Bill Antoniewicz and I never met but I wear his name on my right wrist. The 27-year-old Massachusetts native died Dec. 8, 1974, on Interstate 80 while I was 6,400 miles away in South America.
Bill had traveled 2,400 miles from his home to become the first Utah Highway Patrol trooper murdered in the line of duty. A trooper less than six months, he was shot to death during a traffic stop in Echo Canyon.
Forty years later there are memorials to Bill. A headstone marks his grave in Richmond, Utah. During the funeral service, his parents were presented with the first of the campaign-style hats worn by UHP troopers today.
Bill’s name is engraved in the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in Washington, D.C., and on the Utah Law Enforcement Memorial at the state Capitol. White UHP memorial crosses bear his name in Utah and Washington counties.
Honoring and remembering our dead is an indelible part of the human psyche. We’ve done it throughout recorded history and will continue to do it as long as any one of us exists. We mourn those we love by keeping them close to us.
But what if there is no place to visit, no grave to decorate, no memorial upon which to reflect? What if there is only the absence and uncertainty regarding a loved one’s loss?
Fourteen Utahns remain unaccounted for from Vietnam. Some were known to have been captured. Their bodies were not returned and their families remain uncertain regarding their eventual fates.
Army Staff Sgt. James F. Schiele, Salt Lake City, was reported missing in 1967 following combat in Vietnam’s Ia Drang Valley. While five other soldiers captured during the same engagement were eventually returned from enemy prison camps, Schiele’s family and friends have had to cope with the mystery of his fate for nearly four decades.
In 1967, Navy Lt. Cdr. John C. Ellison, Layton, was shot down over North Vietnam. Although his voice was heard on the radio after ejecting from his aircraft, and returning prisoners of war stated he was in Chinese hands, he was not released at the end of the war.
The names of Ellison and Schiele are engraved on the Vietnam Memorial with those of other Utahns lost in the tragedy of war. But at least their survivors have a direction to turn to when looking for answers that may never come.
Grief can be compounded when it lacks any reference at all. There are no headstones or memorials for some Utahns to visit on Monday. Their loved ones are remembered only by the dwindling number of family members and the cold case files of law enforcement.
The Utah Department of Public Safety maintains a website of missing Utahns (http://1.usa.gov/1jKEc6e), many of whom are believed to have met with foul play. For those who remember them, even bad news would be a relief.
On July 4, 1975, Nancy Perry Baird, 23, mother of a 4-year-old son, disappeared from her place of employment in Davis County. While some speculate she may have been a victim of serial killer Ted Bundy, nothing was ever discovered regarding her whereabouts.
Jennifer Klein, 3, disappeared from a campground north of Moab in 1971. She may have fallen into the river or been abducted by transient campers in the area. No sign has ever been found of the little girl who would be 42 today.
Reed Taylor Jeppson, 15, disappeared from the east bench of Salt Lake City in 1964 while walking his two dogs. In the 50 years since, no trace of Jeppson or the dogs has ever been found.
Ironically, the DPS has the answers for some cases, but not the identifications. The unidentified remains of nearly a dozen bodies are listed on the website.
It’s not hard to imagine the questions behind the scraps of clothing and bones found in Utah’s deserts and canyons. “I wonder whatever happened to … ”
Tomorrow, most of us will have a place to go and visit our loved ones. Others will have to settle for the quiet places in their hearts.
Robert Kirby can be reached at email@example.com or facebook.com/stillnotpatbagley.