Many Vietnam veterans have visited Our Wall to pay tribute to the
58,286 of our brothers and sisters whose names are etched into the black granite. Yet, many Vietnam veterans have not visited The Wall due to a multitude of reasons, and they never will. They simply cannot bear the heartache.
Our heartache is permanent. The baby-boomers mostly bore the brunt of America’s most unpopular war, but unlike our fathers and mothers of the Greatest Generation, our fate on the battlefield depended on party-political micro-managers in a controlled-information Situation Room at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. When politics fail, young men and women die on a distant battlefield. When politicians micro-manage the battles, additional, yet unnecessary, fatalities are stomached by the military.
Even war memorials can be political. The Vietnam War tore at the very fabric of our country, officially ending on May 7, 1975. In a little over seven years, The Wall was officially dedicated on Nov. 13, 1982, conceivably to help with, ‘the healing,’ or more likely than not, to assuage the national guilt.
The Korean War, by comparison, unsympathetically referred to as, ‘The Forgotten War,’ officially ended on July 27, 1953. It would take another 42 years for the veterans of that horrible conflict to see their memorial dedicated on July 27, 1995. World War II ended with the Japanese surrender in Tokyo Bay on Aug. 15, 1945. The veterans of that great conflict, approximately 17 million men and women in uniform, waited 59 years before their WWII Memorial was finally opened on April 29, 2004.
If a 59-year wait was not enough indignity, the open-air WWII Memorial was closed during the latest bogus government shut down, causing the aging WWII warriors still remaining with us to physically tear down the barriers to enter their Memorial. When our great country endures such indignities, one must agree with the distinguished French political scientist Alexis de Tocqueville’s memorable quote that, “Government, is a necessary evil.”
The Wall is a huge elongated chunk of highly polished black granite with a history, dimensions and controversy. It also has a life of its own – be it a pair of combat boots, a commando hat, a string of dog tags or a teddy bear from a young life cut short – all placed at the base of the memorial. Too, perhaps, a significant part of its life is the peaceful specters inside The Wall, all with their own story.
A seasoned Marine from Muskegon, Mich., Sgt. Robert G. Davison, lost his life in Vietnam one day before his 19th birthday. He’d been a U.S. Marine for four years, having joined at the age of 14.
Twelve soldiers on The Wall were just 17 years-old. Five soldiers on The Wall were 16 years-old. One soldier, Pfc. Dan Bullock, was 15 years-old.
Today, less the 2,000 people call the small Arizona copper mining town of Morenci their home. In 1966, the population was over 5,000. The high school football and basketball teams were considered the gutsiest in the state. All nine boys from the 1966 graduating class enlisted together on Independence Day, ’66. All nine went to Vietnam. Only three came home.
Marine Lance Cpl. Richard B. Fitzgibbon III is on The Wall, killed on Sept. 7, 1965. He lost his father, Richard B. Fitzgibbon, on June 8, 1956. His father is recognized as the first known casualty of the war in Vietnam. There are three sets of fathers and sons on The Wall.
The Medal of Honor was presented to 244 soldiers in Vietnam; 153 of them are on The Wall. Sixteen Chaplains are on The Wall, two of them awarded the Medal of Honor.
Samuel Nixon lost his life in Vietnam on March 21, 1969. Less than two months later on May 8, 1968, his brother, William, was killed in action. There are 31 sets of brothers on The Wall.
There are eight women on The Wall – all nurses. Over 17,000 of the men killed were married and 61 percent of the men killed were 21 years old or younger.
Cpl. Thomas Bennett is on The Wall, killed on Feb 11, 1969. Bennett served as an Army medic and is the only conscientious objector to be awarded the Medal of Honor in Vietnam.
Native American Indians served in Vietnam; 226 of their names are on The Wall.
Tom Gonzales, LeRoy Tafoya and Jimmy Martinez grew up together in Midvale, Utah. Boyhood friends, they lived only a few yards apart, one on Fifth, one on Sixth and the other on Seventh Avenue. Roughhousing or playing sandlot baseball, all three ended up in Vietnam. Tom and LeRoy and Jimmy all died within 16 days of each other in 1967.
The oldest person on The Wall is believed to be Dwaine McGriff, age 63. On their first day in Vietnam, 997 boys lost their lives. On their last day, 1,448. One hundred and twenty warriors on The Wall had listed foreign countries as their home of record.
A Marine from Sepulveda, Calif. was killed in action on Feb. 11, 1969. His name was Cpl. William T. Perkins, the only military photographer to be awarded the Medal of Honor.
Navy Lt. Rex Chrisman died of a heart attack while assigned to the U.S.S. Estes. His son, Pfc. Rex Chrisman, took leave from Vietnam to escort his father home. Returning to Vietnam, Pfc. Chrisman was killed within a month. His father is not on The Wall.
Twelve names on The Wall were etched in error – the 12 men returned home safely.
The news media had a field day reporting horror stories about Vietnam veterans, especially drug use. They are wrong. According to a study by the Veterans Administration, there is no difference in drug use between Vietnam veterans and non-Vietnam veterans of the same age. Vietnam veterans are less likely to be in prison – only ½ of 1 percent have been jailed.
Ninty-seven percent of Vietnam veterans were honorably discharged, 74 percent state they would serve again, 82 percent of the veterans and 75 percent of the public believe the failure in Vietnam was a failure of political will, not from military blunder. We Vietnam veterans have survived being called “baby killers” to being recognized as “heroes”. We are neither. We’re just another generation that answered the call to duty and did what had to be done.
Pete Mecca is a Vietnam veteran, columnist and freelance writer. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or aveteransstory.us.