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Man Pens Poignant Obituary to 'Damaged' Brother, a Vietnam Vet

Bill Ebeltoft was never the same after return from war, but Paul Ebeltoft's tribute recalls the old Bill
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 19, 2019 9:40 AM CST
Stock photo.   (Getty Images/filipfoto)

(Newser) – In an obituary that CNN calls more of a "journey" than a death notice, a New York man penned a tribute to his brother, Vietnam veteran Bill Ebeltoft, who died Sunday at age 73. The now-viral obit, which appeared in the Dickinson Press in North Dakota, where Ebeltoft and younger brother Paul grew up, starts off noting, "Not everyone who lost his life in Vietnam died there," adding that Bill "lived three lives: before, during, and after Vietnam." Paul doesn't go too deep into the "during" part—he says Bill didn't speak much of his time in the war—but instead focuses on the contrast between the "before" and "after," to call attention to the "all-too-common story for wartime veterans, particularly those of the Vietnam era." Pre-Vietnam Bill was witty and well-dressed, a fan of golfing and bowling, and possessed of "a fondness for children, old men, hunting, fast cars, and a cold Schlitz."

After the war, however, Bill had a "rough reentry into civilian life": His marriage and career failed, he became an alcoholic, and "his mental faculties escaped him." Bill ended up at age 48 in a Montana veterans home, where he stayed until his death, thinking of himself "as he was in 1969, not as he became," Paul writes. "I tried to be honest. Bill was a damaged man, but the war in Vietnam pulled the trigger that caused the wound," Paul tells the Washington Post, noting he almost didn't send the obituary in; his wife insisted he do so. Paul tells Forum News Service he wishes he could've seen how his brother's life would've turned out if he'd never gone to Vietnam: "It would have been good." Despite all of Bill's troubles, however, "what we loved in him remained, if only sometimes as a shadow," his brother writes. Read his touching obituary here. (Read more Vietnam veteran stories.)

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