I went to the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial for Veteran’s Day as I know many of you have done in the pass, but to me the most important day was the day after, when most of the warriors from Vietnam had already gone home. There were no more tears from eyes with the thousand yard stare, just a steady rain from the sky. I was standing somewhere between panels 21 W and 15 W and since I knew where all the name were, I would go up and touch a name and step back by the chain, take of my hat and let the rain fall on my face, that way I could disguise my tears with the rain.
On the third name a steady stream of kids from junior high or high school started a procession between me and the names of my buddies, my friends. Most of them were quiet, some took pictures of the names, some even took pictures of the panels that bare the names of my friends. A few were laughing and some were just plain rude in their behavior. I wanted to grab hold of them and tell them about those names, tell them about my friends.
Look up there on Panel 20 line 5 and see Lefty, did you know he died saving other guys, he was a medic, he was my friend. How about Gentle Ben, he carried the machine gun that was bigger than him and probably weight just as much as him, but he never complained about that heavy burden, he never said a word or asked for help when he was too tired to go on. He carried his own and did it with a smile, he wanted his daddy to be proud of him. How about John, did you know that he won the Medal of Honor, I was there the day he was killed or how about Hale the dog handler and the dog who were also killed that day so long ago but etched in my memory like a branding iron on my face. And don’t forget Richard or Walter, whose faces I wanted to remember, but can’t. And look down here on Panel 20, there is Serrate and Paul, I was with Paul just before he died asking for a drink of water. And there is Randy on Panel 19 and LaFleur on line 37 Panel 17, we made plans to go to Mardi Gras when we came back to the world, how about Jimmy Doane down at the bottom of Panel 17 or Terry Newkirk on Panel 15, who was killed on Christmas Eve 1969, a world away after I had left the company, whom I probably only said a few words to, since he was one of the late comers to Delta. Let me tell you about my friends some whom I knew with a passion, some whose names are as familiar as my name is to you and yet some whose faces I want to remember but because of the distance in time I am unable to. These are my friends, they all had lives, they all had something to give and they all had someone to come home to. You can cuss at them you can even walk on their graves, but don’t laugh at them. They deserve more than a laugh.
Did I say this to anyone, no! I said it to myself in the blink of an eye as the rain continued to masked my tears. I stood there and watched the kids go by and thought about my friends, how young they were and as I saw all these young men go by they turn into my friends, for this is how we looked like so many years ago, I saw Lefty and Gentle Ben with that messed up blonde hair and yes he has a smile on his face and look at that tall skinny kid walking this way, that’s Randy and LaFleur is walking beside him. There is Paul Placzak, coming this way and he turns and asks me “how are you” and keeps on walking with all the rest of those fine young men. All my friends are there, all of them. The rain, yes that steady down pour of water, the rain is but God crying for all those names that are on the Wall and God was crying with me on this November the 12th, 2003.