By Kurtis Ming

ESCONDIDO, Calif. (CBS13) — Holding onto tattered black and white photos of her as a bright-eyed little girl sitting on her daddy’s lap, Claudia Aragon sits in the kitchen of her Escondido home reflecting on the more than 40 years since she last saw him.

“I always wondered if he tried to find me and couldn’t,” she says.

Did Norman Robert Chester think of her as much as she thought of him? She was just 10-years old. Her parents divorced and her father left for a trucking job in Missouri.

“Oh he said he would keep in touch,” she said.

But before he could send his address, her mother moved her and her sisters from California to Indiana.  Her mother remarried and had a new last name.   Her dad would have no way of finding them.

For four decades, Claudia searched off and on for her dad. She says she wrote him letters, sending them to her uncle to forward to her father. When she was 19, she was devastated when her uncle returned the letters unopened saying he didn’t know what happened to him.

She knew her father served in the Korean War and World War II. She reached out to the government for help, but they couldn’t. Claudia wondered if her dad was even still alive.

Now in her fifties, technology and a friend’s online search of her dad’s name were about to give her the answer.   Up popped a television news story about Wes Nell of Sacramento. The frail elderly man was talking about his best friend, Bob Chester.

Claudia recalls watching the report, “The camera pans. There’s a picture of my dad on the wall, and I froze it. I knew it was him.”

The image showed a white-haired man with decades of life weathered on his face. It was Claudia’s father.

“He looked like a sweet old man. Someone I’d really want to talk to,” she says as a tear streams down her face.

But she wouldn’t be able to talk with him. That news story was our own. (Read and watch our initial story from November 2007 here.)

Wes Nell was trying to get a military funeral for his best friend, months after Bob’s death. The coroner wouldn’t allow it because Wes wasn’t family and the coroner couldn’t find Bob’s next of kin. They couldn’t find Claudia.

“I’ve never met Wes, but I’m going to love that man until the day I die,” Claudia said.

Through the persistence of Wes and our help, her dad was buried with full military honors at the Veteran’s Cemetery in Dixon.  Claudia watched the service we video-taped, when a song played on bagpipes triggered a memory she hadn’t thought of in years.

“Oh my God,” she said with her lip quivering.  “My dad’s favorite song was Amazing Grace.  And I remember singing it to him as a little kid.   To hear it now hurts.”

And that burning question she spent most of her life wondering; did her father think of her? Once she proved to the government she was the daughter of Bob Chester, the answer would show up in a letter.

“So when I got the envelope I was just shaking,” she recalls.

It contained the contents of her dad’s wallet. Inside?  Two carefully preserved photos of her as a baby and as a ten-year old girl, just before her dad moved away.

“And that said a lot because for him to die at 82 and to be carrying pictures around for more than 50 years of me, that meant a lot. It said I wasn’t just an afterthought. I really did mean a lot to him. But he could never tell me, because we never found each other.”

And now a lifetime of wondering is over. Claudia knows where to find her father, buried at the cemetery in Dixon. She knows exactly where to find the man she never forgot; who she now knows never forgot her.

“I’ll have a place where I could see my dad.  That’s the last part I’m going to need to have for my closure.”

Claudia and Wes have been on the phone sharing stories. Wes says Bob was a quiet man who didn’t talk much about his past.

But she did learn something.  Her dad spent the last thirty years of his life living in Sacramento.  For ten of those years, Claudia lived within forty miles of him in Olivehurst.  She wonders if their paths ever crossed, and they didn’t know it.

Claudia has written her own story called “Remembering Dad”.   She shares more of her childhood and what it was like during her years of searching.

Comments (11)
  1. nd says:

    Wow Beautiful story thats love

  2. Kathie says:

    I grew up 3 houses down from where who we called “Bob” lived. My mom still lives there. He was a quiet man. I am so sorry you weren’t able to contact him and meet him.

  3. francella says:

    Beautiful Story, I sent the last one to a friend of mine who went through the same kind of search. I hope things are going well for you

  4. Geri says:

    Way to go sis.
    I love you.

  5. robal says:

    a child of a veteram would not have that hard of a time if she had been looking for him – regardless of imagined emotion – with that proximity it does NOT seem either spent any time looking – get off the pity train

  6. shut up says:

    Robal – you are a jerk. FYI, doesn’t matter who you are, the government does not just hand out veteran’s information to anyone who comes looking. It may get leaked, but that’s another story in itself.

  7. liredneck says:

    ROBAL – must suck to be you

  8. dan says:

    The story is very beautiful and sad. Beautiful because the child got her questions answered. Sad, because it’s parents who put thier kids through such termoil that breaks thier hearts through-out life. Children should always be first.

  9. tina says:

    I think it’s a bunch of bull! All she wants is 15 mins of fame. If he was any kind of father he would have looked for his family if he really wanted to.

  10. CO4thBN says:

    A beautiful story of the unending love of a daughter
    for her father regardless of time. The only thing
    that kinda upset me, why was the request
    for FINAL MILITARY HONORS denied the first time
    by the coroner regardless if there were family members
    present or not. He was a veteran of TWO wars and
    served our nation well. I would like to thank those
    people who assisted in giving NORMAN ROBERT CHESTER
    the honor he deserved. Fact: In 1994, there were 1200
    veterans buried “without” military honors. Now, it’s
    about 1800 veterans interned with Final Military Honors
    given to them. There are veteran service organizations
    made up of prior service personnel who are “trying” to correct this situation.

  11. Tamika P. says:

    Tina you need to shut up. You do not know what the hell you are talking about. your the one that wants the ” 15 minutes of fame” and you have no right to say that about her father

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