Tucson, Arizona Saturday, 5 April 2003
Cousin finds closure after 36 years
Visits Vietnam to bid goodbye to fallen Marine
It took Geneva Duarte more than three decades and a trip to Vietnam to say good-bye to Pfc. Raymond Barela Palma.
Peace and closure came on a moonlit, starry night in Lang Co Beach in Thua Thien Hue Province. It was there on Feb. 25 that Duarte created a Día de los Muertos - Day of the Dead - celebration in her cousin's honor. Palma died in battle Dec. 27, 1967 - eight days into his tour.
The makeshift altar held a black-and-white photograph of the 18-year-old Palma wearing his U.S. Marine Corps dress uniform, a leather necklace with an image of the Virgin of Guada-lupe, a picture of Jesus, a candle, a cross and silk marigolds.
On April 23, Duarte will speak to students at the South Side Pima Community College Desert Vista Campus about her journey with nine others through Tours of Peace Vietnam Veterans, a non-profit group started by Jess DeVaney.
DeVaney, the group's president, is a former Marine who fought in Vietnam. Today he is a radio personality on country station 99.5 KIIM-FM.
Duarte's talk at the college is not open to the public, but she is available to speak to other groups about her experiences.
DeVaney has taken about 40 people in search of closure, or in search of answers about soldiers whose experiences remain mysteries.
"Many want to understand what their fathers went through because they have had to endure dysfunctional lives because of the war," he said.
Some veterans withdrew and weren't there for their families. Some became addicted to drugs and alcohol. And some had children who were born with birth defects, ailments and cancers associated with the herbicide Agent Orange, which was used in the war to destroy jungle, DeVaney said. It is those children, now adults, who are making the personal journeys.
For Duarte, a PCC program manager for Student Success and Multicultural Programs, the two-week trip was to deal with Palma's death and to honor him through humanitarian work at Vietnam schools, a leprosy community and a nursing home.
"I never made Raymond's funeral," said Duarte.
She said that her cousin moved from Safford to Pacoima, Calif., as a young boy and worked alongside his family in agricultural fields in the San Fernando Valley. He returned to Safford for a short when the two were in high school.
"We were the same age. While he was in basic training at Camp Pendleton, I was a freshman at Eastern Arizona College in Thatcher. He'd write to Mom and say he was doing well and hoped the family was doing good."
Then the devastating call came during Christmas break.
"I felt shock, disbelief. My mom and Raymond's sister took off to California to be with my Aunt Nellie. I stayed with my dad and took care of my four younger brothers."
In 1991, she did make it to the National Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. and found her cousin's name on panel 32E, Row 079. It brought her comfort, but no closure.
Duarte could not bring herself to let go of Palma until she reached a Buddhist monastery on Marble Mountain in the lush highlands of central Vietnam.
"I felt his presence there. I walked up the steps headed to the pagoda and saw all these beautiful butterflies. One was white - bigger than my hand - and it had black trim around the edges of its wings. It was fluttering and fluttering and then it disappeared.
"I sat down and started to cry because I was taken in by its beauty. I started thinking Raymond was there and he might have been the butterfly. In the temple, I kneeled down in front of the Buddha and said a Hail Mary, and thanked God for bringing me to Vietnam and allowing me to honor Raymond," said Duarte.
* Geneva Duarte can be reached at 206-4986 for
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