EVANSVILLE, Ind. (Tribune News Service) — Before William Busby left for war, he wrote his baby girl a poem.
He did his best to pour onto that page a lifetime of fatherly love. It was the only message he would give her.
Lt. William Busby was shot to death in Vietnam on Jan. 31, 1968. The Henderson man was 28. His daughter, Michelle, was nine months.
For Michelle, now 49, William Busby's death left her with a grief that would unfold slowly all her life.
As a child, she knew little of her father. Her mother remarried a Navy man when Michelle was three and his career kept the family moving around the country.
"I was very confused," Michelle (Busby) Johnston said Wednesday. "I knew he died, but we never really talked about him."
Eventually, in 1981 when Michelle was 14, her mother let her go to Henderson to meet her father's family for the first time.
After years of wondering, Michelle felt like she had finally come home to meet her father.
William Busby was born Oct. 9, 1939 to a Catholic family in Henderson. He was the oldest of four boys.
The family was very close.
"He was somewhat of an idol to me," said Tom Busby, William's youngest brother. "I remember the day he left for the Army, he drove off and I went into my bedroom and just bawled. I was just bawling that he was leaving."
William enlisted in the Army right out of high school. He intended to make the military his career, and within a couple years was sent to Bamberg, Germany.
It was there he met Patricia, a 15-year-old from Louisville whose father was also stationed in Bamberg.
"It was like a love story made in Germany," Michelle said.
The couple married two years later. They hoped to start a family right away, but after years of trying they weren't able to conceive.
So, after a great deal of prayer and discussion, they went to the Catholic Charities in May 1967 hoping to adopt a baby. Less than a month later, Patricia got a call that they had a baby girl.
"We had nothing, no diapers, no baby supplies," Patricia said, with a laugh. "But we went up there and fell in love with her and we went home with her the next day. We had to stop on the way for supplies!"
They named their daughter Dawn Michelle Busby. William called her Mickey.
There aren't many pictures of them together as a family. Three months later, William was in Vietnam.
He volunteered to go.
"I'm sure it was an agonizing decision," William's brother Tom said. "He would not have taken that decision lightly."
But William believed in his cause. He believed he was fighting for freedom. He believed he was making the world a safer place for family — for his daughter.
William's unit was attacked Jan. 31, 1968 as they tried to set up an airstrike. According to letters Michelle received from men who served with William, one of the other soldiers in the group was seriously injured in the initial ambush. As the other men ran for their lives, William made a dash for the wounded man, threw him over his shoulders and tried to get away. He didn't make it.
William Busby is buried at the Bethany Memorial Cemetery in Louisville, KY.
Nearly 50 years after his death, Michelle treasures what little remains of him: His pictures, his medals, and his last goodbye.
"You're too young yet, my little one;
To know what freedom means.
But your Daddy knows, and that's why he goes;
To fight across the seas.
It won't be long, my little one;
So dry your tiny tears.
Before you know, time will go;
And your Daddy will be here.
Till then be brave, my little one;
And pray for him each night.
Stand tall and proud that you are his;
Your Daddy's only delight."
©2016 the Evansville Courier & Press (Evansville, Ind.)
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