Life is becoming a blur isn’t it? I can’t believe how the years have passed since I returned from Vietnam in 1968. It is so easy for us to forget the reasons why we celebrate two very important holidays, Memorial Day and Veterans Day. For those of you who are reading one of my remembrance stories for the first time, each year I try to write a little something to help all of us remember some of the things that my friends, and our Country’s hero’s did to help our Country stay free during our watch.
Those of us who are fortunate enough to still be alive and healthy are the only ones who can help us to remember our friends, relatives and neighbors who are no longer with us. The reason that I write more of these stories on Veterans Day and not Memorial Day is that Veterans Day 1968 was the very day that I returned from my year in Vietnam with the 101st. Airborne Division. I was still 21 years old when I returned to this beautiful Country.
This has been an interesting (and somewhat emotionally difficult) year for me. The world- wide-web has made this a very small world indeed. Many of the people that I served with during my year in Vietnam have begun to reunite as they find each other on the Internet. This year, I’d like to share a story about one of the people who contacted me a few months ago after finding me on the Internet.
As a part of this year’s “We won’t let you forget” letter, I want to include a copy of the remembrance that I left on The Virtual Wall several years ago. The final sentence in that remembrance is a personal promise to a friend who never had the chance to be called an old friend. That’s why I title these letters as I do.
I was with Dean in Vietnam, and he was my only friend from home. The night before he was killed, we were talking about what we planned to do to celebrate together when we returned to the Baltimore area. It took me almost 20 years to work up enough courage to go and find his name on “The Wall”. Another 3 years would pass before I was able to go to visit his grave at Arlington Cemetery. While I was there, I noticed something that shocked me. All of the graves that I saw within several rows in any direction near his were of young Vietnam hero’s even younger than Dean. He had stopped being a teenager just 6 weeks before he died. We can never forget our American Hero’s who gave everything so that we could have everything. I’ll never forget you Dean, and I won’t let anyone else forget you either.
Vietnam Veteran 67-68
101st. Airborne Division
I’d also like to encourage all of you to visit the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund site and pay tribute to any of the hero’s listed there that were some part of your life. Here’s the link directly to Dean’s memorial page:
A few people who have read the posting have contacted me over the years to ask questions about Dean. One of those calls was from someone with an apparently shaky voice asking some very specific questions about Dean’s death that few people would be able to ask. I was a little suspicious, so I started returning some detailed questions of my own.
The more we talked, the more I started to shake. He said to me “Were you the young lieutenant who Dean introduced us to the night before he died?” I said tell me more about that night. He then said “You and Dean were joking about how you were going to celebrate when you got back to Baltimore after your tour. We were joking about most of us being old enough for combat, but not old enough to buy a beer back home”
There is no way that he could have remembered that unless he was one of the few people in that small group when we had the conversation. He then said to me “Do you know exactly how dean died?” I told him that when I heard the explosions on the edge of our perimeter (I was the company Executive Officer at the time) I went to see what had happened. Dean had already been placed in a body bag by the time I arrived at their location. It was my ‘official’ job to confirm his identity and I did that by having them open the body bag enough for me to recognize him, which I did. The look on his face was one of surprise more than a look of pain which I have always taken comfort in.
What I didn’t realize until I spoke with this man on the phone was that his face was just about the only part of his body that was still intact. The man on the phone was directly next to Dean when the mines detonated. He was wounded, but Dean’s body absorbed most of the shrapnel. He said that burned into his memory was seeing Dean’s entire midsection completely blown away.
That’s a lot for an 18 year old kid (man) to experience. Even after completing a year in hard combat and returning home, this man was still a teenager! We talked for about an hour, and before we hung up, he said talking with me about everything helped him put many things to rest after 35 years. I felt good letting him know that we won’t let anyone forget about Dean and the thousands of others who gave their young and promising lives to keep this wonderful Country FREE!
Hug a Vet this Veterans Day
God Bless America
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