West Tower Rising: 27 years after losing her father in Vietnam, woman forms friendship with the Casper surgeon who identified his remains
By The Pulse Aug 22, 2014
Written by Lori Goss-Reaves, daughter of HM2 Larry Jo Goss
Editor’s note: Dr. Lori Goss-Reaves, 47, was only 5 months old when her father, Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class Larry Jo Goss, went missing in action in Vietnam on Feb. 14, 1968. His dog tags were never returned, and Lori held onto a childhood fantasy that he would someday come home. In 1995, she placed an ad in a veteran’s magazine looking for anyone who had served with her dad. Dr. Jerry Behrens, an orthopedic surgeon from Casper, Wyo., answered. It was the beginning of a lifelong friendship with Dr. Behrens and his wife, Mary.
The Wyoming Medical Center Foundation recently honored Dr. Behrens for his generous support at the dedication of the new Jerry Behrens M.D..Orthopedic, Spine and General Surgery Center in our McMurry West Tower. Lori, who has a doctorate degree in social work, traveled from her home in Marion, Ind., to tell the crowd what Dr. Behrens means to her. Below are her full remarks.
Thank you, Mary, for giving me the honor of speaking on behalf of someone I so deeply respect and admire. They say behind every successful man is a great woman. Mary, you are an amazing woman and an incredible life partner for Jerry. Watching you orchestrate this evening has been such a joy. Your deep love for your husband shines through in all you have done to bring this together for him tonight, and we thank you.
Dr. Behrens, we are so blessed to be a part of your life. This room contains only a small portion of the countless number lives you have touched. Tonight we are here to honor you! You are so deserving and loved.
We just heard from Senator Barrasso about the positive impact you made in the states of Wyoming and Wisconsin, the countries of Vietnam, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, and across the United States, with the men in the Wounded Warriors program. Tonight, I have the privilege of sharing the positive impact you made in a little town called Marion, Ind. Thank you, Dr. Behrens, for embracing my family and me and for treating us with so much kindness and respect.
My life intersected with Dr. Behrens' life when I was only 5 months old. My father, Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class Larry Jo Goss, was a Navy corpsman who had the privilege of serving under the direction of Dr. Behrens, his battalion surgeon. My father was killed in action on Feb. 14,1968, only six weeks after Dr. Behrens checked him into Vietnam. In that short time, Dr. Behrens made an impact on my dad's life and, 27 years later, he chose to engage me in a way that would change my life forever.
You see, my dad grew up without a father and lived in generational poverty. He was determined to make a life for himself and for the wife and children he would one day have. He had aspirations of becoming a medical doctor and had been accepted to Ball State University. When he received his draft notice to go the Vietnam, he was shocked because he thought he had a college deferment. He found out that he didn’t because his mother had spent the money he had worked hard to save and entrusted to her to mail to Ball State for his admissions deposit. This story is significant today because my father shared that story with Dr. Behrens. It so clearly exemplifies the type of man Dr. Behrens is – a man who has compassion, who is trustworthy and willing to listen to a young corpsman's story of heartbreak.
I experienced Dr. Behrens’ tenderness and compassion when he called me one afternoon in 1995. Since the age of 17, I had been searching for someone who served with my father. I needed to know if he truly had been killed in action. The telegrams my mother received stated that he was MIA for six weeks and later identified by dental records, but my dad had false teeth. His dog tags were not returned home, so I created a childhood fantasy that he was still alive and was going to come home to my mom and me someday.
A friend's father offered to place a letter in a veteran's magazine seeking a response from anyone who had served with my dad. None of you will be surprised that Dr. Behrens answered that call for help. He could have chosen to not respond to that letter, but just as he did when he volunteered to go to Vietnam and Desert Storm, he put the needs of others first. He did what he believed was right, even though it was very difficult for him.
I will never forget Dr. Behrens so gently telling me that he knew without a doubt that my father died in Vietnam, because he was the one who identified his remains. I wrote down every word Dr. Behrens said that day. Dr. Behrens told me about his reaction to realizing that the body he was handling was my dad's. His words let me know that my dad really was someone special; someone who had made an impression on Dr. Behrens in the short time they had been in country together.
Dr. Behrens, thank you for giving me a treasure I will cherish always. Thank you also for telling Ray Felle about me. The relationship I've been blessed to have with the both of you has made an ugly war and a senseless loss somehow more bearable.
Oh, how I wish it was my dad standing here today speaking about the blessing you were to him when he was a young and frightened man in a land so far away. You were someone he looked up to and the person whose life he was going to emulate when he got home from Vietnam.
On behalf of all of your corpsman, I want to thank you. My dad could have been placed anywhere in Vietnam. I am thankful every day that he was placed under your direction. You are so intelligent, so kind, so generous, so loving and so much fun! Your amazing laugh can fill up a gigantic room. Dr. Behrens, we celebrate you tonight. You are so deserving of this honor, and we are all very proud of you!
About Dr. Behrens
Jerry Behrens, M.D., was born Dec. 30, 1940, in Marshfield, Wis., to Alice and Louis Behrens. He graduated from Greenwood High School in 1959, waking every day at 4:30 a.m. to milk the cows and do other chores on his father’s dairy and turkey farm. He was a Boy Scout and played varsity football, basketball and volleyball.
He earned his medical degree and completed his orthopedic residency at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. He is married to Mary and has three grown children – Kelly, Mike and Ingrid. He was a Marine doctor in Vietnam and re-enlisted to serve in Desert Storm. He moved to Casper in 1973 and founded Casper Orthopaedic Associates in 1976.
The Jerry Behrens, M.D., Orthopedic, Spine and General Surgery Center takes up the entire fourth floor of the McMurry West Tower at Wyoming Medical Center. It features 25 private patient rooms, three bariatric patient rooms, an orthopedic rehabilitation gym and therapeutic tub training area. This comprehensive surgical floor is designed to centralize treatments and shorten recovery times.
“Serving people is what it’s all about,” he said. “We all stand on the shoulders of those both living and dead who have nurtured, mentored and loved us. I am grateful for my colleagues at Casper Orthopaedics and Wyoming Medical Center.”