By: Gary D. Mitchell, Commander, District 7 Adjutant, Post 6213
Families, Veterans, Friends – Good Afternoon – I’m very privileged to be here to help honor the memory of these more than fifty-eight thousand fallen Service Members that paid the ultimate price on behalf of our Country and for all of us.
When President George Herbert Walker Bush visited the wall during his Presidency, he said, “Carved on these walls is the story of America, of a continuing quest to preserve both Democracy and decency, and to protect a national treasure that we call the American dream.”
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For a great number of wives, more than 116,000 parents, and a huge number of children, a part of that American dream – a part of their American Dream – crumbled into nothingness and their lives were forever changed when they received a telegram, a phone call, or a visit from some stranger in a uniform telling them that their husband or wife, child, or parent had been lost in a faraway place that very few had ever heard of before the early 1960s – a country called Vietnam – a place that a large number of us couldn’t even find on a map – much less know the correct pronunciation.
In this great Nation of ours, we consider many places as hallowed ground. Cemeteries, battlefields, and Ground Zero in New York City are just a few – but if you would indulge me for a moment, I would like to add some locations to the list of those that I believe we should consider as places that are sacred. I’ll start with right here – The Santa Clarita Valley – Granbury, Texas (my home town) – Atlanta, Georgia – Denver, Colorado, and Madison, Wisconsin are among those that I would add to the list. They are just a few examples of the places that in the forties, fifties and sixties, these men and women came of age to enter military service.
They spent their allowances at the local store, they had paper routes, had their first babysitting job, got their first car, had their first girlfriend or boyfriend, walked the hallways of our schools and sat in those classrooms studying math and biology – they may have even wanted to try the biology on for size.
These cities and towns are places that are changed forever simply because these men and women lived. The marks of their lives should never be removed or forgotten. That being said, there is one other place I would like to add to this list of hallowed ground. That would be any place this wall or any other like it visits, because on these panels are listed the names of our heroes – those that we honor, and still miss today.
Time has passed without many of us fully realizing that it’s been more than 38 years since the end of that conflict. It’s difficult to believe that our youngest veteran of that war is in his or her mid-to-late fifties. Occasionally, when I stand in front of the mirror and it appears to me that I’m shaving my Dad, I’m visited by some of my friends but unlike me, they haven’t aged – they have no wrinkles and no gray hair. They’re still young, they’re still vibrant, they’re still full of life – all of their hopes and dreams are still intact; dreams, I might add, that were never realized.
The ladies on this wall did not have the opportunity to bear children or to cherish their nephews and nieces. Many of the men named on this wall have children that are now in their forties, and some even a little older. Those children – some that could now easily be grandparents themselves are the same children that in many cases, these men never saw. These fallen didn’t have the opportunity to get out of bed for that 2:00 AM feeding, nor to learn that dirty diapers do, in fact, stink.
But somehow, through the pain, those that remained had to carry on with life. At the time, it may have felt that their lives were over, but it was not so. They still had to raise kids, shop for groceries, keep doctor’s appointments, go to their kid’s activities, and just as importantly, keep the memories of these fallen alive.
And still today, for those of us that survived the war – those that suffered, and in many cases still suffer from survivors guilt, nightmares, flashbacks, and all of the other little things that remind us of a long passed adventure – we must try to live our lives in such a manner that it will bring even more honor to our friends and comrades – to our brothers and sisters whose names are etched into the reflective panels that are this wall. I would add a footnote to that for those that still suffer by saying that you are most certainly not alone.
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The National League of Families for POW/MIAs in Southeast Asia has posted some very interesting facts on their web site. Here are just a few:
- On this wall, there are three sets of fathers and sons,
- Over 8,000 were 19 years old – as an aside, that was my age when I went to Vietnam,
- Over 33,000, the largest single group of losses, were only 18 years old,
- There are 31 sets of brothers on this wall – meaning that thirty-one sets of parents lost not just one, but two sons to that war,
- On these panels are 8 nurses that died while caring for the wounded and sick,
- Of the 244 Medals of Honor that were awarded during the conflict there are 153 recipients whose names are inscribed on this wall,
- January 31, 1968, was our most costly day – we lost 245 of our finest – an average of about ten every hour of the day, and
- May 1968 was our most costly month with a loss of 2,415 lives – that’s an average of about 77 fallen each and every day of the month.
These names on this wall are not just a boring statistic of history. They are real people. He or she may have been the love of someone’s life; they are certainly a mother’s precious baby that was held and cuddled. These men may be a dad that missed all of his child’s recitals. These fallen are very real – still loved – and they are still missed every single day. We should not forget – no, we must not forget the price that not only the men and women on this wall paid, but the price their families paid as well. Vietnam remains for all of us – the families, the veterans, and for our entire Country, a gift that keeps on giving.
In closing, I would like to read a short verse that I wrote one sleepless night. It’s entitled:
I cry for the names now shown on the wall,
And for all of the memories they gave to us all.
I cry for the widows, who for them now long,
And for all of the children whose fathers are gone.
I cry for the mothers whose sons they did give,
And I cry for the ones who died so I live.
I cry for those who will never hold one dear,
I cry for those gone, but in our hearts are so near.
I cry for all those who were injured or maimed,
And yes, for us all – we’re no longer the same.
I cry from the nightmares, the cold sweats and shivers,
And from all the memories my mind still delivers.
I cry from the anguish that haunts my soul still,
And from all of my demons – these things I can’t kill.
I cry for all those that traveled so far,
And yes, for our childhood we lost in that war.
I cry for the heartache that never will heal,
And yes, we were children when those fears we did feel.
I cry for the faces I no longer can see,
I cry for them all – they could have been me.
Source: Santa Clarita News