Veteran Meets Widow Of Man Who Died For Him After 40 Yrs - kcentv.com - KCEN HD - Waco, Temple, and Killeen

Veteran Meets Widow Of Man Who Died For Him After 40 Yrs

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(KCEN) – A Vietnam veteran finally met the widow of the soldier who died in his place after a decades-long wait on Wednesday

“This is his name right here,” says Russell Widener, as he points to an inscription of Roy McLennan’s name on the Waco Vietnam Memorial. “That's the gentleman who took my place on that ill-fated mission."

Widener was headed out on a mission in Vietnam in 1969, but after a last minute decision, leadership sent McLennan instead.

“He indicated he didn't have any gear, and I said here take mine,” says Widener.

Minutes later, McLennan was killed in action.

"He died in place of me, and that's the hard thing to live with sometimes day in and day out,” says Widener with tear-filled eyes.

Widener says the mission assignment decision that changed so many lives took only ten seconds.

Five minutes later, McLennan took his final breath.

Now after 40 years of searching, Widener meets McLennan's widow and daughter for the first time.

The greeting along Waco’s Brazos River begins with a long, tearful embrace.  

Then Widener starts to explain the way things unfolded that fateful day in Vietnam and that McLennan is the reason he’s alive.

It is the first time McLennan’s family has ever heard this part of the story.

“It's very special. It's very special to know someone cares and thought enough to tell the family what happened that day,” McLennan’s daughter Sharla says.  

Widener hands Sharla a gift -- a gold replica of McLennan’s dog tag, which never made it home.

She immediately puts it around her neck.

"Hopefully, this will be something she can look back at and remember him by,” Widener says through tears.

Sharla was just 2-years old when her father was killed, and receiving the token means something Sharla has never had before.

“Closeness to my father, it’s closeness,” she says as she looks down at his name imprinted in gold.

For McLennan’s widow, Joyce, Widener made an etching of McLennan's name from the memorial in Washington.

He also leaves the family with photos of McLennan, which they had never seen before.

Widener admits the long-awaited meeting wasn't just for them.

“In reality, I'm doing it a lot for myself. It helps bring closure, and it's the best way I can give thanks."

Reporter: Sophia Stamas sstamas@kcentv.com



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