Skip to comments.MEMORIAL DAY 2003--#3--"I Came to See My Son's Name"
Posted on 05/23/2003 10:13:27 PM PDT by redrock
President Ronald Reagan's speech during Vietnam Unknown ceremony in Memorial Amphitheater
May 28, 1984
President Reagan gave an emotionally-charged speech during the somber funeral service.
" Today we pause to embrace him and all who served so well in a war whose end offered no parades, no flags, and so little thanks. About him we may well wonder as others have: As a child, did he play on some street in a great American city? Did he work beside his father on a farm in America's heartland? Did he marry? Did he have children? Did he look expectantly to return to a bride? "We will never know the answers to those questions about his life. We do know, though, why he died. He saw the horrors of war but bravely faced them, certain his own cause and his country's cause was a noble one, that he was fighting for free men everywhere."
President Reagan then assured the families of MIA's the quest for their loved ones was not over.
"We write no last chapters, We close no books. We put away no final memories."
The President then presented the Medal of Honor by stating:
" We should debate the lessons learned at some other time, today we simply say with pride, Thank you, dear son. May God cradle you in His loving arms. We present to you our nation's highest award, the Medal of Honor, for service above and beyond the call of duty in action with the enemy during the Vietnam Era."
"I Came to See My Son's Name."
My job as a volunteer "visitor guide" was to help people find names on the Moving Wall Vietnam Veterans Memorial. More importantly, I gave visitors a chance to talk. While searching the directory or leading a visitor to the name they sought, I would quietly ask "Was he a friend or a relative?" Over the six days, I began conversations that way with several hundred people. Only a handful gave me a short answer; almost everyone wanted to talk. Each had their own story to tell. For some, the words poured out as if the floodgates of a dam that had been closed for thirty years had just burst open. For others, the words came out slowly and deliberately between long pauses. Sometimes, they choked on the words and they cried. I also cried as I listened, asked more questions, and silently prayed that my words would help to heal, not to hurt.
"I came to see my son's name." I heard those and similar words from several parents who came to the Moving Wall. Their son had died in a war that divided our country like no other event since the Civil War. He died in a war that some Americans had blamed on the soldiers who were called to fight it. Some young men had no choice; they were called by the draft. Others, including some 30,000 women, were called differently, by a sense of duty to their family and nation.
Our culture mourns and respects our dead, but in the shadow of that bitter war, the sacrifices of those who died and their families were not allowed to have dignity. Mothers and fathers came to see that their sons had not been forgotten; that their names were remembered on that Wall; that someone else cares.
A frail and elderly mother came to the Moving Wall in a wheelchair. As we looked for her son's name, she described his interests during high school, and then the agonizing days when she was first told that her son was injured, then missing, then classified as "lost at sea." She asked me to thank all the other people who helped bring the Moving Wall to Batavia.
"'Til death do us part" came abruptly to thousands of marriages because of that war. I met two widows of men whose names are on the Wall. One woman showed me a picture of her husband and separate picture of their daughter. A man who never met his daughter. A girl who grew up without a father. I was painfully aware that had some Viet Cong soldiers been slightly better marksmen, my wife and son might have come to the Wall to see my name.
Sisters and brothers came to see a name. One brother so close in age that "People were always calling us by each other's name, and we both hated it." A sister said "I was so much younger than him I didn't realize why my Mom was crying when we said goodbye to him at the airport."
One brother confided that, although he had not been a war protester, his feelings and his first confrontation with the Wall in Washington were almost identical to those of the brother in the play "The Wall, a Pilgrimage". He said "It was as if the actor had reached into my soul and exposed every one of my feelings about my brother and the war."
A group of four people stood near one panel. I offered to make a rubbing of a name. The man pointed to the name Paul D. Urquhart. I asked "Is that Captain Paul Urquhart, the helicopter pilot?" The man nodded and said "He's my brother." I explained that I flew with Paul on his first tour in Vietnam and read that he had been shot down during his second tour. Paul's brother said that he and his family came from Pennsylvania on the anniversary date of Paul's becoming Missing In Action. I made a rubbing of Paul's name and added a rubbing of the Army Aviator wings from my hat, a symbol we had both worn so proudly so long ago.
Aunts and uncles also came to see a special name on the Wall. One aunt said "He stayed overnight at our house so much that one neighbor thought he was our son." An uncle lamented: "I took him hunting. I was the one who taught him to like guns."
Cousins came to the Wall, and many said "He was like a brother." One man asked me to look up the name Douglas Smith. I asked back, "Do you mean Doug Smith, a Marine, from North Tonawanda High School?" The man introduced me to his wife, Doug's cousin. She was pleased to be able to talk about Doug with a classmate who remembered him. I showed her Doug's name on my own, personal, list.
Veterans came to see the names of their buddies. Most of them were eager to tell me about their friend or how he died. Many remembered the day in great detail; and spoke of what's called survivor guilt. "He went out on patrol in my place that day." Or "If I hadn't been away on R & R (rest and recuperation), he wouldn't be dead." Others were bothered that they couldn't remember much about their friend because they had tried to "block it out" for so many years. Another man said "I lost a few good friends while I was there (Vietnam), but I don't want to find just their names, because I feel the same about all 58,000 of these names."
"Tree-line vets" are men or women who have finally been able to go to a Moving Wall location, but are terrified of coming close enough to actually see some names that have been haunting them so many years. One such veteran stood for a long time some fifty feet from the Wall. My brothers Vic and Chris talked with him. After a while he and Vic were able to laugh about some of their common Marine Corps experiences and then they were finally able to approach, see, and touch, those names together.
Many people came to the Wall in the privacy or serenity of darkness. Our security men reported that there were only a few minutes each night that the Wall had no callers at all. One visitor spent several hours in the middle of the night standing in front of a certain panel. Whenever anyone came close, he would move away. When alone again, he would move back to that panel to continue his silent vigil. Still others came in the darkness before dawn to watch the break of a new day over the Wall.
One vet came in a wheelchair. He could not talk or walk, but with great effort, Peter's shaking hand could scrawl messages on a pad. The nurse who pushed his wheelchair said that Peter had been excited about the Moving Wall visit since he first read about it in the Daily News. Peter came to see the name of his friend he thought had died in 1975, but he could not remember the man's name. They had been high school buddies and joined the Army together. They went to boot camp and Vietnam together. Peter saw his friend die. At the bottom of panel 1 West I squatted down and read off the names of the small number of men and one American woman who died in Vietnam in 1975. Peter did not recognize any of the names.
The EDS computer operators ran a search, but found no Vietnam casualties from Peter's small home town. We asked if his friend might have come from another town, and Peter wrote "Wales?" The computer search gave one name, but he was killed in 1968. I went back to Peter and asked "Was his name Eric Jednat?". The shock on Peter's face, and then his tears, told us that we had found the right name. We moved to panel 53 West where we turned the wheelchair so Peter could touch his friend's name.
Many people came who were not related, but knew one or more of the men named on the Wall. A high school teacher told me "I taught four of these boys." Others said: "He was the little boy who lived across the street.", "We were going steady in high school.", "He delivered my newspapers.", "I was his Boy Scout leader.", "He went to our church.", "I worked with his mother at the time he was killed.", "My son played football with him.", or "We were classmates for twelve years." There were hundreds of similar personal connections between the visitor and one or more names on the Wall.
To other visitors, the names were not as personal, but still were significant: "I didn't know him, but I remember how it shocked the town when he died.", "I just wanted to pay my respects.", "I didn't know any of them, thank God.", "I came to show support for the vets who came back.", or "My son went to Vietnam, but he came back OK."
Others expressed amazement: "I wanted to see the names of the seven young men from Holley, I can't believe our little village lost so many boys.", "I had no idea so many lost their lives.", "Such a waste. Such a terrible, terrible, waste.", "I hope and pray we never go through that kind of war again.", or "Is this the price of peace?" Some visitors asked rhetorically: "Will mankind ever learn?"
Two weeks after the visit of the Moving Wall to Batavia, a friend told my wife "I don't understand all the concern about the Moving Wall; why don't people just forget about that dirty war?" For many, the Moving Wall does not need to be explained. Those who do not understand are, perhaps, more fortunate than those who do.
"The Sentinels Creed"
My dedication to this sacred duty
is total and wholehearted.
In the responsibility bestowed on me
never will I falter.
And with dignity and perseverance
my standard will remain perfection.
Through the years of diligence and praise
and the discomfort of the elements,
I will walk my tour in humble reverence
to the best of my ability.
It is he who commands the respect I protect.
His bravery that made us so proud.
Surrounded by well meaning crowds by day
alone in the thoughtful peace of night,
this soldier will in honored glory rest
under my eternal vigilance.
Take a walk thru any cemetery.....you will find that somewhere in that Hallowed Ground...lies a Veteran...maybe beside his wife (or maybe beside her husband)...maybe with his parents...buried together..til the next world comes.
Maybe..somewhere on the headstone..or grave marker..will be an inscription...."U.S. Army--1943-1945" ...or..."U.S. Navy--1940-1944"...or something telling you that ..one time long ago...this person was caught up in a Great Crusade...to fight evil and to protect his family and his Country.
When you are there...next to that grave...gently clean away the leaves..touch the name and say "Thank You"....
And if you happen to be in a little cemetery near Roseburg,Oregon....just a little "jump" from the V.A. Hospital there...please walk to the back...and if you come across a small marker in the ground..with a picture of the U.S.S. Yorktown...please touch the stone..and tell my father..that I Miss him.
While I was protesting the war, he was fighting it...
The True things always ambush me on the road and take me by surprise. I was not looking for a true thing in the state of New Jersey. Nothing has ever happened to me in New Jersey.
I had been interviewing my old teammate Al Kroboth in Roselle, N.J., quizzing him about the 1966-67 basketball team at The Citadel for a book I'm writing. At six feet, five inches and carrying 220 pounds, Al had been a forward-center who, for most of his senior year, had led the nation in field-goal percentage. After we talked basketball, we came to a subject I dreaded, but which lay between us and would not lie still.
"Al, you know I was a draft dodger and anti-war demonstrator."
"That's what I heard, Conroy," he said. "I have nothing against what you did, but I did what I thought was right."
"Tell me about Vietnam, Big Al," I said.
On his seventh mission as a navigator for Maj. Leonard Robertson's A-6 fighter-bomber, Al was getting ready to deliver their payload when they were hit by enemy fire.
Though Al has no memory of it, he punched out somewhere in the middle of the ill-fated dive and lost consciousness. He doesn't know if he was unconscious for six hours or six days, nor does he know what happened to Major Robertson. (His name is engraved on the Wall in Washington and on the MIA bracelet Al wears.)
When Al awoke, he couldn't move. A Viet Cong soldier held an AK-47 to his head. Al's back and neck were broken, and he had shattered his left scapula. When he was well enough to get to his feet (he still can't recall how much time had passed), two armed Viet Cong led Al from the jungles of South Vietnam to a prison in Hanoi.
The journey took two months. Al Kroboth walked barefoot through the most impassable terrain in Vietnam, usually in the dead of night. He bathed when it rained, and he slept in bomb craters. Infections began to erupt on his body, and his legs were covered with leeches.
At the time of Al's walk, I had a small role in organizing the only anti-war demonstration every held in Beaufort, S.C., the home of Parris Island and the Marine Corps Air Station.
My group attracted about 150 to Beaufort's waterfront. At that moment my father, a Marine officer, was asleep in Vietnam.
In 1972, at the age of 27, I thought I was serving America's interests by pointing out what massive flaws and miscalculations and corruptions had led to a ground war in Southeast Asia.
To be continued tomorrow....
On Feb 1, 1980, a CH-46 was chained down and turning on Spot 1 on LPH-3 in the western Pacific, spot 2 was launched first.
Rotor wash from spot 2 came up under the a/c on spot 1, the ship started to lift, pilot rammed collective down to keep ship on deck, but ship bounced. A/C was NOT chained down tight enough, and A/C snapped the chains on the port side of the aircraft, flipped over the starboard side of the ship and went in the water on the port side of the aircraft.
Maj Creel is at the top. He broke 2 ribs, one arm and one leg. He was sent back to Hawaii for recuperation.
GySgt O'Hallorn is the red head leaning over, he died in the late 80's in a CH-46.
With his back to us is SSgt Echevarria, later to retire as MSgt Echevarria from HMX-1 in 1992
Being pulled in is either Cpl Kevin Doering or LCpl Leo Beery. One got pulled out earlier, dont remember. Cpl Doering died from Lupus in 1995 or 96. Leo Beery is a designer and salesman of prosthetic devices in Oklahoma.
Lt James Oscar Hensley is still in the aircraft to this day. I think the chart showed the depth there to be about 6000 fathoms or so.
Crash was on Feb 1, 1980. Lt James Oscar Hensley III, North Carolina, Semper Fidelis