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  • Allicia Johnson Niles

45 Years Gone

Updated: Jun 2


My dad was murdered on March 27 1976.

That was 45 years ago.


March 27, his “angelversary” falls on a Saturday this year; it’s ironically the same day of the week that a piece of my heart, my carefree outlook and peace of mind were shattered. It may be funny to think of a toddler that way; I mean it sounds like at that age I knew what was going on and of course I didn't. I was a hyper-aware, little sponge, taking in every detail in my fresh new world. I was still learning how to talk through mirroring and imprinting. Although I can’t consciously remember details back that far, I can still strangely connect with that eager little two-year-old.


Forty-five years later, that toddler has grown up under a cloud that often covered her view with wild confusion, swept her up in tornadoes of terror, left her panicked and breathless, drowned her with monsoons of sorrow . . . and at times, let the light of God bathe her in the brilliancy of extraordinary miracles that gave her world vibrancy and color.





From the time I can remember, every March 27th held emotional significance one way or another. This was one day a year I allowed myself to consciously think about my dad and his death. The fact that his birthday was just three days earlier made it hard to avoid. Sometimes it even gave me a little validation that it was ok to think about someone I didn’t know well, so therefore shouldn’t miss. Society’s norms and expectations of “mental health” and grief impacted my own mental health negatively, even as I tried to live up to them and be, well. . . “normal.”


Thankfully my real and present grief came to a head. In the moment, I didn’t know it was a good thing. I was forced to open myself up to learning and feeling. Step by step, I came to a healthier place. The more I opened up to my emotions and let Daddy and his story in, the more peace I internalized.


It’s crazy to look back on where I was even just five years ago on this March 27th day.


Back then, I was preparing to visit my dad’s grave for the first time in nearly a decade and a half. I thought I was finishing my book, but unbeknownst to me, I still had several unwritten chapters that I was in the middle of living. I was cutting through the muck of confusion, decades-old paperwork, and bureaucracy.


I was just two months away from meeting some of the greatest people I’ve ever known, fellow military survivors who would bring me peace and the feeling of “normalcy” that I’d longed for my entire life! They became my best friends and part of my family. I love my TAPS family more than I can express; they saved me!


But I was just on the cusp of breaking open the deeper story of me and my Angel in Arlington, of the real process of resolution, healing, and ultimately forgiveness.


Right before I went to TAPS for the first time in 2016, they asked me to write an article about my experience. In “An Easter Angelversary” I said at the time:


“I want to rise to the occasion and honor my dad the way he deserves on this bittersweet Easter Sunday/Angelversary. I planned something huge, like...finishing the book I’ve been working on about him. I also envisioned meeting his shipmates along with my mom and brother and some of his family ceremoniously at his grave in Arlington National Cemetery.”



Then just three years after that, I stood at Daddy’s grave on March 27 with my mom and brother. It was the first time the three of us stood together at that sacred spot since my brother and I were tiny. As we sat there I got a text message from a cute Southern guy I’d just started chatting with and it warmed my heart..


Dating and then marrying that cute Southern guy has not only made me laugh like I never thought possible, but has also shown me a love that I didn’t know existed. He has wiped away tears and soothed me in his warm embrace. He is even currently snoring next to me as I write, still warming my heart. After 45 years, Daddy’s last name is now my middle name but I will always be his little girl.


Five years later. The confusion is gone. I have my answers.


An even deeper connection with my father has helped fill most of the emptiness. During those five years I did meet Daddy’s shipmates at his grave. They taught me about him--really taught me about him. I wrote (am still writing) and grew (am still growing) like I could never have imagined. I had experiences and life changing adventures. I had a wonderful therapist, and I became the version of myself I’d wanted so badly to be.


This Saturday, I’ll look back on that terrible day in 1976 with clearer vision. My heart will always ache for him; I am grateful for the privilege to grieve, to cry, and to love. I look forward to the next 5, 10, 45 March 27th's of honoring the legacy left by an amazing man I have finally and truly come to know — who loved and served so hard and gave his all.


And though he left this life, he never really left me.








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