We found Jim’s Vietnam buddy, “Louisiana” and are so happy to finally know "the name his mama gave him" to be Harold Thomas, from San Jose California. Like most of you, we were excited about a reunion between Louisiana and Jim filled with lots of back-slapping, huge grins (both guys have great smiles), and a tear-filled “Welcome Home, Brother!” Like you, we were saddened to learn that Harold passed away from a heart attack in 2015. However, we spent most of the past 2 days visiting with his family and friends and are finding great joy in swapping stories as we learn more about this man who has captivated all of our attention.
The first words we hear from everyone is that Harold was adored by his family and friends! No surprise to us, as he seems to have captured thousands of hearts around the world in these past 2 weeks! They describe him as “a good man”, a strong family man all his life, loved by everyone he met, and “a believer in God and Jesus.” They tell us he liked to repeat, “There are no atheists in foxholes.” Jim and the other combat veterans would tell you the same. Harold worked as a roofer most of his life but his real passion was his lifelong love of motorcycles. His family says, “There was nothing he enjoyed more than to hit the highway on his Harley with the wind and the bugs in his face and his many friends by his side.” He grew up with a large, close family and was especially proud of his only son. He was devoted to his mother all of his life and she was very proud of his military service. One of the family’s favorite stories is that when Harold had a layover in Hawaii on his way to combat in Vietnam, he took time to send his mother a dozen red roses. The picture of their mother holding his bouquet is a family favorite. His mother was overjoyed to welcome him home from Vietnam in 1971 and with his always-jovial personality, he came home by surprising the family, hurrying unannounced across the lawn, decked out in his dress green Army uniform, decorated with ribbons and medals, only outshone by his big, “Louisiana” smile that we’ve all come to know so well.
We thank you all for the 167,000 shares, almost 4 million video views, and 21,000 comments on our post. Louisiana’s family tells us that he would have found America’s outpouring of attention and “Welcome Home” comments to be the highlight of his life. We were overwhelmed with over a hundred leads and photographs and thought we had found him several times in the past weeks. But always, something was inconsistent. While I (Susan) was “certain that every soldier we reviewed was Louisiana, each time, Jim and his platoon buddies always said a firm, “No”. Finally, a lead came from another one of the Angry Skipper vets but after we got his name wrong, we searched in vain for 3 days. Once we discovered our error, we passed his real name along to one of our expert volunteers and she found his obituary online. All it took was one look for Jim to exclaim, “That’s him!”. His sisters saw our post shared in California last week and while they considered that maybe it was their brother, they gave up hope. We called the family and the tears and the stories flowed between us. After hours of conversation, one sister told us, “Harold would have LOVED you guys!” We have invited them to our next Angry Skipper reunion in May 2019, where we hope to introduce them to more of Louisiana’s brothers in arms and share stories of their favorite Vietnam vet.
So now the question everyone is asking - Why did they call him Louisiana? In fact, when Jim first called the family, he had to ask that very same question, “If he lived in California most of his life, why did he ask us to “Just call me Louisiana”? “ They laughed and shared that Harold never lived in Louisiana and in fact, had never even been to Louisiana! They told us that Harold was born in South Carolina, moved to Oklahoma and then to California around age 7, where he lived for the next 58 years. But apparently he never lost his childhood southern drawl. After addressing his northern California friend as “Y’all”, he was nicknamed “Louisiana”. Apparently he loved the name and his friend because by the time he arrived in the jungles of Vietnam, when people asked his name, his response was, "My friends call me Louisiana."
We began this search for Louisiana 2 weeks ago and were quickly joined by all of you. THANK YOU for allowing Louisiana into your hearts and sharing his smile with the world. THOUSANDS of you sent “Thank Yous” and “Welcome Homes” to Louisiana, Jim, and the other veterans. Sweet words these guys have waited to hear for almost 50 years! Our guys are overwhelmed at your outpouring of encouragement and gratitude. We can never express the deep gratitude we have in our hearts for all of you. Thank you!
When asked in every interview, “Why is it so important to find Louisiana, Jim always said, “I just want to give my buddy a hug and say “Welcome Home, Brother!” Thousands of you gave Louisiana’s family the gift of knowing their father, husband, and brother was welcomed home by a grateful nation, one more time. As one of our several long family conversations came to a close, one of Louisiana’s sisters said her goodbyes and then closed with, “And by the way, Jim, Welcome Home”.
We believe that as Harold passed from this world 3 years ago, he received the best “Welcome Home” one could hope for. And now I’m smiling through my tears as I imagine that someday, “Louisiana” will greet Jim once again and say those words that only these veterans can truly understand, “Welcome Home, Brother!”
Susan Waldrop Garvin 6/4/2018
James "Jim" Garvin U.S. Army 1st Cav. 2nd/8th Delta Co. Range Platoon1 Tour of duty: Aug. '70 - July '71