A surprise phone call: one woman’s American Red Cross story

By Marcia Antipa

Abby 420x279

Abby and son, Carl, in 1967.

In October of 1966, Abby Chapman and Carl Borders had been married just a year and a half, when Carl shipped off to Vietnam. Abby had just learned that she was pregnant with their first child. The war and the pregnancy would bring the American Red Cross into her life for the first time.

As a recent medical school graduate, Carl was in high demand in wartime. He was assigned to a new Army MUST field hospital in Tay Ninh. MUST stands for Medical Unit, Self-contained, Transportable.

“I felt as though he was fairly safe there, and he wasn’t. Mortars were attacking his company and the hospital. It was very disheartening for me to think this was where he was going.”

Abby moved back to her hometown in Wilmington, Delaware, to be near her family and to await the birth of her child. She kept in touch with Carl through homemade audiotapes.

“It was the first war where you could communicate with the military by tape, so we were doing that. I was doing one of those once or twice a week and he would do the same.”

But during her husband’s year of service in Vietnam, Abby saw him just once, on a three-day “R and R” trip to Hawaii. She says Carl was startled to see how she’d changed.

“I was huge. I was very pregnant. I hadn’t been his wife very long. It all happened so fast, and of course, that’s wartime.”

On May 12, 1967, Abby delivered a healthy baby boy, named Carl after his father and grandfather. As she sat with her newborn in her hospital bed, Abby says, “all of a sudden, the phone rings, and I hear, ‘this is the Red Cross. We have Dr. Borders on the line.’”

Abby then heard her husband’s voice, speaking to her from Vietnam.

“He was like, ‘oh that’s what you sound like; I’d kind of forgotten,’ and ‘How is the baby?’” She described the conversation as short, dramatic, and “pretty special.”

The telephone surprise was arranged by Abby’s stepfather, William P. Frank, a veteran news reporter. Frank had reached out to the Red Cross, who arranged for a makeshift network of ham radio operators to relay the call from Vietnam to Delaware.

“There was a whole lot we couldn’t say or didn’t have time to say. We were just kind of delighted to hear each other’s voice from so far away.”

Much has happened since that phone call. Abby’s husband returned from the war to complete his residency in orthopedic surgery. Their second son, Craig, was born in 1969, and the family moved to San Francisco.

As for that baby born more than 50 years ago? Carl Borders the Third laughs and says, “My father always calls me up on my birthday and tells me the same story. Sometimes the details of the stories get a little fuzzy over the years.”

Recently the memory of that phone call moved Abby to donate to the American Red Cross, to help the victims of Hurricane Dorian in the Bahamas.

“I was thinking about people in need and I had not really done anything for the Red Cross since Vietnam, so I decided, well I’m going to help with the hurricanes.”

Thank you, Abby!

Marcia Antipa is a volunteer writer with the Northern California Coastal Region.