important that we never forget. My only regret is that we didn’t get married.”
This blog post was written by Heidi Zimmerman