Frank Mower and his mother, Blanche, at his graduation from the Marine Corps in San Diego on March 23, 1965.
Murray resident Frank Mower has enjoyed nearly seven decades of Christmas celebrations. But the holiday that is the most poignant to him happened 47 years ago, after he returned from the Vietnam War.
In 1965, Mower enlisted with the 1st Marine Division and spent a year in Vietnam. His second Vietnam tour in 1967 was even more harrowing, as he fought in many battles and was in combat for the entire year.
On Dec. 17, 1967, Mower flew from Vietnam to Okinawa, Japan, for debriefing and inspection, before flying to the El Toro Marine base in California to be discharged. On Dec. 21, Mower was officially released from the military, and was ready to head back to Salt Lake, just in time for Christmas morning. As a young soldier returning from the battlefield, he was more than ready to be back in the arms of his family.
As he called to make arrangements to get home, he came to the realization that every flight to Salt Lake was booked. He was stranded in California with no way for him to get home to see his family for the holidays.
“I called my parents, Frank and Blanche Mower, and told them I was so sorry, but I wouldn’t make it home in time for Christmas,” Mower said.
Soon, he befriended a fellow soldier, a young man from Chicago, who was also stranded at the air base. He had an airline ticket to get home, but didn’t have a way to get to the Los Angeles International Airport, which was about 90 miles away from the base.
Mower sat commiserating with his new friend, feeling sorry for himself, when Mower looked up and saw a 1965 Cadillac four-door sedan drive through the gates at the base.
“I thought, ‘That looks a lot like my dad’s car,’” he said.
As the car approached, Mower realized it was his parents. As soon as they had received his phone call, they drove to California to make sure they got their son home in time for Christmas.
“I had told them I couldn’t make it home, so they decided to come down to get me,” Mower said. “It was a little overwhelming. Sometimes, it still chokes me up. You have to remember: only two weeks before, I was in combat, with all that emotion that comes with that.”
Before getting their son back to Utah, Mower said his parents drove his new friend to Los Angeles so he could catch his flight home to Chicago. Then they drove straight through, to make sure Mower would be with his family for the holiday.
Mower has celebrated many Christmases since then. He lived in Las Vegas for 20 years, and has been living with his wife Vickie for the last 25 years in Murray. But he has never forgotten the unconditional love he felt from his parents, and the feelings that still resonate from a Christmas nearly 50 years ago.