California Forum

Hoping to make a difference and remembering Rocky Cole

My phone rang the other day and it was my sister, Pattye, in Sacramento. She said, “Dyana, didn’t you have a crush on Rocky Cole in high school?”

I was amazed that after all these years she still remembered. She directed me to Dan Morain’s March 30 column, “A friend long gone, but never forgotten,” which I read online.

I, too, attended Rio Americano High School, graduating in the class of 1969. I was a shy sophomore when Rocky was a senior. I was attracted to his boyish good looks, though he didn’t know I existed, much less know that I had a crush on him. But that’s OK, because I probably would have fainted if he had as much as looked my way.

In my junior year at Rio, I was saddened to hear that Rocky had been sent to Vietnam. I thought of him often, keeping him in my prayers, and hoping he had family and friends who were writing him and encouraging him to stay safe and stay strong. It was then that it occurred to me that there were probably many boys Rocky’s age serving in Vietnam who might be feeling alone, perhaps feeling hopeless, and even worse, losing their will to survive a terrible war.

Hoping I could make a difference, I wrote to the USO and expressed my interest in writing to anyone wanting a pen pal. I thought the USO might send me a name or two, but that’s not what happened. Rather, my name and address were broadcast on an American Forces Radio station and over a period of several weeks I received letters from 27 young soldiers serving in Vietnam.

I answered all the letters; some of the young men corresponded with me for only a few months, and a few corresponded for as long as two years. Two of the young men visited me while they were on leave in the states, and another phoned me after he was discharged to express his gratitude for my letters. I like to think that I made a difference, and for that matter, that Rocky did too, for he was my inspiration.

I moved to Boise in 1999, and in 2002 I heard that the Moving Wall was going to be on display at a park in Nampa. I made the drive to Nampa with hopes of finding Rocky’s name among the 58,256 names on the 300-foot-long wall, along with the names of Cole Black and Donald King, whose POW bracelets I had worn in the late ’60s and early ’70s. I asked for assistance in finding Rocky’s name and was given a printout indicating that Rocky’s name could be found on Panel 28 on the west wall on line 079. I was also given a piece of blue chalk.

I walked a distance to the wall, where people were carefully placing flowers, photographs and memorabilia on the ground. I think we all shared the feeling that we were walking on sacred ground. I found Panel 28 and gently ran my finger down the face of the panel until it stopped at line 079, where Rocky’s name was perfectly etched. ROBERT O COLE. I placed the printout against the Wall and ran the blue chalk across the paper, revealing an image of Rocky’s etched name. Then I wiped away my tears.

The etching of Rocky’s name is always near. I keep it in my jewelry box, along with the two POW bracelets bearing the names of Cole Black and Donald King.