RICHARD JARKOVSKY, a retired Army sergeant living in Tennessee, will spend this Fourth of July like most of us, getting together with family and friends. There will be food and fellowship, and a pause to salute the flag he proudly served for 20 years.
And there will be a moment to remember the people who have touched his life - including an 11-year-old boy from Pasadena named Billy. They had been pen pals for almost a year during a rough time in Jarkovsky's life: Vietnam.
The exact year their correspondence began is a little vague in his memory - sometime between 1967 and 1969. He's even forgotten Billy's last name, but the impact the youngster had on his life remains.
"Billy's letters were an important part of my life during those years," he said.
The long-distance friendship started with a letter Jarkovsky plucked from a wicker basket while visiting a USO club in Pleiku. "I read the letter and was amazed to find out that it was written by an 11-year-old; he really wanted to be a soldier."
With Jarkovsky's young family at home, Billy became a long-distance surrogate son. "I really enjoyed writing to this kid," he said.
Eventually, Billy sent him a picture. And in return, the soldier says, he decided to do something special. "I had a large portrait made of me in my combat uniform, with Billy's photo superimposed at the top; I sent it to him just to let him know how much his letters meant to me. He brought me so much happiness at a time, and in a place, where everybody needed it the most."
He remembers, in the early 1970s, stopping by Billy's home for a brief visit with the boy, and meeting his parents and his brother and sister. Then it was back to military duties, first at Fort Meade and later a stint at the U.S. Army Field Medical School in Texas.
Life in the military and his growing family took precedence. And he lost touch with Billy.
"All I remember is a kid with blond hair and greenish-blue eyes; unfortunately, over the years I've lost all of my personal belongings from Nam, so I don't have any of his letters or his picture," he said.
Once in a while, he has thought about Billy and wondered what happened to him, and he vowed to try to find him - if only to say hello.
Over the years, Jarkovsky's wife, Janet, urged him to try to reconnect with his long-lost pen pal from Pasadena, but the demands of daily life seemed to get in the way, he said.
This year, Jarkovsky took a serious stab at reconnecting with Billy. Not being computer savvy, he wrote to The Sun in hopes of getting out the word.
"I should have kept in touch with him," Jarkovsky said. "All I have is a precious memory of this 11-year-old boy. He would be a man today. To be able to once again contact him would be something I would treasure."
If you have a clue about Billy's identify, give me a call at 410-437- 6343, and we'll pass it along.
Step back in time
To celebrate Independence Day, Hancock's Resolution, the historic farm in Pasadena, will display a set of historic flags Sunday representing early Maryland and U.S. history.
Jim Morrison, Friends of Hancock's Resolution spokesman, said the farm also will provide handouts testing visitors' historical knowledge.
"We will have on display a Colonial Maryland flag that combines the black-and-gold family arms of the Lords of Baltimore, and the red-white-and-blue Grand Union, which was the flag of Great Britain from 1707 until 1801," he said.
According to Morrison, some historians believe that some Maryland military units carried these colors until the ties with England were cut in 1776.
A second flag that will be on display is a replica of the official U.S. flag that would have been flown from 1777 until 1794. Others include a 15-star, 15-stripe "Star-Spangled Banner" of 1794-1818, and the 20-star, 13-stripe version that replaced it.
"It was our official flag for only one year before more states, and more stars, had to be added," Morrison said of the latter.
Admission to Hancock's Resolution is free; it is open Sundays from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Donations to help with restoration efforts are gratefully accepted. In addition to the flag display, docents will lead tours of the soon-to-be-restored farmhouse and grounds.
The farm site is on Bayside Beach Road, 2.5 miles from the intersection with Fort Smallwood Road.