“I’m 80 years old,” Bartlett said, “and I’m going to die pretty soon, although not too soon. We’ve been monkeying around with this for nearly 46 years. We’ve got to get some closure.”
He sat down at his computer and printed out everything he could think of, including a list of names from the Minnesota Vietnam Veterans Memorial. He was pretty certain that George’s last name began with a K.
“Bingo! On the list from the Minnesota Memorial,” he said, “only one George K. came up.”
PFC George Gerald Kokosh. Was this his George?
He got back on the Internet and found a Washington-based Vietnam Veterans website with George Kokosh memorial pages. This George began his tour of duty on March 19, 1968. He died in combat less than two months later, on May 11, 1968. He was 21.
Bartlett also found remembrances from friends, including one named Richard who lived in Florida, but whose e-mail address used the phrase “uffda.” Bartlett saw that as promising.
“Ski buddy, friend @ the U,” Bartlett e-mailed him. “Please contact me if you see this.”
Minneapolis neighbor and childhood classmate Richard Boynton did contact Bartlett, telling him everything he needed to know, including the home address where George grew up with three sisters (Carol, Lauren and Jeannie) and a brother (Jim), his high school (Edison) and St. Mary’s Orthodox Cathedral, where Skip was active with his late father, George Sr., and where Skip’s funeral was held.
Bartlett opened his phone book. He dialed Jim Kokosh and was speechless when Jim’s mother, Mary, answered.
“I just didn’t know what to do,” said Bartlett, who never considered that Skip’s mother was still alive.
“I think I told her I had a print that belonged to her son,” he said. An understandably skeptical Jim called back. Soon after, Mary’s son-in-law, Wayne Hedalen, showed up at his door. “It went well,” Bartlett said, amused at the initial intrigue.
A week later, Mary and Jim, who live just four miles away in St. Anthony, drove to the Bartletts’ home with the high school graduation photo of Skip, an Eagle Scout and driver during the Minneapolis Aquatennial.
Jim guesses that his big brother was inspired to buy the print after a two-week family trip out West when they were kids.
No matter the reason, “she was so happy to get it,” Bartlett said of Mary, 89. And he was so happy to give it to her. “It was a relief,” he said. “It really was.”
Bartlett recently made a large donation to St. Mary’s in Skip’s memory. Mary sent Bartlett flowers at Christmastime, “to let him know I’m still thinking of him.”
“To find a man who would go to all that trouble,” Mary marvels. “Why did he do that?”
Mary has created a special space on a wall for the framed piece, along with many of Skip’s medals, including the Bronze Star and Purple Heart.
“People ask me, ‘Oh, don’t you want to sell it?’ ” Mary shakes her head.