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College Park High grad who died in Vietnam lives on in sister’s heart

By Theresa Harrington
Saturday, May 25th, 2013 at 9:08 pm in Education, Mt. Diablo school district.

Last year, my Memorial Day weekend blog post referenced a memorial for four College Park High School graduates who died in Vietnam. The sister of one of those soldiers came across the blog post online and sent me two touching e-mails recalling her brother. She also attached one of the last photos she has of her brother, Paul Sonstein.

I asked if I could share her memories with readers this year to remind the community of the loss felt by those whose loved ones have died in war. With her permission, here are excerpts of what Judie Sonstein Tenn wrote:

“I was 17 when Paul was killed. Our family was completely devastated. He was an extremely kind and loving person and is still so missed. I believe that the extreme pain my father experienced with Paul’s loss led to his fatal heart attack two years later. It seems like overnight, our close family of six was reduced to four in grief.

Of course, life goes on and we all grew up and went our own ways (I am in Eugene, Oregon, my sister Deborah in San Jose and my brother David in Mililani, Hawaii), but always there is that pain of loss.

I was so glad that we were able to take my mother to the monument unveiling at College Park before she passed away in 2007. It was such a touching and wonderful trip. The ceremony was a little overwhelming, opening old wounds. But it was bonding to see other College Park families who, unknown to me, had also suffered this terrible loss. Afterward, we wandered around Pleasant Hill while memories of our years there burbled up — our old house, Strandwood Elementary, the sign for Mrs. Molino’s Homemade Ravioli, Mr. Dopler’s farm that is now long established with homes. And I was in awe of the beauty of Mount Diablo, something that must have been lost on me as a child/teenager.

Anyway, thank you for your thoughtful article on those who have been lost to the wars. It breaks my heart every time I read such remembrances — both the pain of those who return and the pain of family and friends of those who don’t….

Thank you, Judie Sonstein Tenn

P.S. I thought I would mention an amazing thing that happened about 10 years ago: My mother and I came across an old roll of film tucked in my brother’s belongings that had been sent back from Vietnam after his death. Somehow, it had been overlooked. I’m attaching one of the shots that was found on the roll. I’m not sure if it was taken in 1967 or 1968. It shows his loving nature so clearly that it has become a favorite pic for me, a final glimpse of him before he moved on …”

“There were other pictures of the village and the children, but this is the one that speaks to me. I especially love the tenderness of both the children’s and Paul’s hands — a secure moment for all during that hideous war … I always wonder what became of these children who by now, if they survived, would be 50ish. I think of them often and hope they are doing well. In my heart, they’ve become the children Paul never had.

Anyway, I was reluctant about your request to use my e-mail as I tend to be private in my grief. But as it may help convey the lifetime of pain that war brings and the photograph reminds us of the children who are so affected, I will agree.”

Here is what is written on the College Park Memorial:

“This hallowed ground is a place to reflect on what they gave and what courage represents. Come here to share a memory, a tear, or the joy of having known them. Reflect here in remembrance of these men, who went before and those who will follow.

Barney Evans Boyer, Corporal, USMC: Born June 21, 1945; graduated June, 1963; killed Sept. 4, 1965.

Stephen Donald Bartels, Corporal, USMC: Born March 21, 1947; graduated June, 1965; killed Nov. 9, 1967.

Gregory Ellis Cox, Specialist Four, U.S. Army: Born June 4, 1947; graduated June, 1965; killed Jan. 4, 1968.

Paul Phillip Sonstein, Specialist Four, U.S. Army: Born March 26, 1946; graduated June, 1964; killed Feb. 21, 1968.”

After graduating, Sonstein attended Diablo Valley College and also worked at Greyhound in San Francisco before he was drafted, his sister told me.

What does Memorial Day mean to you?

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  • Doctor J

    Thank you for the two hankie story. Our cemetaries, especially the Veteran’s Cemetaries, are full of heroes, some who died during the too many wars, and many who carried their friends home in a box. If you want to appreciate the sacrifice of those who served, some weekend, find a Verteran’s Cemetary and just slowly walk through and read the inscriptions. I just love the third verse of “America the Beautiful”:
    “O beautiful for heroes proved
    In liberating strife.
    Who more than self their country loved
    And mercy more than life!
    America! America! “

  • Bill Gallagher

    Theresa,
    I was in Paul Sonsteins class at College Park and was friends with Steve Bartels…. how can I access
    the story you did last year on the College Park
    Memorial?

    Regards,

    Bill

    Ps…. Terrific story about Paul in todays paper and greatly appreciated.

  • Theresa Harrington

    Bill, Here is the post I did last year: http://www.ibabuzz.com/onassignment/2012/05/28/remembering-local-grads-who-have-died-in-war/

    I have also heard from another one of your classmates who helped build the memorial. He sent a very lengthy and touching email about the making of it. I plan to ask him if I can post that, as well.

    Thanks, Theresa