To Panel 11 WEST, Line 115
You tried to claim me forty-eight years ago, but you did not succeed. On May 6 1970 you aimed a dozen rockets at my base camp in the central highlands of Vietnam. The third one exploded about 20 feet from me. That sent me to the 71st EVAC Hospital in critical condition for a month. When I was healed enough to be moved, I was sent to Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, DC for 8 more months. I was medically retired in February 1971 with severe and permanent injuries. I am one of about 250,000 U S military service members to wind up this way. I am more fortunate that the 58,000 others whose names are here. I will always be connected to them by our sacrifices.
But there are millions of others whose names will never be known to us. These are the men and women of the Vietnamese military who were killed and injured by the U S military. There are millions more civilians who were casualties as well. They are only known to their families and friends.
Even today there are hundreds of Vietnamese civilians of all ages being killed every year by the American war. They are dying from a lifetime of exposure to Agent Orange and other toxic chemicals. They are dying from leftover land mines and unexploded bombs. They are dying from lack of health care, even from minor injuries and illnesses.
How long would their wall be? This memorial has 58,000 names and is 500 feet long.
It is about 2 miles from here to the U S Capitol. A wall that long would contain names of about 1,200,000 Vietnamese victims of the American war. A wall from here past the Capitol along Pennsylvania Avenue to Andrews Air Force Base would be 10 miles long and have 6,000,000 names. If names were on both sides of that wall the total would be close to 12,000,000. That may allow enough room for all our victims. But we will never know their names.
SP4 Michael Marceau
278th Signal Company
1969 – 1970
To a Visitor at the Wall;
I write this as a veteran of the Vietnam War. As you stand before the memorial to that war today and allow your eyes to pass over the seemingly endless names etched in granite before you, I ask you to consider the trajectory of war that has become firmly embedded in the American psyche.
As a nation, we remain engaged in wars that span the globe. In fact, in recent weeks our political leaders have callously withdrawn from a nuclear agreement with Iran that promised both peace and an end to nuclear armament in that nation; and they have also provoked additional tension in the Middle East by relocating the U.S embassy to Jerusalem — a deliberate attempt to further inflame Palestinians and increase the odds of yet another potentially devastating war in the region.
As a Vietnam combatant I was promised by the political leaders of that time that my participation in that war was honorable, necessary, and just. I believed that the United States was interested in the welfare of the Vietnamese people, and I believed that America was a nation promoting democracy, freedom, and justice for all. But what I learned after arriving in Vietnam was that none of that was true.
I made it home, but those whose names are carved in stone before you died because they believed, as I did, the lies they were told. They believed in the propaganda of the absolute necessity of that war to protect your freedom just as you are expected to believe today that gross military expenditures are necessary to protect America from newly invented and constantly revised lists of vague and ill-defined threats from distant places.
I recently returned from a visit to Vietnam, my first since I left there in 1970. What I saw was a people proud and free, an economy in ascendance, a nation at peace — but a nation still dealing with the poisons we left across their land, and the explosives still buried in their soil. It’s a nation of cemeteries where lie the remains of millions — yes, millions — who died fighting only for freedom from foreign occupation and the opportunity to control their own destinies.
Fifty years ago, Martin Luther King called the United States the “greatest purveyor of violence in the world” and adding that “the war in Vietnam is but a symptom of a far deeper malady within the American spirit.”
Today the United States has 800 formal military bases in 80 countries and will spend $700 billion in 2018 on so-called “defense” while poverty, homelessness, hunger, and environmental degradation go largely unaddressed.
Where will it end? The answer may rest with you.
Dear Viet Nam Memorial Wall,
Although I do not want to
I feel I must
add names and panels enough to triple your size
for all those soldiers
who returned home
with their souls so seared
their lives to shattered
their trust so betrayed
that they saw
no way out
except to take their own lives.
Those ghosts haunt America
as her children
who saw and understood
the lie that America
has been since
the genocide of Native Peoples
the slavery of Africans
the colonization of millions.
May the memory of decent young people
intent on serving
even as their service was twisted
by an abuse of power
that killed the innocent
defending their own homes.
Come to truth, America must carry the moral wound with our veterans.
Lou Ann Merkle
“The old Lie;
Dulce et Decorum est
Pro patria mori.”
[submitted by Robert Morris]
A Time to Remember
“We few. We happy few, we band of brothers.”
On the last Saturday of October 2003—a quintessential New England autumn day at Holy Cross College—a band of brothers met to remember and memorialize their fallen classmates killed in the Vietnam War.
Thirty-eight years on from graduation, Captain John Burke, USMC (RIP 1968) and Lt. Thomas Gilliam, USN (RIP 1967), both naval aviators, were honored by the Class of 1965 with the dedication of a granite and bronze memorial on a grassy knoll above the Jesuit Cemetery. The memorial is located at the base of a weeping mulberry tree planted by the class at its thirtieth reunion to honor these men. Some fifty classmates, friends, college and military representatives, and family members from as far away as Ohio and Washington, DC, took part in the ceremony.
The permanent memorial was placed on the Holy Cross campus by their classmates to honor and preserve the memory of these two young men — sons, a father, a husband, a brother — who represent and exemplify honor and sacrifice over self. The memorial’s presence is intended to remind future generations of students passing this site, of the sacrifices made by the men and women of Holy Cross and their families in the name of freedom and democracy.
Under that brilliant autumn sun, the eighty-two-year-old mother of Tom Gilliam, Esther Gilliam of Ohio, addressed the audience. Mrs. Gilliam is a woman of immense strength, beauty and faith in God; she lost her one and only child, but her Christian faith was never shaken. She read Tom’s war letters, his lead pilot’s letter written upon Tom’s death, and college representative Father Francis Hart’s letter of memory and praise.
Kelly Holland, John Burke’s daughter and only two years old at the time of her father’s death, reminisced about the father she could never know and then publicly thanked the father who adopted her at age five and brought her up. The audience was brought to tears as Kelly and Esther unveiled the plaque and silently embraced for several seconds in a common bond.
Several classmates and military representatives eulogized their fallen comrades, remembering their idyllic days at Holy Cross, their military training days at Quantico, common trips to New York City, and the sorrow shared by their families and friends. The words of “Try to Remember” from the Fantastiks, a 1961 hit play in New York City, were read:
“Try to remember the kind of September,
when life was slow and oh so mellow…
…Deep in December it’s nice to remember,
without the hurt the heart is hollow”.
The ceremony ended with the playing of Taps by a Navy bugler. The lone bugle’s sanguine wail echoed across those beautiful hills of central Massachusetts, a reminder of the love and devotion in which these fine men are held by their classmates.
In the words of one classmate present, the afternoon ceremony “was one of the most powerful, meaningful hours of (my) life”.
[Prepared by: Paul Giuliani (U.S. Navy), Robert Morris (U.S. Navy), Donald Morrissey (U.S. Air Force Retired) of the Class of 1965.]