WASHINGTON - Patricia Angus was a senior at Rosary High School in San Diego and Chuck Scharf was a sophomore at San Diego State College when they first met through Chuck's younger sister in 1952.
"He was my steady from the very beginning, which my mother was against because she thought I should be meeting other men," Patricia said in an interview. "But I said, 'No, Mother, this is the young man I want to date.'"
Chuck and Patricia were married two years later, in 1954; he was 21 and she was 19.
"He was a sweetheart," she said, "handsome, loving, caring, just perfect."
|Chuck and Patricia Scharf, the early '60s|
Fast forward to 1965. Chuck was an Air Force fighter pilot about to take off for Vietnam. Patricia was there to see him off, the pregnant wife of another pilot alongside her.
"He looked over at me, and I'm waving my scarf, and he salutes me," Patricia said. "And Donna Jewel turned and said, 'We're never going to see them again,' and I said, 'Yes, we are.' Well, guess what?"
Chuck's F4C Phantom II jet fighter was shot down over North Vietnam on Oct. 1, 1965, two weeks before he was due home.
"The doorbell rings, and I open the door, and there's the base commander," Patricia remembers. "I said, 'Chuck got shot down?' And he said, 'Yes.' And I said, 'Is he dead?' And he said, 'He's missing in action.'"
Missing in action, for the next 41 years.
"I prayed very hard," Patricia said. "I had hopes that somewhere they'd find him, but they didn't, and then they found the remains."
Human remains were excavated from Chuck's crash site, but DNA tests proved inconclusive. Stymied, the Air Force turned to Patricia, and that's when she remembered Chuck's love letters, about a hundred old love letters squirreled away in a trunk in her closet.
"And they said, real quietly, they paused for a few moments, and they said, 'Could we have about 12 of the envelopes, Mrs. Scharf? We'll return them to you.' And I said, 'Sure,' and that's how it happened."
DNA from Chuck's saliva on the stamps and seals of the envelopes matched bone fragments recovered from the crash site. Chuck's love letters from 1965 helped identify his remains in 2006.
"I finally had closure," Patricia said. "It was a great relief."
Patricia flew out to Hawaii and brought Chuck's remains home for burial at Arlington National Cemetery.
"As we were landing, the flight attendant said to the passengers, 'Ladies and gentlemen, last night we picked up a very special passenger from Hawaii. His name was Colonel Charles J. Scharf. He was shot down October 1st of 1965, and he was missing in action for 41 years. We are honored to bring him back home to his native America. God bless him and God bless his family.'"
The passengers broke into applause - and some tears - and Patricia stood up to thank them.
"I said to them, 'I want to thank you for your wonderful love at this moment for my husband and me. Thank you all ever so much.' I was getting very emotional. I still do when I say that."
Patricia never remarried, never even considered it. Chuck and Patricia's only child, a daughter, had been stillborn, so Patricia has no family. Now 74 and retired, she visits Chuck every week at Arlington, where he's buried along with some of those old love letters.
"I can go anytime I want to talk to him, and I love sitting out there, and I know where he's at," she said. "He's not in the mud, not lost forever in the jungle."
John Rutherford is an NBC News Producer based out of the Washington, D.C. bureau and is a decorated Vietnam veteran. He also posts stories on the military at www.dailynightly.msnbc.com (click on "John Rutherford" under "categories").