Staff member finds surprise in Vietnam Veterans Memorial stamp


C. Darden Baker

Law school staffer Charlene Darden Baker displays an artist's rendering of the stamp that shows her brother's name. Noah Berger photo

By Cathy Cockrell, Public Affairs

14 February 2001 | It has been 32 years, this month, since law school program assistant Charlene Darden Baker lost her brother Otis in the war in Vietnam. A draftee and Berkeley High graduate, he died in combat on his 21st birthday, Feb. 3, 1969.

"He was plucked from our family," recalls Baker, who got her first campus job in 1970 (she retired in 1996 and is now a part-time employee). While anti-war protest raged in Berkeley, Otis left to serve in the Army.

After he was killed, Baker says, her grief was "bottled up inside" for years. "I was very bitter with the war, the presidents. I couldn't watch TV, or any kind of war going on."

In the decades since, Charlene and her six brothers and sisters have never stopped remembering the youngest of the Dardens - by visiting his grave, naming their children "Otis" (there are two in the younger generation), sharing remembrances via e-mail, and writing messages to their charming and fair-minded brother, on a Web page dedicated to his memory. ("Otis, I miss you. Next week is Memorial Day and that day I will send special prayers ... I love you and miss you - Sister, Charlene.")

Then, late last year, their ways of keeping Otis' memory alive grew by one - when brother Linnie, a Georgia minister, made a trip to his local post office. There on the wall was a poster announcing a limited-edition stamp set, "Celebrate the Century."

The poster image, from the series of 15 stamps on the 1980s: a person in military fatigues leaning against the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall. (Dedicated in 1982, the wall holds 58,000 names etched in black granite.) A shaft of light fell across the names of fallen soldiers; just above th veteran's finers was a name that jumped out: Otis J. Darden.

"My brother (Linnie) called me that night," Baker recalls. "I was just totally shocked. Otis is revisiting us again, and won't let us forget."

By tracking down the artist who had created the image, the family got copies of earlier renderings of the stamp. Baker now cherishes hers, along with multiple copies of the '80s stamp set - commemorating E.T., the fall of the Berlin Wall, hip-hop culture and other '80s phenomena, as well as the wall on which her brother's name is etched.

See vvm/darden.html to view a Web page dedicated to the memory of Otis Darden - part of the Berkeley Vietnam Veterans Memorial Internet site.



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