PO Box 688
Douglas, GA 31534
Luft 1, Barth Germany
The teenager stood there in the snow and
looked out through the barbed wire at the world beyond. Dressed in light
clothing, he shivered in the sub-zero freezing wind.
He thought about home, about family and
friends, about a sweetheart and wondered if he would ever see her again.
He looked up at the Nazi swastika waving in
the wind and changed it to the stars and stripes in the magic of his mind.
As the days and months passed, he watched
the tissue shrink as the skin tightened over the bones in his body. The
little nourishment he received came from the imitation black bread and the
weak coffee consumed whenever it is made available.
He looked up at the guard towers and
wondered if he could cross over the open area and climb the barbed wire to
freedom before automatic weapons cold take his life away.
As the sun moved across the skies and
darkness prevailed, he knew the fear of abandonment, but regained his
courage and vowed to live when the sun came forth again.
In the presence of the more than 10,000
American airmen who shared the prisoner of war camp with him, he felt a
strange sense of freedom, knowing all the while that life could be snatched
away in a moment of meanness expressed by the enemy.
But he gained there a love of country known
but to those who have experienced that time in harm’s way when all one has
left to offer his beloved country is life itself.
He also experienced a new understanding of
a force in his life, which in a special way connected his being to a higher
power. A force that would forever burn warmly in his heart.
This new power has enabled him to gain a
new understanding of forgiveness and thus has changed his life forever.
Changed it for the better. Gave his life new meaning. A greater awareness of
those things which really do make a difference.
He thinks even now of those men and women
who serve their Country. Serve in uniform in towns and cities, both at home
and in foreign places. Sacrifice in ways known only to those who offer
themselves to serve America better wherever they are asked to serve.
He also knows that the Greatness of America
is bound up in the hopes and dreams of the millions who exercise their right
to support those things they believe to be right and oppose those ideas they
believe to be wrong.
Citizenship does not recognize one’s
religion, race, or sex. It has to do with understanding the rights of others
and a willingness to help protect those rights whatever the circumstances
Even now in the quietness of dark nights, I
can remember the terror of those days and nights behind the barbed wire. But
I do not regret those hours, for they helped me grow from boy to man. May
God Bless America, now and always.
TAPS – What it means to me and why
John (Rudy) Crawbuck
Apt 215, 6500 Sunset Way
St. Pete Beach, FL 33706
April 29, 1945, the day the Russians freed us from Stalag Luft 1, Barth,
It was about 9PM when someone tried the
door to the outside of the building we were in. All the doors to the
building were always locked at 9PM. An airman opened the door a little and
noticed the guard in the tower was not there. When he told us this, we all
looked outside and got brave noticing that other men were looking out too.
One airman went outside and others followed.
The experience we had in a previous camp
made us quite leery about going outside the building. This particular
incident took place fourteen months previous to this time. An airman tried
the door at 6AM and found it was open. Thinking it was opened by the guard,
he proceeded to walk to the latrine. Halfway there he was shot by the tower
guard. We could see him lying there, but were unable to assist him. It was a
sad experience to see a fellow American dying so needlessly. It was a very
sad experience – one you can never forget.
Now, getting back to April 29, 1945. As
more men got brave and went outside. There were hundreds of us just milling
around, not really believing that maybe the war was over. From somewhere in
camp, someone had gotten a bugle and was playing Taps. We all stood there
dumbstruck. None of us could believe it was finally over.
To this day, tears form on my face and I
have no control over it. None of us were ashamed of our crying. Some of us
knelt down and thanked God.
If, by chance anyone would know who this
man was, I sure would like to thank him.
George F. Fryett, Jr.
PO Box 269
Dillon, MT 59725
Sometime in August of 1961, I purchased a
28” 3 speed Raleigh bike for about $ 60.00 from someone rotating home. I
began to explore many areas in and around Saigon on my Bike.
In September of 1961 I took my OCS boards
and physical for Infantry Officer training. At this point I began to explore
further out from the inner city of Saigon. During daylight hours, we had
been told it was SAFE to do so. I needed to continue my physical training
for OCS, Ranger and Airborne schools.
On Sunday the 24th of December 1961, I was to begin a Bike ride that would last six months. In
Saigon, the capital of South Vietnam, it was Sunday. The Sun was shining and
it was very hot and humid. It was an off-duty day for me. I got out of bed
around 10:00 a.m. that morning. It really was a very pleasant day. I had a
very leisure brunch of Chicken and Dumplings.
Somewhere outside the city of Saigon, in
the jungle, were the Viet Cong. Communist led and supported members of the
National Liberation Front. They were waging penetrating jungle warfare. We
had been briefed about this, but at this time they were said to be a
comfortable distance away.
I began to ride my bicycle around the city
looking for things to take pictures of. As I was riding, I began to think
about the swimming pool that was located in the city of Tu Duc. Tu Duc was
about eight (8) miles outside of Saigon off the Kings Highway. My route to
the swimming pool took me past the Zoological gardens, which leads to the
Kings Highway. The Kings highway was paved and divided like a freeway. After
riding for a few miles, I reached the turn off to what I thought was Tu Duc.
The road at this point was dirt based and had many ruts with soft shoulders,
forcing me to ride down the center of the road.
There were soldiers of the Republic of
Vietnam stationed in Tu Duc. This was far from being an isolated area.
People traveled by foot and on bicycle on this road. It had not been
classified as a dangerous area during daylight hours. I was wearing a sport
shirt, Bermuda shorts and loose fitting sandals. In fact I was wearing
nothing to indicate that I was, an American Service Person. My ride was
uneventful, until I had passed a small group of people standing in a field
near the road I was riding on. I continued to ride on, looking back once in
awhile to see if anyone wanted to pass me.
A little further down the road, I looked
behind me again and saw two (2) riders on bicycles beginning to approach me.
I continued to ride, paying little attention to the riders behind me. Not
until one of them had passed me and stopped directly in the middle of the
road in front of me. As I approached the rider who had stopped, he moved his
bike so as to block my passage. He then shouted something to me. I did not
understand what he said. When I did not respond to his demand, he slammed
his bicycle into mine. I was knocked to the ground. By the time I got back
up, the other rider joined the first rider, now there were two (2) of them.
Together, the men jumped me and we began to fight. They pulled hand grenades
from under their shirts. They then began to throw them at me. I think at
first it was only to scare me. In my attempt to pick up one of the hand
grenades, they both jumped me. During the fighting I began to shout! “Viet
Cong! Viet Cong!” I thought that this might bring me some help.
“Boy was I surprised to see the people
start closing the doors to the huts that were near by”. By now, I was
beginning to be covered by blood from abrasions on my hands, arms, and legs.
As we fought, I continued to shout for help. Eventually a sharp blow
overpowered me to my head. This blow came from an unknown source. I think
that it was possibly a hand grenade. I was now in a semi-conscious
condition. I was also bleeding from head and ear wounds.
My captors dragged me into the underbrush
and tied my hands behind me. My pockets were then emptied. I was then
blindfolded. After being blindfolded, I was forced to walk for a short
distance and pushed to my knees. At this moment, I was sure I was to be shot
It seemed like eternity, but minutes later
I was again pulled up on my feet. They began shoving further in to
underbrush and once again knocked to my knees. My blindfold was removed. My
mind flashed to something I had read about other Americans who had been
captured in Korea. Blindfolded, and then shot in the head.
I was in a small clearing near a grave of a
long since buried Vietnamese person. Trees surrounded the clearing. They
seated me under the trees, by the edge of the gravesite. In a short time
other Viet Cong soldiers began to join the group. They were coming and going
with much discussion between each of them. Some of the men were armed with
rifles. One of them even had a revolver. Nothing in the outward appearance
of these men indicated that they were trained soldiers. I was later to be
shown pictures of some of the executions and atrocities by the Viet Cong.
I no longer had any doubts about the
seriousness of my present situation. I had encountered Viet Cong
As it began to get dark, four (4) men
joined the two (2) men who were guarding me. My hands were tied behind my
back even tighter than before. We began to walk away from the gravesite. We
began to travel in a northwesterly direction. At the edge of a field we
stopped. I was transferred to a new group. The new group consisted of five
(5) men. When it got darker, we were able to walk in the open fields. Half
way across a field we came face to face with two men. One was pointing a
Thompson submachine gun at me and the other held an American M-1 rifle.
These two men joined the group and we all moved on into the night. We were
going further into unfriendly surroundings.
My seven captors and I walked from the
field onto a road that ran between trees leading in the direction of a
village. We stopped along the side of the road for a rest. After a few
minutes passed, a rope was placed around me to act as a leash. We began to
walk again going across a small clearing. In the direction of the trees just
opposite the clearing came a challenge. We all fell to the ground. I thought
to myself, “Have we at last made contact with Friendly Forces of the
Republic of Vietnam?”
The challenge rang out again. One of the
men in our group said something in return. We then got back on our feet and
made our way towards the sound of the voice. We entered a village where we
stopped in a yard to rest and eat. After a few minutes soda pop and cookies
were brought to us. Since I was lying on the ground in the dark, the guards
did not notice me place some of the cookies in my pockets.
The march was unchanged, when my captors
needed a rest, we rested. If they were hungry, we ate. But cookies and soda
pop are hardly suitable for an all night march. After an hour of rest we
walked away from the village across a large field to a road. Over the road
was an arch. Across the arch and down the sides of it were flags and signs
Later I was to learn that the flags were
those of the Vietcong and the signs were telling the people to drive the
Americans out of South Vietnam. By now I was beginning to limp from the
blisters on my feet. Half the night was gone and still no one had tended to
my wounds or paid attention to my feet, which were now in very bad shape.
The long hours of marching, the attack on me, and the manner in which I was
tied led me to believe, I was not to survive the night. During my
imprisoning march I had kept the hope in my mind that I would somehow have a
chance to escape.
My captors and I avoided roads as much as
possible and only made brief contact with the Vietnamese communities. The
longer we marched, the more I tried to loosen the ropes holding me.
I found that my hands were tied behind me
in such a way that when I moved my arms, the motion would cause the rope
around my neck to tighten in a violent manner. A violent break would surly
choke me to death. The guard behind me held the rope very tight. As far as I
was concerned, it was escape or die trying to escape. I wanted to give my
captors the impression that it was impossible for me to go any further, this
was not too difficult, and I was exhausted. I knew I was still gambling with
death. I did not know for certain what they had planned for me.
I also did not know that should the chance
come, would I have the strength to make my escape. We crossed the first
paved road I had seen all night. There we stopped at a junction of a small
stream near a houseboat. My guard holding the rope leading from him to my
neck placed his end of the rope under his foot. At this point a woman living
on the houseboat walked between us going to the stream to get some water. As
she turned to go back to the houseboat, I took hold of my end of the rope.
It was now with the distraction of the woman passing, I felt I had my first
real chance to try an escape. Just as she passed us, I made a running dash
for the water. I dove in head first, using all my energy to swim and untie
the ropes that were holding me at the same time. The next thing I knew, I
was losing consciousness. When I regained my senses, two men were standing
me on my feet. They were tying more ropes around me. It was Christmas
morning 25 December 1961. Captured by the Viet Cong.
PRISONER OF WAR IN SOUTH VIETNAM.
A true story that begs to be told
By Larry E. Hudec
414 Westchester Ct.
Murfreesboro, TN 37129
The funeral was scheduled for Monday
morning at Arlington National Cemetery. It was Saturday morning. I was home
in Murfreesboro, Tennessee where I had moved six years ago, following an
unusual set of circumstances. I had, of course, a list of things to do. How
could I possibly have time to go to the grocery store? It would have to wait
until I got back. Fortunately, one of my tasks took less time than
anticipated. With an hour to spare, I started my blue pick-up truck and
headed to Kroger’s.
I hurriedly parked and jumped out. Crossing
the parking lot I noticed a man and woman flanking the entrance. They were
selling something. Oh, nuts, I thought, more cookies to buy. As I approached
the door, a nice elderly lady asked, “Would you like to purchase a daisy in
honor of the ex-POWs? The daisy symbolized ‘don’t tell’ and a POW keeps his
country’s secrets.” “Sure,” I said digging into my wallet for a small
donation. I thought how could I not? My uncle was a former prisoner of war
and it was his funeral I’d be attending. She handed me the daisy and said,
“Wear it proudly”. “Thanks”, I said. Not taking the time to find a place for
it, I stuffed it in my pocket.
Maneuvering through the aisles, I thought I
should tell that nice lady my uncle had been a prisoner of war. I had a
couple of extra minutes. However, I forgot and after completing my purchase
I made my way towards my truck. Almost there, I remembered the lunchmeat.
Had to go back. Making my way to the entrance, I saw the man and woman
again. Wanting to save a buck, I quickly jerked out the daisy and showed it
to the lady. “I already made a donation”, I said. “Yes”, she said. “I
remember your smiling face.” Entering the store, I realized once again I
forgot to tell her about my uncle. “For sure on the way out.” I said to
myself. This time I didn’t forget.
Upon exiting the store, I went straight to
the elderly couple. “Hi, my name is Larry. My uncle had been a prisoners of
war,” I said to the lady. “My name is Betty Clark,” she said. “My husband is
Bill Clark. Bill was also a prisoner of war. He was held captive by the
German government and was liberated by Russian soldiers in 1945.” I
explained to her “My uncle had recently died and was to be buried on Monday
at Arlington National Cemetery. I prepared the information for his obituary
and remember that he, too, was captured by the Germans and liberated by the
Russians in 1945.” Excitedly, she called to her husband. “Bill” she said,
“This man’s uncle was also held captive by the Germans and liberated by the
Russians in 1945. He died, though, and will be interred Monday at Arlington
National Cemetery.” Bill immediately called me over and said “I was
liberated on January 31, 1945.” I told him my uncle was also liberated that
“I was in Camp 3C,” Bill said. ”What camp
was your uncle in?” I told him I recalled reading that information in an old
newspaper clipping I keep in a scrapbook, but couldn’t think of it right
then. He said, “I’d be interested in knowing that. I was the ranking
noncommissioned officer in the camp, and as such, was the chief negotiator
between the Germans and the prisoners. (You could say he was the Hogan of
Hogan’s Heroes.) When the Russians liberated us, we were still
at war. There were about 400 of us. We divided into small groups and had to
make our way to freedom. I led a group of 40 men to freedom, but sadly, many
of the others were later recaptured.”
I told that Clarks I’d review the newspaper
clipping and send them a letter telling them what camp my uncle was in.
Betty gave me their address. I left assuring them I’d send them the
information. Approaching my truck, I thought, I only live five minutes away;
why not just go back, look up the information and immediately return. Back I
went to see how long they’d be there. Bill said, “We’ll be here a couple
more hours. I really hope you can make it back today.”
Leafing through the scrapbook, I finally
found the dated article. Sure enough, my uncle was held in the same camp.
Immediately, I called my dad in California and explained what happened. I
asked him, “Did Uncle Mike ever talk about being a prisoner of war, and what
happened after being liberated by the Russians?” “No,” he said, “Mike never
talked about that.” My dad was quite excited, but he couldn’t offer anything
I made a copy of the newspaper article and
an old Army document confirming Uncle Mike’s liberation date from the
Germans to give to Bill and Betty. Back to Kroger’s.
There they sat as I eagerly approached
them. “Yes”, I called to them, “he was in Camp 3C!” I showed them the
articles. They were both, as I was, utterly astonished.
Bill began to speak a little slower. “Now,”
he said, “if I could only figure out if your uncle was one of my group of
forty. I would really like to know.” I told him that I had talked to my dad
and he couldn’t offer any clues on that. All of their other siblings are
also gone, and there is nobody left to ask. Bill went on to say, “I led the
men from Germany through Poland, Ukraine, Egypt, and Italy to the United
States. I once had a list of all the men’s names, but gave it to the
captain of the ship. See, the Russians detained us for two weeks. I was
afraid something was wrong. So I gave the list to the captain and asked him
to give it to the American authorities if anything happened to us. I then
told the Russians what I had done. The next day, the Russians told us we
were free to go.”
“Bill”, I said, “I don’t know how my uncle
had returned to the United States. Actually, I thought the war was over
because my uncle had traveled through Europe. Look at the article. It
says right here that after being liberated he traveled from Germany,
through Poland, Ukraine, Egypt and Italy to the good old USA”.
We when both realized that had happened and
stopped speaking. Then the old soldier looked at me, and with a soft voice
quietly said, “That is the exact route we took. Your uncle was with my group
of forty men.”
After retiring from the military, my Uncle
Mike went on to lead a long and healthy life. Our family is sincerely
grateful to Bill Clark for his outstanding leadership and heroic actions.
And, yes, Bill now remembers my Uncle Mike. You see my uncle was 35 years
old at the time (much older than the other men) and was balding. He had to
wear a wool stocking cap to keep his head warm. This Bill remembers well!
Also, my uncle was a medic, and Bill remembers the valuable medical
attention he provided to the group. As for the daisy, well I gave it to my
father at the hotel. Before leaving for the funeral, he pinned it to his
On June 4, 2001, Michael P. Hudec, at the
age of 90, was laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery. At 10:20 AM the
bugler played TAPS. May he rest in peace.
Note; Bill Clark would like to get in touch
with any of the men who were held in Camp 3C, Kustrin, Germany. His address
is: 2778 Rideout Lane, Apt. N-1414, Murfreesboro, TN 37128.
Face and the Brow
by Phil Wright
River Drive #101
Livingston, MT 59047
Stalag XIII-D, Nürnberg— The sight of a
grotesquely burned pilot, wandering lonely about the camp, was a shock to
all who saw him. He had no ears, no eyelids, and his mouth just a hole in a
face of hideously scarred skin drawn taut over a scull topped with hair the
color and texture of a dead mouse. We tried not to stare.
More than a hundred of us lived in a huge tent, crammed together on the
ground on straw ticks. Mess hall meals were sumptuous feasts of a thin broth
garnished with bugs, accompanied by dehydrated black sauerkraut, and bread
largely composed of sawdust. We ate it all!
One day the grotesque pilot wandered over
to my area and said, “Hi Wright.”
Dumbfounded, I could only stammer, “I’m
sorry, I don’t know who you are.” “I’m Ray Trombley,” he responded. Stunned,
I could only babble stupidly.
The Ray Trombley I’d known so well in
flight school was cherub-faced with curly blond hair, and an impish grin
from Springfield, Mass. I was unable to comprehend this was the same person.
Nor could I bring myself to ask him what had happened. Shamefully, I was
relieved, when he wandered off, clutching a dirty piece of gauze to wipe pus
from his eyes. It was a terrible moment—sympathy and revulsion intertwined.
I was not proud of myself.
When Ray had left, one in my quartet took me aside, stunning me when he
said, “Phil, please don’t ask Ray to eat with us. I couldn’t take it.” It
seemed terribly cruel, but I understood. I said I wouldn’t. The point was
moot, as Ray never asked to join us.
Only later did I learn that he’d gone on to fly P-38s in Italy north of
Foggia. On his 17th mission to Vienna on November 1, 1944 he caught a wing
tip on a tree while strafing a large concentration of trains and locomotives
in Hungary and cart wheeled in. He was burned horribly climbing out of the
flaming wreckage. Hungarian soldiers captured him and lugged him in a horse
drawn cart to a Catholic hospital in Kormand, Hungary where he was expected
to die. He survived, and in a month or so two Hungarian guards took him to
another hospital in Budapest by train disguised as a Czech prisoner-of-war.
On the train two German soldiers came up to him and put a gun to his head
threatening to shoot him as a spy in disguise before letting him go. It was
just one of the many close calls he was able to survive.
By the middle of January he was believed to be well enough to join up with
six other P.O.W.s, and two old guards to go to Frankfurt-am-Main. On the way
to Vienna they were chased by angry civilian crowds trying to hang them. In
Vienna they were made to stay on the top floor of a department store that
was bombed nightly by Allied planes. From Vienna, they went by train and on
foot for roughly 250 miles through the beautiful Danube valley to
Regensburg. Coming into Regensburg they were strafed by P-38’s, but
fortunately no one was hit.
From Regensburg to Frankfurt was another 200 miles. So, fifty-four days
after leaving Budapest, and traveling at less than 10 miles a day, they
finally arrived in Frankfurt on March 10, 1945. Saying goodbye to the
guards, who had become good friends during the long trip, they were
interrogated and deloused. Then the seven of them were led into a huge room
where several hundred starving Russians were lying on the floor. The stench
was so overwhelming one of the guys fainted. After awhile they were given
bars of rough soap and led into a huge shower room to finally get clean.
A few days later they were all sent off to Nürnberg in miserably crowded
boxcars that were the lot of all large groups of POWs traveling by train.
Also at Nürnberg, from flight school, and flying P-47 Thunderbolts with me
in the 36th Fighter Group, 9th A.F., were Harry Vibbert and Joe Schultis.
Harry was shot down in September of ’44. He suffered very severe burns on
his arms, legs, throat, forehead, and broke his ankle when he landed in his
The Germans walked him several miles until he finally collapsed standing at
attention in front of a German officer seated behind a desk. But regardless
of how rough a time Harry had he never lost his indomitable sense of humor.
Joe was shot down during The Battle of the Bulge and evaded for five days.
His feet were badly frost bitten crossing streams in the frigid December
weather. He came that close to the lines that he could smell GI cooking and
hear American voices before he was captured.
I was shot down in March of ’45 and suffered from two infected hangnails and
bunch of flea bites!!
Ray, on the other hand, was in terrible shape both mentally and physically.
To sleep he had to roll his eyes up into his head. In the mornings he’d hold
a little pocket mirror in one hand and wipe the caked pus from his eyes with
the dirty piece of gauze, while staring at his horribly disfigured face. Our
hearts went out to him, but there was nothing we could do.
In a way, Harry was Ray’s savior. Though even more badly burned than Ray,
his face wasn’t as disfigured as Ray’s nor was he as overwhelmed by his
condition. But only Harry, with his unflagging humor, could allow him to get
away with dubbing Ray “Prune Face” and himself “The Brow”—from the comic
strip characters in Dick Tracy.
Whenever Ray sank into a funk, Harry would say, “Come on ‘Prune Face,’ I’m
‘The Brow,’ and I’m the boss,” and Ray would buck up. It was beautiful to
watch what those two men did for each other. One giving - one receiving -
both gaining. It’s a memory I’ll treasure forever.
We were liberated on April 29, 1945 from Stalag VII-A at Moosburg, and Ray
and Harry were flown home immediately for hospitalization. Later, Harry,
Joe, and I had a couple of wild nights out in Detroit, before going on to
our life’s separate ways.
Years later, I visited Harry in the veteran’s hospital in Detroit - he was
dying of cancer - and he kidded me about getting bald. For Christmas that
year he sent me a cheap red pen embossed with his name and a dime store
comb. I treasure them. He died shortly afterwards. I loved that man, as only
men who share in combat can.
Harry had given me Ray’s address, and we still correspond. Photographs put
the lie to the old saying, “You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.”
He looks great - just an older addition of that baby-faced blond guy I knew
in flight school.
But, “Prune Face” and “The Brow” will never be forgotten - God bless-em!
The question that plagued my
generation was, “Why Vietnam?”
During my college days in 1967, I
volunteered at an air force base USO and it was quite a learning
experience! By February 1973, I watched our American Prisoners of War
arrive home and I felt a connection. Then for the next thirteen years I
served in our American embassies overseas separated from the veterans I
wanted to help. Upon my return to the US in 1993, I volunteered for two
years at the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial in Washington DC – again making
connections. For the last six years, I have volunteered to help visitors at
the mobile Vietnam Veterans Memorial, The Moving Wall.
That same question arises, “Why did Vietnam
happen?” but it bridges the gaps of all generations who still want to know
more. What can be definitively answered, however, is the 58,225 soldiers
listed on the memorial — each is an individual and they all made the
ultimate sacrifice for their country.
Therefore, helping people to make a
connection with their own Vietnam experience has become my lifelong passion.
The Moving Wall, which travels the country, brings the original, half-scale
replica of The Vietnam Wall “home” to communities. Set-up for an entire week
at a sponsor’s location, the moving memorial gives me the opportunity to
make a difference, using information technology to help visitors remember
and honor these Vietnam heroes that gave their lives.
Many articles have been written about the
Vietnam Veterans Memorial dedication of the Wall in Washington DC. But there
was another event that developed at the 1982 Veterans Day ceremony that
would profoundly impact many people who would never have the chance to
travel to Washington DC to see it.
A Vietnam combat veteran named John Devitt
traveled to that dedication for a reunion with the 1st
Calvary. As he approached the Wall, he expected not to like it, but instead
he suddenly felt intense pride. He wanted to share the experience with all
veterans who may not be able to visit the DC site, so he decided to build a
replica of the memorial that could be transported to the people instead.
John returned to California, and with the help of two Navy friends, Norris
Shears and Gerry Haver, along with a contribution from the San Jose City
Council, they constructed the very first, half-size, mobile replica of the
Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
On October 15, 1984, the half-size replica
was displayed for the first time in Tyler, Texas, at the Rose Festival. It
evoked the same emotions there as were witnessed at the DC Memorial. The
California vets knew they had touched America’s heart. A bit later at a
display site in California, Micki Voicard commented that the replica moved
and was a very moving experience. This statement was later recognized as the
official name for The Moving Wall, which remains identified as such to this
day. The Moving Wall has toured all 50 states, and has also been displayed
in Canada, Guam, Puerto Rico and Mariana Islands.
The Moving Wall is never displayed at
fundraisers, carnival-type events, or any location where profits are an
objective. There is no government involvement in this non-profit
organization, and it is run entirely on donations. If anyone refers to the
replica as the Vietnam War Memorial, John encourages us to explain that it
does not honor war. It is the Vietnam Veterans Memorial – a memorial
honoring all known casualties in the war, and those who are still Missing in
Action (MIA). That is why I volunteer my time whenever possible, to answer a
myriad of questions, to provide statistical data, to explain the artistic
concept of the memorial, and to locate veteran’s names on the Wall.
Since 1996, I have assisted at fifteen
Moving Wall sites. Each time, I find more and more to share with the patrons
who come to the memorial to pay their respects. I listen intently to their
meaningful memories, whether they know someone on the Wall, or not. And when
people ask me how many I know on the Wall, I simply reply, “All 58,225”. At
some point, I have touched all those names, literally and figuratively and
in my heart.
allows me to access many different databases, which gives me current,
up-to-date information to assist visitors at The Moving Wall. Many people
ask about the repatriation of MIAs, or veterans added to the memorial since
1983. Even with just a first name and a time frame, I can usually locate a
veteran’s name on the Wall through various searches on my computer. It is a
challenge that I welcome, as so many veterans only new their buddies by
first name or nickname, and have never been able to find anyone that can
assist them in the search before. Even in Washington DC, volunteers only
have access to a “Directory of Names” book, so if you do not know the
correct spelling of the last name, you will not be able to locate the
veteran on the Wall.
In addition to making
so many connections via computerized databases and links through the
Internet, I have also learned the relevance of displaying billboards full of
information; Vietnam maps, Prisoner of War (POW) information, details about
the women who served in Vietnam, Medal of Honor recipients, chaplains, and
the dog handlers K-9 group. I also have guidelines for family members who
believe their veteran is eligible for their name to be inscribed on the
memorial or for repatriation purposes. A few visitors even want to know how
to contact the appropriate service branch in order to submit DNA for
identification of remains. I post a copy of the states’ POW/MIA list and the
repatriations, as well as the Medal of Honor recipients declared to that
state. There are instructions on how to send remembrances to the Virtual
Wall web site, or locate various military web sites searching for buddies.
But sharing information does not end there.
So many individuals show me their POW/MIA
bracelets, and inquire about the fate of that particular veteran. I am so
overwhelmed when I can facilitate a POW connection. The joy on their faces
is my hearts’ reward.
I volunteer so that I can walk to The
Moving Wall with a veteran who has waited 30 years to pay his respects to a
lost friend. I am honored to lend them my shoulder to lean on as they muster
their courage to touch a name or reveal painful memories.
I volunteer to share the memory with a
family member whose loved one has recently departed, but will never find
them memorialized on the Wall. I volunteer because I want to teach the
students some things that maybe the schools cannot. I believe that duty,
honor, country and respect are significant places to start.
I volunteer for the Sons and Daughters
whose fathers are on the Wall and for the Gold Star Mothers whose children
are on the Wall. I volunteer to bridge better understandings between all of
our veterans who shared similar combat experiences but in different wars.
I volunteer to meet that special person who
comes to the Wall and says, “I don’t know anyone”. I say to them, “Let me
give you a veterans name, and I will take you to the Wall and introduce
I volunteer because
at each site, if I have touched just one person, I feel that I have helped
my generation when others may no longer be able to do so.