Article Overview:   When a veteran dies 36 years after the war, is it right the Defense Department includes them on the Vietnam War Memorial, and adds them to "casualties of war?"   What about the guy who drinks himself to death?  Or the one who "kisses a train?"  Do they deserve to be counted as "victims of war?"  Find out why 296 names have been added to the Vietnam Wall since 1982.


Monday--May 26, 2003—Ground Zero Plus 621
A Black Eye For the Vietnam Memorial Wall?
Cliff McKenzie
   Editor, New York City Combat Correspondent News

  GROUND ZER0, New York, New York--May 26, 2003--I shuddered this morning.   There was something wrong with the integrity of the Vietnam War Memorial--the Wall, as it is called.   On May 12 of this year, six names were added.   Two of them were oversights lost in the mountains of paperwork of men killed during the beginning and ending of the war dates book-ending the Vietnam Memorial's cut-off points.
      But four were given exemptions.   Four soldiers who died up to 36 years after they were wounded in Vietnam were included on the Wall.
      Two died 28 years after being wounded, one after 22 years, and another after 36 years.

The wife of one of the four now dead Vietnam Veterans taking an impression of her husband's name from the Wall

        Specialist Brian Joyce died Feb 9, 1996 at 49 after being wounded July 15, 1968 by a land mine.  Specialist James Rogers of Waynesville, N.C. died Nov. 14, 1990 at age 42 after being wounded 22 years earlier on Dec. 14, 1968.    Sergeant First Class Dwaine McGriff lost a leg on Sept. 7, 1970 and died 28 years and four months later.   And, Master Sergeant Frank Huddleston took a bullet to the spine on May 17, 1966.  He died 36 years later, on August 15, 2002.    All four men have been added to the Vietnam Memorial Wall.  But do they deserve it?
      The official count on the Vietnam Wall is now 58,235.    Since its dedication in 1982 as the official memorial to the fallen in the Vietnam War, 296 new names have been added.
      I got a knot in my gut when I read the New York Times story this morning about the new additions.   Apparently, the Defense Department reviews medical records to determine if a Vietnam veteran's death was war-related.  If so, he or she can gain a place on the Wall.
      I thought a great deal about that right.
      As a Vietnam Vet, I think a great deal about the lives lost in that war--and, for that matter, all wars.   I think of young men and women risking their lives so that others might enjoy the freedoms we take for granted in America.  I don't think of blood for oil, or politics, or insane decisions by leaders trying to bolster votes, or generals bucking for promotions.   I think of men and women crawling on their bellies with bullets whizzing overhead willing to give their lives for people who don't speak their language, look like them, talk like them.

       I think of my good friend Father Vince Capadonno, crawling out under heavy enemy fire without any weapons except the cross, dragging wounded Marines to safety while being brutally wounded over and over.  He still crawled out, despite mortal wounds, and gave his live to save others.  He was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.  His name is blazed on the Vietnam War Memorial.    He died within the alpha and omega of the Vietnam War.  He's memorialized on Panel 25E, Row 95 of the Wall.
      Then there was my friend, Victor Paine, whom I dressed up to die.   Victor was a young Marine Combat Correspondent, eager to experience combat.   He was locked up in First Marine Division Headquarters, along with a number of reporters who weren't front-line scribes.  And, he was eager to see war, or at least say he had been there.    My friend, Warren Esterline and I, set Victor up for what is called a "walk in the sun."  We arranged for him to join a group of American war correspondents who were to visit a former battle site.   There were no enemy reported, so it would be a walk in and out, virtually safe and secure.
      We dressed Victor up in combat gear, since he didn't have any of his own.    He was just 19 at the time, with peach fuzz turning black on his upper lip, and a Voice still cracking falsetto as puberty ran late in his genes.

Wall etching - Victor L Paine born October 30, 1946  South Fork, CA

       Victor never came back.   He did a stupid thing.   The engineers found a booby trap and told everyone to halt.  The rule is, until the engineers clear the way, you don't move.  Eager to see what a booby trap looked like, Victor disobeyed combat protocol, pushed apart the branches of a tree and triggered a mortar to fall.  It killed him and seriously wounded a number of civilian reporters.  He's on the Wall, Panel 9E, Row 5.  
       Then there is a buddy named Lester Weisighan, a fellow combat correspondent.    He was killed in combat on March 4, 1966 with the 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines.  I took his place in the field after he died.  His name also appears on the Wall, Panel 5E, Row 11.
       I guess what bothers me is the idea of adding names to the Wall past the end of the war.  Maya Lin, who designed the Wall, created a circular memorial, one that creates a loop so the names of the first and last to die meet.  Here is an excerpt from the "The Healing Wall" written by the National Park Service.

The names begin at the top of the Wall in the center of the memorial. The listing continues down each panel, as if each were a page in a book, towards the right end of the Wall. The listing resumes at the left end of the Wall and continues back towards the center. Here, at the bottom of the Wall, is the last death. As described by Lin, "…the war's beginning and end meet; the war is 'complete,' coming full circle…." By illustrating that the war has come to completion, perhaps the Wall encourages visitors to move on to the next step of coping with their feelings about the war and those who served. In addition, the circular layout of the names may also suggest that the healing of the nation can also come full circle.

        But the Department of Defense has apparently decided the circle has breaks in it.   Depending on the pressure placed on the Department, a veteran can petition to be included in the "war deaths."
        As a veteran, I laud the idea of memorializing any combat-related death.   As far as that is concerned, any veteran who fought in the war, and who subsequently dies, deserves to be memorialized.
        Certainly, the four recent names added who died nearly three decades after the war, earned the right to be included on the Wall.  But that also begs the question of all those of us who, for a wide variety of reasons, carry the wounds of war with us.

Many Vietnam Veterans carry "war Wounds"

        Besides those physically ravaged by wounds, many were emotionally scarred.  I carry with me my share of "war wounds,"--especially the faces of the innocent who were killed.  There are the empty looks of the women and children, the tortured bodies of prisoners broken and mangled, then put out of their misery that cling like cancer to the mind and soul.
        I wonder how many vets' relatives might petition the Defense Department to include the name of someone who committed suicide, or drank themselves to death in some gutter, unable to shake their shame and guilt of war.
        Do they deserve a place on the Wall?
        There are some solutions being offered.




       The Vietnam War In Memory Memorial Plaque Project, formed in the mid-90s, seeks a privately funded ground-level plaque on the Memorial grounds, bearing no names, but designed and worded to acknowledge and commemorate those postwar casualties, called the "hidden casualties of Vietnam."  To the left is the wording for a plaque proposed to be located near the Wall.
      Many who suffer the agony of wounds from Vietnam may disagree that a nameless memorial is no compensation for the eternity of one's name etched on a panel, reflecting the immortality of the warrior's willingness to die for his comrades and country.
      In my own case, I would want my name etched with my fellow Marines, soldiers, sailors, air force and coast guardsmen.  I participated in over 100 combat operations, from ambushes and patrols, to major battles with the North Vietnamese.   I carry many wounds, unseen scars, not unlike any veteran who has seen the underbelly of war.
        Do I deserve a place on the Wall?
        Where does the line blur between the death of a war veteran and his or her right to be included in a war memorial.  With all due respect to Victor Paine, he was too careless.  His death was the result of negligence, and yet he has a spot on the wall.   Because I didn't die, and thousands like me didn't die, do we deserve a spot in the reflection of war's immortal panels, or has the circle closed for us?
       I regret that we bend rules.
       The four brave warriors who were included on the wall as the result of their wounds on May 12 earned their way to immorality.  But so did a number of gutter bums, lying on the cold concrete, puking out their guts as they tried to drown the pain and sorrow of their own internal wounds of war.  Do they deserve equal status on the Wall?
        I'd like to see the Defense Department stop the Terror of exempting certain people as "Vietnam War Casualties."
        Inside me, I hear the Beast of Terror roaring.  He's reminding me that my service in Vietnam, and my wounds aren't as deserving as another's.   He's trying to inject Fear, Intimidation and Complacency in me, to make me suffer one more time over the fact that I got little recognition for offering my life.   My unforgotten tribute from Vietnam was being spat at by protestors upon my return.
        On this Memorial Day, I'm all for the end of war.

Close the Circle of Vigilance

        I'm for completing the Circle of Vigilance.    I'm for putting an exclamation point on the Vietnam Wall.  I'm for not adding any more names, unless they died between the official beginning and end of the war.   Casualties of the war are far too numerous and vast to count, and those who make the decisions as to whom deserves a place in immortal history do a disservice to all those who believe they have a right to the same accords as the four brave warriors who died decades after the war, but are not hallowed members of war's eternal memories.
        I'll die a speck of dust.  And the Beast of Terror will laugh at me as others names are etched on the Wall of Warrior's Immortality.
        I don't like that idea.
        I don't think any of my comrades do either.
        Let the Sentinels of War Vigilance stand up and shout to the Defense Department:  "No More Names On The Wall!"
        Let the war end.
        Let the Circle of Vigilance close.




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