The first time I visited the Viet Nam Memorial Wall* I was completely surprised at my reaction. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a flag waver from way back, and I tear up every time the Stars and Stripes goes past, but a wall?
I just did not expect the wave of emotion that possessed me as I stood in awe, trying not to embarrass myself in front of so many people while 50,000 names stared at me with the saddest eyes I had ever seen.
Viet Nam…I was too young to have served but old enough to have lost friends there, and the parents of those young men, some of the nicest people I ever knew, come to mind. Those parents never lost the look…the look they took to their graves with them…the look that said that their sons were taken from them in a place we hardly knew how to find on a map back then, a place called Viet Nam.
When Viet Nam veteran Chuck Ratliff sent me the following, I decided to pass it along to you.
If you have not watched our interviews with Chuck about his Viet Nam experiences, you can find them by clicking here.
Most of the surviving parents of the dead are now deceased themselves. There are 58,267 names now listed on that polished black wall, including those added in 2010. The names are arranged in order according to the date they were killed and under each date the names are alphabetized.
The first known casualty of the Viet Nam War was Richard B. Fitzgibbon, of North Weymouth, Massachusetts, 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 September 7, 1965, nine years after his father.
How does a wife and mother survive this? And yet, there are three sets of fathers and sons on the Wall.
Of all of the names written on the Wall, 39,996 are age twenty-two or younger.
There are 8,283 who are just nineteen years old, and 33,103 are only eighteen. That old song comes to mind, “They sent him off to Viet Nam on his senior trip.”
The following ages will surprise you:
Twelve soldiers on the Wall are seventeen years old; five are sixteen, and one, Private First Class Dan Bullock, is fifteen years old.
There are 997 soldiers who were killed on their first day in Viet Nam, and 1,448 killed on their last scheduled day there. I don’t know why, but first and last days seem very hard to comprehend.
Thirty-one sets of brothers share the Wall which means that there are thirty-one sets of parents who gave two sons to Viet Nam.
Thomas Edison High School in Philadelphia gave fifty-four of its students to the Wall. The names of eight women are also inscribed on the Memorial…nurses who just wanted to nurse the wounded.
There are 244 soldiers who 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 six of her sons, but it was West Virginia who 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, and in quieter moments, they rode horses along the Coronado Trail and 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, and 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 sixteen dark days in late 1967, all three were killed.
LeRoy was killed on Wednesday, November 22, the fourth anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s assassination. Jimmy died less than twenty-four hours later, on Thanksgiving Day. Tom was shot dead assaulting the enemy on December 7, Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day.
The most casualties for a single day were on January 31, 1968, 245 deaths.
The most casualties for a single month was May 1968, 2,415 casualties.
Many Americans who read this 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, and 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… “That we never forget” May God Bless America.
*I received this photo via email and would love to credit the photographer if I knew who he is.