Vietnam Marine’s letters to mom returned to wife
By Jaime Angio Correspondent January 26, 2014 9:31PM
Steven Kuehl, Ruth Barnhardt-Kuehl and Dave Twombly stand Saturday with a book of compiled letters from the Vietnam War by Marine Lance Cpl. Robert Kuehl Jr. at the Midlothian American Legion Post. | Jaime Angio~For Sun-Times Media
Updated: February 28, 2014 6:24AM
A big piece of Ruth Bernhardt-Kuehl’s late husband’s history arrived Saturday at the Midlothian American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 2580.
A book of nearly 30 letters written by Marine Lance Cpl. Robert Kuehl Jr., of Chicago, to his mother, while serving in Vietnam during the 1960s, was presented to Bernhardt-Kuehl by members of the American Legion and VFW.
The letters made it to Bernhardt-Kuehl, who was together with her husband for 21 years before he passed away 10 years ago, through the work of Dave Twombly, a Navy veteran and member of the American legion and VFW post.
The letters were found in the home of Kuehl’s mother, Pat Fagette, in Bourbonnais. Fagette died in December 2012 and left everything to her neighbors, Jon and Pam Halperin, who took care of her. Jon is Twombly’s co-worker and approached him with the letters, and Twombly tracked down Bernhardt- Kuehl.
As Bernhardt-Kuehl, 66, of La Grange Park was escorted through a flag line held by the Canaryville Freedom Riders on Saturday, there was a sense of emotion in the air. She was taken up to the podium and Twombly started the presentation by saying he wanted to celebrate Kuehl’s military history and service in the Marine Corps.
“Today we are going to honor him by the things we do, and it’s all because of his honorable being that we’re all here today,” Twombly said.
Excerpts from the letters were read and Bernardt-Kuehl spoke of her husband’s love for the military and for the Chicago Fire Department, where he worked as a firefighter.
“He loved the men in his unit, and the same goes for all the time he spent in the Chicago Fire Department,” she said.
After the ceremony, the nearly 75 people who were in attendance spread out for lunch and refreshments.
Kuehl’s son, Steven Kuehl, 41, of Oak Lawn said he was surprised someone would do something like this for him and his family.
“They never met. In a lot of situations like this people are still alive, so this is really nice,” Kuehl said. “I didn’t expect all of this.”
Firefighter colleagues of Bob, as they called him, came to honor their friend.
Rich Vopicka, 45, of Chicago, came to pay his respects to Kuehl, who was his officer when he first got on the job at the Chicago Fire Department.
“He taught me a lot, and I miss him, and I thought I would come and say hi to his wife, Ruth,” Vopicka said.
Vopicka said the fact that the letters fond their way back to Bernhardt-Kuehl after all these years says a lot.
“It’s amazing. It just shows you the quality of the Midlothian community ... ,” he said. “I was really impressed, it was nice to see all the veterans here that never even met Bob to come out and support.”
Gary Roth, 59, of Chicago is a retired lieutenant in the Chicago Fire Department who was happy to hear about about Saturday’s presentation.
“He was a good friend of mine ... we were very close,” he said. “It’s amazing they did find the right home for (the letters) instead of throwing them away.”
Bernhardt- Keuhl said she was thrilled with effort and thought that people put in to making sure she received the letters.
“It made me feel like in this horrendous world that there still is appreciation for this country, and the soldiers still understand it’s the best place to live,” she said. “Getting together with these men here who totally understand just brings tears to my eyes. I know how much it meant to Bob, and he would have appreciated it.”
“This is someone’s life, and for now, I’m going to totally love it, and eventually it will get passed down to Steve and some nieces and nephews,” she said.