Search for veteran dubbed 'Louisiana' finds bittersweet end
By MARIA CLARK
Jun. 09, 2018
NEW ORLEANS (AP) — A global search for a Vietnam Veteran nicknamed "Louisiana" came to a bittersweet end recently.
A group of veterans who had started searching for their Army buddy in May with only a nickname and a single photograph to go by learned "Louisiana," whose actual name was Harold Thomas, died from a heart attack in 2015 at age 65.
Susan Waldrop Garvin, the wife of Vietnam veteran Jim Garvin, said everyone just assumed Thomas was a good ol' Cajun boy.
The Garvins spent most of the first weekend in June catching up with Thomas' family, who lives in California where he grew up.
"We had to know, why the nickname 'Louisiana?" said Waldrop Garvin.
It turns out, Thomas never lived in Louisiana, and in fact had never actually visited the state.
Thomas grew up in South Carolina before moving to Oklahoma and, finally, to California when he was 7. Even though he lived in the Golden State for the next 57 years, Thomas never lost his southern drawl.
"He called everyone 'y'all,' so they started calling him Louisiana," Waldrop Garvin said.
And, when he enlisted, Thomas just told everyone to call him Louisiana.
It had been close to 50 years since they'd spoken, and all Jim Garvin had to remember his friend was a faded photograph of him from their days in Vietnam. Wondering why "Louisiana" had never gone to any of the reunions, Garvin hoped to connect with him and to say "Welcome home," Waldrop Garvin said, so she posted on Facebook.
The post was shared more than 167,000 times, and the search for "Louisiana" went worldwide. An American volunteer living in Vietnam even took the photo of Thomas to the village near where it was taken hoping someone might have remembered the young soldier, Waldrop Garvin said, and the couple shared details of their search on Jim's website.
One of Jim Garvin's veteran friends reached out and said he had kept a book of names of soldiers from their time in Vietnam. Under each man's name was a hometown, but the name Harold Thomas never jumped out before because San Jose, California, was listed beneath it, and the group of friends had just always assumed their buddy was actually from Louisiana.
"He was hiding in plain sight this whole time," said Waldrop Garvin. A volunteer researcher took the list and ended up connecting Thomas' photo to his name.
Even though the reunion with Thomas won't happen, being able to share stories and talk to his family about the outpouring of support from strangers around the world has brought a good finale to the search, she said.
"It's as close to a perfect ending as we'd hope," she said.
Information from: The Times-Picayune, http://www.nola.com