Several years ago, my brother was working in Washington, part of his work in military aviation. I was passing through, and it was a rare opportunity to spend some time together. There were a few things that we needed to see while we were there. The grave of our father’s father, at Arlington. The Tomb of the Unknown. The memorials to the second world war, and the war in Korea.
And before it was over, we wanted to see the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial.
“The Wall” was dedicated on this day, November 13, 1982. Thirty-one years later, we had come to pay a debt of honor to Uncle Gary’s shipmates, the 134 names inscribed on panel 24E, victims of the 1967 disaster aboard the Supercarrier, USS Forrestal.
We were soon absorbed in the majesty and the solemnity, of the place.
The Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial is a black granite wall, 493½-feet long and 10-feet, 3-inches 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, so remembered.
The names begin at the center and move 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 person killed in the war, meets the first. 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 remains, unknown. These three were United States Marines, an M-60 machine gun squad, mistakenly left behind while covering the evacuation of their comrades, from the beaches of Koh Tang Island. Their names appear along with Turner’s, on panel 1W, lines 130-131.
Left to right: PFC Gary Hall, KIA age 19, LCPL Joseph Hargrove, KIA on his 24th birthday, Pvt Danny Marshall, KIA age 19, PFC Dan Bullock, KIA age 15
There were 57,939 names inscribed on the Memorial when it opened in 1982. 39,996 died at age 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, and 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 on June 7, 1969. The day he died.
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 during the war, were added to the wall.
Over the years, the Wall has inspired a number of tributes, including a traveling 3/5ths scale model of the original and countless smaller ones, bringing the grandeur of this object to untold numbers without the means or opportunity, to travel to the nation’s capital.
In South Lyons Michigan, the black marble Michigan War Dog Memorial pays tribute to the names and tattoo numbers of 4,234 “War Dogs” who served in Southeast Asia, the vast majority of whom were left behind as “surplus equipment”.
There is even a Vietnam Veterans Dog Tag Memorial, in Chicago.
Eight years ago, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, www.vvmf.org began work on a virtual “Wall of Faces”, where each name is remembered with a face, and a story to go with it. As I write this, the organization is still in need of some 6,000 photographs.
Check it out. Pass it around. You might be able to help.
I was nine years old in May 1968, the single deadliest month of that war, with 2,415 killed. Fifty years later, I still remember the way so many disgraced themselves, by the way they treated those returning home from Vietnam.
I can only hope that today, veterans of the war in Vietnam have some sense of the appreciation that is their due, the recognition too often denied them, those many years ago. And I trust that my countrymen will remember, if they ever have an issue with United States 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.