From left, Linda Guernsey, Eric Wehmeyer and Ruth McConnell met face-to-face for the first time this past weekend. Eric is the son of Ruth and Lindaâ€™s brother who was killed in Vietnam, and was unknown to the sisters until recently.
In this day of social networking it has become common to track down old classmates and friends, or even family members you have lost touch with over the years. For one local family, however, this ability lead to the discovery of a family member they didnâ€™t know they had - until now.
Linda Guernsey and Ruth McConnell, sisters who live in Broken Bow, grew up in Pierre, S.D. Like many young men in the 60s, their brother Bob was sent to Vietnam. And like all too many of those young men, Bob did not return home. He was killed in action in January 1968.
What Linda and Ruth did not know at the time, was that Bob had fathered a son before he left. Baby Eric was born in 1966, and his mother - a young college student at the time - gave him up for adoption at the insistence of her parents.
Eric grew up in Vermont, and says he has known he was adopted since he can remember. â€śMy parents were always very open with me about that,â€ť he says.
His adoptive mother, who he loved deeply, passed away of cancer when Eric was just 9-years-old. Less than 10 years later, his father also died.
Eric was raised with two other adopted siblings. He tells of one of his sisters who searched for her biological parents, only to not have it end so well.
While Eric was always somewhat curious to know more about his biological family, he did not feel the need to set out on a big journey to find them, like many adopted children do. But when he received a call from the adoption agency that handled his case informing him that his biological mother was looking for him, his curiosity got the best of him. He
wanted to meet her.
Meanwhile, Ericâ€™s mother had been searching for him for some time. When the state of South Dakota erected a memorial wall to the Vietnam veterans of that state, she noticed a familiar name on the memorial - Robert Lewis. Until then, she did not know her former boyfriend and father of her child had been killed.
Also listed on the memorial were the names of Bobâ€™s family members, including Ruth and Linda. So Ericâ€™s mother called Linda one day in 2009. She was hoping perhaps Linda might have some information that may help her find her son.
For Linda and her sister Ruth, the call came as a surprise. Neither of them had any idea about Eric, and unfortunately werenâ€™t much help to his mother who was trying to find him. The adoption agency didnâ€™t release any information either, so she was afraid she may have hit a dead end.
But after his call from the adoption agency, Eric did some looking himself. He went on Facebook, and lo and behold, found his mother. The two began corresponding, and his mother in turn put him in touch with Linda and Ruth.
They, too, began corresponding. Ruth sent Eric a book about the horrors of Vietnam, which listed the name of her brother and Ericâ€™s father, Bob.
In July 2009, Eric and his biological mother met when she visited him at his home in Woburn, Mass. Linda and Ruth were also aware of the impending meeting and sent some pictures along for his mother to share with Eric. The sisters also got to speak with their nephew on the phone for the first time while his mother was visiting.
Since then, there have been countless e-mail and Facebook messages back and forth between the sisters and their newly discovered nephew. This fall, Eric decided it was time for them to meet.
Eric and his 9-year-old daughter, Lillian, made the trip from Massachusetts to Broken Bow, via Denver International Airport, last Friday. He spent about 24 hours with his aunts, and had the opportunity to meet some of his cousins as well. It was a whirlwind meeting, with lots of stories and pictures being shared.
Linda and Ruth say they were thrilled to get to meet Eric and Lillian. â€śIt gives us a feeling of being connected to our brother,â€ť they said.
Eric lives in Massachusetts with his wife, Roberta, Lillian, and son Eric, Jr. 7. Eric says finding some of his biological relatives has been nothing but a positive experience for him.
â€śThey are my relatives, and I was interested in learning more about my father, about them, about my mother - and in turn, about myself.â€ť