“The Wall” in Washington, DC. is a sacred place to Vietnam veterans. Built with private funds and spearheaded by ex-enlisted man Jan Scruggs, it represents all that has come to be known as the Vietnam era. This is hallowed ground for all those who went to war in Vietnam and who left their youth and many of their buddies behind there.
On Veterans Day in 1993, the President and the Commander-in-Chief of the United States did the right thing, he went to “The Wall” and paid his respects to the nearly 58,000 Americans enshrined on the dark granite, and to those veterans who survived to return to a divided and seemingly ungrateful country.
Some vets resented President Clinton coming to their holy-of-holies. They felt he had not earned the right to be there. Some said, “I went and he didn't. My buddies went and now they are names on “The Wall” instead of having careers and wives and kids. Now, this draft-dodger, this non-combatant, is here defiling these grounds paid for in American blood. How can he be Commander in Chief when he never served, not even as a Private?”
Two decades had come and gone, but not the deep-seated acid-anger still seethed in some of the Vietnam vets.
Seeing the ragtag bits of uniform worn by the vets at “The Wall” flashed me back to an event that happened over twenty years before on this same Mall where the Vietnam Memorial now stands.
The year was l972 and a group calling themselves Vietnam Veterans Against Foreign Wars (VVAFW) showed up l5,000 strong and set up a tent bivouac on the Mall in front of the Capitol Building. These were no wild eyed, radical, long-haired, draft-dodging hippies. These were bemedaled veterans of the Vietnam war who had fought some of the most horrifying battles in the history of America. They had faithfully served their nation in combat and now they were met at their nation's Capital to protest this non-war/war that was continuing to kill and maim their generation in that killing-field they called “The Nam".
Federal workers watched in amazement as squads of vets, armed with toy guns and dressed in bits of uniforms, once worn proudly, now ran mock search-and-destroy missions up the steps of Federal buildings and across the grass of the Mall. They were shocked to see these heroes removing their medals and tossing them over the temporary fence hastily thrown up around the Capitol.
“Why were these men throwing away their honors?” they asked. The rest of the nation asked the same question.
Some senators and congressmen came out to mingle with these returned warriors. Some even went up on the platform to give speeches.
At the time I was working for the Red Cross as disaster relief coordinator. I had been a Lance Corporal in the Marine reserves, had spent two years in the mountains of Colombia, South.America. as a Peace Corps community development volunteer and I was greatly confused about the war and curious to hear what these protesting war veterans had to say . They had walked the walk, they could talk the talk. I was there to listen.
By l972 , the fighting had already gone on for more than a decade and there still was “no light at the end of the tunnel.” By now there were hundreds of thousands of angry and disillusioned vets. There were millions of angry and active anti-war protesters. The country was being divided by massive anti-war demonstrations.
A friend of mine, who had been a forward observer with the 101st Airborne and had fought in the Tet offensive, said to me one night, “They don't seem to be running that war to win. Body counts is what they're into . . . BODY COUNTS and not real estate. That's no way to fight a war. Hell I don't even know what I was fighting for . . . except to stay alive!”
A speaker got on the P.A. system and asked for a volunteer driver to take some of VVAFW guys out to the giant Walter Reed Hospital to donate blood. Blood is about neutral, so I went over and volunteered my red Mustang convertible for their use.
Five vets piled in and, with the top down, we set off across Washington to donate blood. A former Marine, three ex-Army guys and a former Lieutenant from the Coast Guard. They talked about old units and where they had served in “The Nam".
It was shortly before five when we pulled into a parking space at Walter Reed . We were be-
tween the two story wings that housed the blood-bank. A young 2nd Lieutenant on duty freaked out to see this potentially explosive political-event happening on his watch. He started giving reasons why we couldn't give blood.
“Are you telling me that just because we are protesting this war, our blood is no longer any good?” said the former Coast Guard Lieutenant.
“No, I'm not saying that.” stammered the rattled 2nd Lieutenant, “it's just that . . . that . . .” He held up his hand and dialed a number to reach his superior.
Two of the vets and I went back outside to the car. We stood smoking and discussing the 2nd Lieutenant's reaction.
Above us, on the second floor of the wing behind us, faces of wounded soldiers started showing at the windows. They, of course, had been keeping track of the VVAFW thing on TV. and couldn't believe that some of them were right there at their hospital. They didn't like it one little bit. They deeply resented it.
“Hey you Communist,” shouted one of the patients, “what are you doing here?”
“Get out of here you pinkos.” shouted another.
“F—k you.” shouted yet another.
Soon all the wounded vets were yelling and shooting the bird at us.
“Get out of here, you f—ing traitors!” came another angry shout.
A nurse Captain, in her starched white uniform, came running out of a side-door and up to us.
“What are you people doing here? You're upsetting the troops. I want you out of here. . .NOW.”
“We came here to give blood to our brothers.” said one of the VVAFW guys.
The nurse was dumbfounded. She said not another word. She whirled and quickly
disappeared back thru the same door she had come out of.
The heads at the windows above turned to get the word from her, then turned to look back down on us. The rest of the VVAFW guys, by now, had come out from the blood bank with appointments to give blood the following day. The two groups of vets stood looking at one another. There was total silence. Then , from one of the windows above, I heard ,
“Right on,” spoken quietly.
Then came more “Right ons.” but louder now.
Then I heard a shouted, “Right on Brother.”
Soon both groups of vets were shouting “Right ons.” and shaking upraised fists at each other, but these were the right-on-good kind of shaking fists.
We piled into the convertible and drove away to the fading shouts of the wounded vets. I tried to hide the tears in my eyes.
So, twenty years later, the non-veteran Commander-in-Chief and some veterans and through the TV. , all of us, met at “The Wall” and perhaps put some much needed medicine on the still open wound that is known as “The Nam.".
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PS. A Little History Most People Will Never Know.
Interesting Veterans Statistics off the Vietnam Memorial Wall!
by Patrick Lanigan
There are 58,267 names now listed on that polished black wall, including those added in 2010. The names are arranged in the order in which they were taken from us by date and within each date the names are alphabetized. It is hard to believe it is 36 years since the last casualties.
The first known casualty was Richard B. Fitzgibbon, of North Weymouth, Mass. Listed by the U.S. Department of Defense as having been killed on June 8, 1956. His name is listed on the Wall with that of his son, Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Richard B. Fitzgibbon III, who was killed on Sept. 7, 1965. There are three sets of fathers and sons on the Wall. 39,996 on the Wall were just 22 or younger. 8,283 were just 19 years old.
The largest age group, 33,103 were 18 years old.
12 soldiers on the Wall were 17 years old.
5 soldiers on the Wall were 16 years old.
One soldier, PFC Dan Bullock was 15 years old.
997 soldiers were killed on their first day in Vietnam ..
1,448 soldiers were killed on their last day in Vietnam ..
31 sets of brothers are on the Wall.
31 sets of parents lost two of their sons.
54 soldiers attended Thomas Edison High School in Philadelphia.
I wonder why so many from one school.
8 Women are on the Wall.... NURSING the wounded!
244 soldiers were awarded the Medal of Honor during the Vietnam War;
153 of them are on the Wall.
Beallsville, Ohio with a population of 475 lost 6 of her sons.
West Virginia had the highest casualty rate per capita in the nation.
There are 711 West Virginians on the Wall.
The Marines of Morenci - They led some of the scrappiest high school football and basketball teams that the little Arizona copper town of Morenci (pop. 5,058) had ever known and cheered. They enjoyed roaring beer busts. In quieter moments, they rode horses along the Coronado Trail, stalked deer in the Apache National Forest. And in the patriotic camaraderie typical of Morenci's mining families, the nine graduates of Morenci High enlisted as a group in the Marine Corps. Their service began on Independence Day, 1966.
Only three returned home.
The Buddies of Midvale - LeRoy Tafoya, Jimmy Martinez, Tom Gonzales were all boyhood friends and lived on three consecutive streets in Midvale, Utah on Fifth, Sixth and Seventh avenues. They lived only a few yards apart. They played ball at the adjacent sandlot ball field. And they all went to Vietnam. In a span of 16 dark days in late 1967, all three would be killed. LeRoy was killed on Wednesday, Nov. 22, the fourth anniversary of John F. Kennedy's assassination. Jimmy died less than 24 hours later on Thanksgiving Day.
Tom was shot dead assaulting the enemy on Dec. 7, Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day.
The most casualty deaths for a single day was on January 31, 1968 — 245 deaths.
The most casualty deaths for a single month was May 1968 - — 2,415 casualties were incurred.
For most Americans who read this they will only see the numbers that the Vietnam War created. To those of us who survived the war, and to the families of those who did not, we see the faces, we feel the pain that these numbers created. We are, until we too pass away, haunted with these numbers, because they were our friends, fathers, husbands, wives, sons and daughters. There are no noble wars, just noble warriors.
Please pass this on to those who served during this time, and those who DO CARE!
I've also sent this to those I KNOW do care very much, and I thank you for caring as you do! ¥¥