ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Some saw her heart-shaped pendant and thought the whorls engraved into the gold were the waves of an ocean.
She wore the pendant, no bigger than a thumbnail, on a gold chain and had not taken it off since shortly after her husband, David, died in 2017. The waves were the swirls of his fingerprint, like it was him still touching her heart.
Angie Fincher had three of the necklaces made in David’s memory – one for their daughter, one for his sister and one for her.
Now one of those necklaces is gone. Hers.
“I’ve torn this house apart,” she said. “I’ve looked everywhere. It could be almost anywhere.”
She noticed it was missing about a week ago. She’s retraced her steps again and again. She’s borrowed a metal detector. It’s possible, she thinks, that it slipped off her neck while she was walking her dog around her Four Hills neighborhood. Or maybe it fell off in a parking lot. Or a store. Or anywhere.
So now she looks to you folks in the hopes that maybe one of you has found it. A long shot, yes. But she’s not one to give up easily.
She had to develop that tenacity to get through the last 10 years of David’s life, tortured as they were by relentless waves of horrific diseases brought on, she attests, by his exposure in Vietnam to Agent Orange, a toxic herbicide that compromised the health of thousands of U.S. veterans and millions of Vietnamese.
Marion David Fincher – just David to all who knew him – was 74 when he died, his body so withered that the folks who came for his remains assumed he was much older.
“They thought he was my father,” Fincher said.
It hadn’t always been that way. David had been strong and healthy since the day she met him in Charleston, S.C. He was already in the Air Force by then, a man who loved the water and the road, as long as he traveled it on a Harley-Davidson.
“He loved to sail, loved to ski, loved his motorcycles,” she said. “He was an avid reader. He’d stop to help people broken down on the side of the road. He was that kind of guy.”
Shortly after they were married, he was shipped off to Vietnam, where he served as a loadmaster, tasked with hauling supplies and other items into large cargo planes.
Among those other items were the bodies of dead soldiers, their remains scooped up from the steaming jungles and fields of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia.
From 1961 to 1971, American forces sprayed more than 20 million gallons of herbicide onto those jungles and fields as a means of reducing enemy food crops. Most of that toxic brew was Agent Orange.
Fincher said her husband told her that sometimes the body bags carrying the deceased soldiers leaked so badly that the seepage soaked into his boots. That fluid was likely contaminated with Agent Orange.
“There wasn’t much of a way to avoid coming in contact with it,” she said. “Nobody knew then how bad that would be in years to come.”
Most of those years were kind to the Finchers. After Vietnam, they raised a son and a daughter. The family moved to Albuquerque in 1981 when David was stationed at Kirtland Air Force Base.
He retired from the Air Force after 30 years. He kept busy with his hobbies. He volunteered as a handyman for low-income seniors. He earned a master’s degree from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. He joined the Toastmasters, the Civitan Club and Angel Flight.
“Everybody loved him – old ladies, dogs,” Fincher said. “He never met a stranger.”
But around 2007, everything changed.
“He was as healthy as could be at 63, and all of a sudden these terrible conditions hit, one right after another,” Fincher said.
She can still recite each one, because she lived each one with her husband, fought with Veterans Affairs doctors for appropriate diagnoses and sought treatment for him from three private physicians, who she said eventually connected his failing health to Agent Orange: Lewy body dementia, the second-most common type of dementia after Alzheimer’s; Parkinson’s disease; bladder cancer; chronic lymphatic leukemia; myoclonus, which causes involuntary muscle jerks so strong that he could kick a table across the room; and diabetes insipidus, a water imbalance that results in frequent urination – eight to 20 times a night, Fincher said.
It was a painful ending to a wonderful life.
And maybe now it becomes clearer as to why Fincher holds out so much hope for the return of her gold heart pendant etched with a fingerprint of the man she loved and cared for until his dying day.
She never gave up on David. She won’t give up on finding her heart.
UpFront is a front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to Joline at 823-3603, email@example.com or follow her on Twitter @jolinegkg. Go to www.abqjournal.com/letters/new to submit a letter to the editor.