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.
26, 2003—Ground Zero Plus 621
A Black Eye For the Vietnam Memorial
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
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
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
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.
Veterans carry "war Wounds"
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
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
OF THE MEN AND WOMEN
WHO SERVED IN THE VIETNAM WAR
AND LATER DIED AS A RESULT
OF THEIR SERVICE
WE HONOR AND
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
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.
Circle of Vigilance
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
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
Let the Sentinels of War Vigilance
stand up and shout to the Defense Department: "No More Names On
Let the war end.
Let the Circle of Vigilance close.
25--Who Was Really First On Top of Mt. Everest?
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