STEVE INSKEEP, host:
We are heading into Memorial Day weekend, which means it's been four years since a man named Allen Hoe had an experience he's unlikely to forget. He shares it this morning through StoryCorps, our project that records the stories of every day Americans.
Mr. Hoe's son was killed in Iraq in 2005, and later that year on Memorial Day, Allen Hoe traveled from his home in Hawaii to Washington, D.C. for services near the Vietnam Memorial wall. He discovered that Army nurses were also there that day to be honored for their work in Iraq where his son had been killed. And Allen Hoe explains what happened when he met one of them.
Mr. ALLEN HOE: I thought it would be great to welcome these young trauma nurses with some special Hawaiian leis. And I saw this Army nurse come walking up the path. And I said, here, this is a special gift from me to you.
As she put her head down so I could put the lei over her shoulder, she noticed the button that I was wearing on my chest. And she just put her finger on it and she said, I know him. I said, how do you know him? He was my son. And she said, I was the trauma nurse at the crash unit where he died. And she said I will never forget that face.
Both of us kind of looked at each other, and we started crying and I gave her a big hug. And you could hear this very audible gasp of all the people who were standing around us. But I could sense that something was bothering her. And I thought she may have sensed that my family might have been disappointed at the fact that our son, his life could not have been saved.
And I said, I want you to know that my son was a warrior. He absolutely recognized all of the risks that were involved. She cried and she said that as the head trauma nurse, one of her tasks was to prepare his body for his men to have a last viewing. And she said that she tried to close his eyes, but as she went to press his lids together, they always would come open just a little bit. And she said that had bothered her all this time.
And I looked at her and I laughed. And she kind of gave me this puzzled look. And she was like, I'm curious now, why are you laughing? And I said, my son would sleep with his eyes partially open. His men, when they were in combat, they were never certain what they could do when the lieutenant was sleeping, because they never knew if he was sleeping or if he was just awake watching what they were doing.
And I said the simple fact that you shared that story with me totally convinces me now that you were with my son when he died. It was one of those miracles at the wall. It was absolutely remarkable.
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INSKEEP: Allen Hoe's son was First Lieutenant Nainoa Hoe. The nurse is Major Paula Couglin. Allen Hoe's story and all the others will be archived at the Library of Congress as part of our series, StoryCorps. And you can subscribe to the podcast at npr.org.