A couple of years ago, my brother was working in Washington, DC. I was passing through, and it was a great chance to spend some time together. There were a few things we needed to see while we were there. The grave of our grandfather, at Arlington. The Tomb of the Unknown. The Korean and WW2 memorials. Before the day was over, we wanted to see the Vietnam Veteran’s memorial.
“The Wall” was dedicated on this day, November 13, 1982. 31 years later, we had come to pay respects to our Uncle Gary’s shipmates, their names inscribed on panel 24E, the 134 lost in the disaster aboard the Supercarrier USS Forrestal, in 1967.
We were soon absorbed in the majesty, and the solemnity, of the memorial.
It’s a black granite wall, 493’6″ long and 10’3″ high at its peak, laid out in a great wedge of stone which seems to rise from the earth and return to it. The name of every person lost in the war in Vietnam is engraved on that wall, appearing in the order in which they were lost.
Go to the highest point of the memorial, panel 1E, the very first name is that of Air Force Tech Sgt. Richard B. Fitzgibbon, Jr., of Stoneham, Massachusetts, killed on June 8, 1956. Some distance to his right you will find the name of Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Richard B. Fitzgibbon III, killed on Sept. 7, 1965. They are one of three Father/Son pairs who are so remembered.
The names begin at the center and travel outward, the east wing ending on May 25, 1968. The same day continues at the far end of the west wing, moving back toward the center at panel 1W. The last name on the wall, the last casualty of the war, meets the first, and the circle is closed.
There, you will find the name of Kelton Rena Turner of Los Angeles, an 18-year old Marine, killed in action on May 15, 1975, in the “Mayaguez incident”, two weeks after the evacuation of Saigon. Most sources list Gary L. Hall, Joseph N. Hargrove and Danny G. Marshall as the last to die in Vietnam, though their fate is unknown. These three were United States Marines, an M-60 machine gun squad mistakenly left behind while covering the beach evacuation of Koh Tang Island. Their names appear along with Turner’s, on panel 1W, lines 130-131.
There were 57,939 names when the Memorial opened in 1982. 39,996 died at the age of 22 or younger, 8,283 were 19 years old. The 18-year-olds are the largest age group, with 33,103. Twelve of them were 17 on their last day on earth. Five were 16. There is one name on panel 23W, line 096. That of PFC Dan Bullock, United States Marine Corps. He was 15 years old. Eight names are those of women, killed while nursing the wounded. 997 soldiers were killed on their first day in Vietnam. 1,448 died on their last. There are 31 pairs of brothers on the Wall: 62 parents who lost two of their sons.
As of Memorial Day 2015, there are 58,307, as the names of military personnel who succumbed to wounds sustained in the war, were added to the wall.
I was nine years old in May 1968, the single deadliest month of that war, with 2,415 killed. I remember the rancid political atmosphere of the time, and the national disgrace that was the way these people were treated on returning home.
I once thanked a business associate for his service in Vietnam. It stunned me to learn that in 40 years, no one had ever said that to him.
Today, I can only hope that Vietnam veterans know and understand how many of us appreciate their service. And I wish to advance the idea that, if anyone has an issue with our country’s war policy, they need to take it up with a politician. Not with the Armed Services member who is doing what his country asked him to do.