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As we face a new year, I recall visiting with three old friends, a few

years back, at a park in the nation’s capital. It seems like only

yesterday that we were all together, but actually it has been 42 years.

There was a crowd at the park that day, and it took us a while to

connect, but with the aid of a book we made it. I found Harry, Bruce and

Paul. In 1970-72 we were gung-ho young fighter pilots on America and

Constellation off Vietnam, the cream of the crop of the U.S. Navy,

flying F-4J Phantoms. Now their names are on that 500-foot-long Vietnam

War Memorial. I am hesitant to visit the wall when I’m in Washington DC

because I don’t trust myself to keep my composure. Standing in front of

that somber wall, I tried to keep it light, reminiscing about how things

were back then. We used to joke about our passionate love affair with an

inanimate flying object-we flew. We marveled at the thought that we

actually got paid to do it. We were not draftees but college graduates

in Vietnam by choice, opting for the cramped confines of a jet fighter

cockpit over the comfort of corporate America. In all my life I’ve not

been so passionate about any other work. If that sounds like an

exaggeration, then you’ve never danced the wild blue with a supersonic

angel. To fight for your country is an honor. I vividly remember leaving

my family and friends in San Diego headed for Vietnam. I wondered if I

would live to see them again. For reasons I still don’t understand, I

was fortunate to return while others did not. Once in Vietnam, we passed

the long, lonely hours in Alert 5, the ready room, our staterooms or the

Cubi O’Club. The complaint heard most often, in the standard gallows

humor of a combat squadron, was, “It’s a lousy war, but it’s the only

one we have.” (I’ve cleaned up the language a bit.) We sang mostly

raunchy songs that never seemed to end-someone was always writing new

verses-and, as an antidote to loneliness, fear in the night and the

sadness over dead friends, we often drank too much. At the wall, I told

the guys only about the good parts of the years since we’ve been apart.

I talked of those who went on to command squadrons. Those who made

Captain and flag rank. I asked them if they’ve seen some other

squadronmates who have joined them. I didn’t tell them about how

ostracized Vietnam vets still are. I didn’t relate how the media had

implied we Vietnam vets were, to quote one syndicated columnist, “either

suckers or psychos, victims or monsters.” I didn’t tell them that Hanoi

Jane, who shot at us and helped torture our POWs, had married one of the

richest guys in the United States. I didn’t tell them that the secretary

of defense they fought for back then has now declared that he was not a

believer in the cause for which he assigned them all to their destiny. I

didn’t tell them that our commander-in-chief avoided serving while they

were fighting and dying. And I didn’t tell them we “lost” that lousy

war. I gave them the same story I’ve used for years: We were winning

when I left. I relived that final day as I stared at the black onyx

wall. After 297 combat missions, we were leaving the South China

Sea…heading east. The excitement of that day was only exceeded by coming

into the break at Miramar, knowing that my wife, my two boys, my parents

and other friends and family were waiting to welcome me home. I was not

the only one talking to the wall through tears. Folks in fatigues,

leather vests, motorcycle jackets, flight jackets lined the wall talking

to friends. I backed about 25 yards away from the wall and sat down on

the grass under a clear blue sky and midday sun that perfectly matched

the tropical weather of the war zone. The wall, with all 58,200 names,

consumed my field of vision. I tried to wrap my mind around the

violence, carnage and ruined lives that it represented. Then I thought

of how Vietnam was only one small war in the history of the human race.

I was overwhelmed with a sense of mankind’s wickedness balanced against

some men and women’s willingness to serve. Before becoming a spectacle

in the park, I got up and walked back up to the wall to say goodbye and

ran my fingers over the engraved names of my friends as if I could

communicate with them through some kind of spiritual touch. I wanted

them to know that God, duty, honor and country will always remain the

noblest calling. Revisionist history from elite draft dodgers trying to

justify and rationalize their own actions will never change that. I

believe I have been a productive member of society since the day I left

Vietnam. I am honored to have served there, and I am especially proud of

my friends-heroes who voluntarily, enthusiastically gave their all. They

demonstrated no greater love to a nation whose highbrow opinion makers

are still trying to disavow them. May their names, indelibly engraved on

that memorial wall, likewise be found in the Book of Life. Remember that

throughout the new year.

As an afterthought, I find it funny how simple it is for people to trash

different ways of living and believing and then wonder why the world is

going to hell.

Funny how you can send a thousand ‘jokes’ through e-mail and they spread like

wildfire, but when you start sending messages regarding life choices, people

think twice about sharing.

Funny how the lewd, crude, vulgar and obscene pass freely through cyberspace,

but the public discussion of morality is suppressed in the school and workplace.

Funny isn’t it?

Published by Southern Utah Vets Aid, St. George Utah

 

Funny how when you go to forward this message, you will not send it to many

on your address list because you’re not sure what they believe, or what they

will think of you for sending it to them.

Funny how I can be more worried about what other people think of me than

what I think of me.

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