At the end of this month, Brent Hardy gets to meet his brother, Bill, when the two are scheduled to spend a week together in Jefferson City. It's a very special get-together since the brothers, both of whom are in their 70s, have never met each other in person.
Brent, who is 76 years old and lives in Jefferson City, and Bill, who is 74 and lives in San Angelo, Texas, spent nearly all their lives not knowing the other existed until recently.
"I think the reason I didn't do something sooner was probably because I was young, and I didn't think about it much while I was growing up," Brent said. "I didn't know a lot about my dad, and my grandmother gave me the only picture I had of him. He was in the Army, and I found out he was a sharp-shooter instructor."
In a phone interview, Bill said their father, William Hardy, was awarded a Bronze Star for his service during World War II.
Brent was born in Joplin and found out his father and mother had met at the Connor Hotel. With Fort Leonard Wood and Camp Crowder not far from Joplin, Brent said the hotel was apparently a hot spot for service members to go dancing with women who lived in Joplin.
Brent said his mother and father were divorced when he was five months old. He said she never talked about his father and what happened between them.
"We were pretty poor, and my mom worked," Brent said. "I was an only child, and I didn't ask a lot of questions about my father."
As a young man, Brent enlisted in the Air Force and served in Vietnam.
When he was in Vietnam, Brent said, "I got lonely. You're 12,000 miles from home, and back then we didn't have Skype. We had the snail mail to get messages from home."
As he was getting ready to head back home, Brent was also getting ready to get married.
"I thought, 'You know what, I'd like to have my dad at my wedding,'" Brent said. "I guess I made the mistake of telling my mom about that, and she came unglued. I told her that I didn't know what all happened between her and dad, but I was going to invite him, and if she didn't want to come, that was her business."
Meanwhile, Bill, who was a young man when his father died at the age of 57 in 1966, was also serving in the Air Force during the Vietnam War. But because his father had died and he was believed to be an only son, Bill received a deferment and didn't have to go into combat in Vietnam. Instead, he served at Strategic Air Command in Omaha, processing film taken from the fighting in Vietnam.
Brent later wrote a letter to the Department of the Army to try and find out more information about his dad, and they told him of his death in 1966.
"Here again, I don't have an excuse for not doing anything for several more years to find out about my background," Brent said. "I was raising a family at the time, but I could have made an effort to do more than I did."
Eventually, Brent got in touch with a friend who subscribed to the newspaper in Joplin and that led Brent to subscribe and start looking into the archives, particularly obituaries. There, Brent was able to find out the name of his father's second wife and that the two had lived in Lawton, Oklahoma, which is the home of the Fort Sill U.S. Army Base.
"The folks at the base were able to tell me my dad was buried there at the base, and his wife was also buried there," Brent said. "At that time, I wasn't able to find out whether they had any kids."
The personnel at the fort were able to get Brent in contact with the funeral home that did the services for his father's second wife, and they were able to tell him the couple had a surviving son at the time of the services.
"So I knew I had a brother (Bill)," Brent said.
A funeral home employee said they knew one of Bill's children still lived in the area, and they would call them. But Brent said he never heard back from anyone.
That led Brent to turn to social media where he joined the Lawton, Oklahoma, Facebook Group, and he put out a general question asking if anyone knew Bill Hardy.
After not getting any responses there, a friend of Brent's searched classmates.com, a site designed for people to reconnect with former classmates, and found high school pictures of Bill from Lawton.
Still unable to reach Bill, Brent put out a Facebook message on Veterans Day: "Bill Hardy, wherever you are, thank you for your service." Brent did this for three years but still no response.
The way the two eventually connected in January 2020 came out of the blue.
One night as he was messaging on his phone, Brent said he was contacted by a woman who asked how he knew Bill Hardy.
"I told her I didn't know him, but I think I have a brother by that name," Brent said. "She tells me she was a good friend of his and was talking to him as she was messaging me.
"The woman tells me, 'He's in shock by what you are saying.' And I told her, 'I understand,'" Brent said. "She then said, 'He wants to know where your dad was born,' and I said Dudley, Missouri (which is in the southeast part of the state).'
"There was a long pause, and she came back (and said), 'He wants you to call him.'"
Brent called Bill, and they talked for three hours that night.
"As we talked, I told him I had a very rare blood type, AB negative, and he said, 'Oh my God, dad had AB negative," Brent said.
"I broke down and started to cry," Bill said.
The brothers continued talking and had planned to have a get-together last year. But the COVID-19 pandemic changed their plans. So now with businesses reopening and travelling considered safe, the two are working out the details of what they'll see and do when they get together.
"He (Bill) told me he wanted to go to LongHorn's Steakhouse and Five Guys Burgers," Brent laughed. "I told him we could take care of that."
Added Bill: "We both have had some health issues over the past few years, so I said the main thing I want to do is spend time talking with him."
"Bill told me Dad never told him about me," Brent said. "I'm 76 now. I knew I had to reach out and do this."
"I grew up thinking I was an only child," Bill said. "I didn't know my father had any other children, so I didn't even think about searching. The fact Brent never had an opportunity to meet our father is a real loss for him, because Dad was great.
"This is a never-ending story, and I'm eager to find out how it develops," Bill added.