Debbie and Virgil were separated when Sgt. Spitler and her mother divorced. Debbie and her mother left Dayton for Auckland, New Zealand, where Debbie was raised. That was about a year before their father died of malaria during his third tour in Vietnam in February 1968.
Debbie said she had a photo of her brother holding her when she was about 6 months old. That and other photos are all she ever had of her U.S. family.
Over the years, both Debbie and Virgil, searched for each other, but those efforts were for nought until Debbie’s daughter-in-law visited a website commemorating those who died in the Vietnam War.
There she read a note commemorating Sgt. Spitler from Eric Rueder, a Vietnam Veteran who was there when their father died in Pleiku, Vietnam.
Rueder, of Paris, Mo., had already been contacted by Debbie and Virgil’s first cousin. He acted as a liaison to reconnect the two families.
“If it wasn’t for the wall, nothing would have happened,” Rueder said. “To think simple words brought them together. It’s unreal. It made me feel real good inside. I really liked SSgt. Spitler. He was more like a friend to all of us.”
The Spitlers plan to visit the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington D.C. and to visit their father’s grave in Hampton, Va.
Virgil said he’s looking forward to getting to know his sister for the first time.
“She has a thick (New Zealand) accent. I love it!” he said. “I don’t know how many years I have left. I just want to be closer to her.”
Debbie said she has kept her U.S. citizenship, despite having to argue with customs officials when she returned home after trips abroad. She said her family back home is worried she won’t come back.
“It’s like a dream that’s suddenly come to fruit,” she said. “This is better than I ever imagined.”