Fallen soldier to return home after 44 years

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MEXICO - Doris Griffin said she's waited 45 years for her brother-in-law to come home from Vietnam.

But now that wait is over. Griffin said the United States Army has positively identified Rodney Griffin's remains.

Rodney Griffin, who served as an infantryman during the Vietnam War, was presumed missing for years after his helicopter was shot down over Cambodia.

"We used to watch the television for prisoner of war announcements non-stop," Doris Griffin said. "We all dropped whatever we were doing and watched the TV, hoping that the POW/MIA announcements would say that Rodney had been found."

Griffin said he was later officially declared deceased.

"Even after he was officially declared deceased, we never accepted it though," she said. "Our family never gave up hope that he would be found."

Chris Azdell, a family friend, said the most recent information from the Army points to the conclusion that Rodney Griffin died fighting.

"Because his remains were found near where the helicopter went down, they think he probably died fighting the enemy in tall elephant grass," he said. "They don't think he was a prisoner of war."

Doris Griffin said finally finding Rodney is a bittersweet feeling.

"It's good to know he didn't suffer in a prisoner of war camp," she said. "But at the same time, most of the prisoners came home. And Rodney didn't."

The Centralia VFW gathered to remember Rodney Griffin Wednesday.

Ron Azdell, the post commander, said he remembered Rodney Griffin as a staple of the Centralia community.

"He was the John Wayne of Centralia," Azdell said. "I was shot down in a helicopter in Vietnam as well. I guess I just got lucky that I survived."

Darrell Reeves, who grew up with Griffin, said he still looks at the door sometimes, expecting Rodney Griffin to just walk in.

"Rodney was the type of guy who would have toughed anything out." Reeves said. "He would have done everything he could to come back."

Keith Davenport went to school with Griffin. He said that for years, every time he saw a POW/MIA flag, his first thought was always about Griffin.

"He's not coming back in the way we wanted," Steve Gordon, another friend of Griffin's, said. "There is some closure in it. But it's still mostly just sad."

Gordon said he went into Cambodia on May 1st, 1970, just one day before Griffin was shot down.

"I do think about it all the time. How our roles could have been switched," Gordon said.

Davenport, Azdell and Reeves agreed.

"We live our lives a lot fuller now," Reeves said. "We know that every day could have been our last over there, and Rodney reminds us of that."

As Doris Griffin looked over pictures of Rodney and awards he had received, she said she and her family are thankful for all the memories.

"I am so glad he is not forgotten. That we have all these mementos of him, like his Purple Heart Medal," Griffin said. "But really, most of all, more than anything, I wish we just had Rodney back instead."