MIA Widow Tells Story of Love, Hope
By Fred W. Baker III
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Sept. 21, 2007 A veritable sea of colors paraded across a field outside the Pentagon today, and military leaders sported uniforms adorned with colored ribbons and shiny medals.
Patricia Scharf, widow of Col. Charles Scharf, addresses the audience during a POW/MIA Recogniton Day ceremony at the Pentagon, Sept. 21, 2007. Defense Dept. photo by Cherie A. Thurlby
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
A line of colorful flags loaded with kaleidoscopic streamers caught a gentle breeze as starched members of color guards in their best dress marked time against blue skies, and a high-hatted drum major led an Army band blowing and beating on polished instruments.
Some military veterans sported scarlet hats, while others donned leather, but both were dotted with patches and pins.
But in contrast to the colorful regalia, it was a lone black-and-white flag that had brought everyone together.
For this annual commemoration, the servicemember-silhouetted POW/MIA flag took the position of honor to the right of the secretary of defense, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs and a downed Air Force pilot’s widow who had waited for the return of her husband’s body for more than four decades.
It was clear when she stood to take the podium, though, that Patricia Scharf was not in mourning. Dressed in red and sporting a red-rose corsage, she told a happy, homecoming story of love and hope.
“Like me, many of you have waited and worked hard to learn more about the fate of your missing loved ones,” she said. “My story is a personal one, and I don’t share it often, but this is the right day.”
Scharf met her husband -- Col. Charles Scharf, whom she calls “Chuck” -- when she was 16. They married when she was 18. He later enlisted in the Air Force and became a pilot.
He had two loves, Scharf said: her and the Air Force.
In 1965 he was sent to Vietnam, she said. He was flying an F-4C Phantom II alongside another pilot when he was shot down. His plane crashed and burned in an isolated spot of North Vietnam.
Scharf never remarried. She said the 13 years they had spent together was full of romance and passion, and that Chuck was the one, and only, love of her life.
“Once you love somebody from the beginning who’s good to you, you can’t replace him,” she said. “And I would have never done that until I knew absolutely he was gone.”
In his last conversation with Scharf, the pilot went over the couple’s finances and then made one request.
“Chances are I may get shot down. And if I do, I want you to remarry, because I don’t want you to be alone,” Scharf said.
Still she doesn’t consider the fact she never remarried as not complying with his last wishes.
“I’m never alone. He’s still alive inside of me. I can’t find anybody like him ever,” she said.
After he never returned, Scharf began a 37-year career working at the Pentagon, first at a department store, and finally as a jeweler.
Then, in 1990, Vietnamese officials identified a crash site with two graves. At the site they found the personal remains of Scharf’s husband. There were more excavations of the site in 1993 and 2004, but officials could not make a match to his DNA.
Officials asked if Scharf had anything that might contain his DNA that they could match with.
Remarkably, it ended up being the love letters her husband had sent to her years earlier that Scharf had saved in a box for four decades. She sent 11 letters for the DNA experts to sample.
They matched his DNA from bone fragments at the site to the saliva residue left on the envelopes and the stamps.
“It was time for him to come home,” Scharf said.
In November 2006, Scharf flew to Hawaii to meet the remains, and then buried him just a short distance from the Pentagon at Arlington National Cemetery. His remains were buried with his uniform, medals and a few love letters, she said.
“I feel fabulous. I have a place to go now. I can go up any time I want. I know where he’s at, and I know where I’m going,” Scharf said. She plans to be buried next to him.
Scharf said she visits the grave weekly.
“He’s the soulmate of my heart,” she said.
Scharf thanked officials at the annual ceremony for their hard work in bringing her husband home.
“It was a miracle that brought Chuck back to his beloved country and to me. Mr. Secretary, my thanks to all the DoD agencies that worked together to bring my husband home,” she said.
Scharf compared the agencies to a close-knit flying unit like her husband’s.
“They may wear different uniforms, but they are all part of a military family. You all have sustained me, and others like me, and gave me closure and peace. To all of you I thank you for keeping the promise (of bringing my husband home),” she said.