As we honor our war dead this Memorial Day, please remember the extraordinary price Vietnam veterans have paid.
If you have never visited the Vietnam Memorial Wall in Washington D.C., I urge you to do so. Being a Vietnam veteran, I knew from its construction that I must visit. Yet, I was totally unprepared emotionally as I located two close friends who did not make it home. While America’s price was staggering for the Civil War with 620,000 dead, WWI 116,526, WWll 405,349 and Korea 36,574, the 58,267 names on the Wall do not tell the story of the heartbreak of Vietnam.
39,996 were age 22; 8,283 were just 19; 33,103 were 18; 12 were just 17 and five were 16. Hardly more than children! 17,725 draftees died even though it was not their choice to be there, yet, they answered the call.
There are three sets of fathers and sons on the wall. Thirty-one sets of parents lost two sons. 997 were killed on their first day there, and 1,448 died on their last day in country. Eight women are on the wall, all nurses.
It has now been some 45 years since left Vietnam, yet, many of the wounds are still as raw as when we came home. Many of us GIs remember vividly when we debarked home being told to change into civilian attire as soon as we reached the U.S. to avoid being spit upon and called baby killers.
Whether or not you ever make the trip to visit the Wall and honor its contents, this Memorial Day try to remember they are much more than just names on a wall.
James W. Anderson