Time To Move On

On December 2, I embarked on a trip that would affect me more than I ever realized. My sister-in-law asked me to go to Orlando, Florida and bring back her late son’s car. I agreed and decided to drive down and tow the car back on a car carrier. I also resolved to spend a day in Washington, DC and visit The Wall for the first time. I served in Vietnam in 1968-69 and, like anyone who was there, lost a number of friends. It was, I thought, time that I saw the memorial to them.

The Wall is located (as are the Korean War and World War II memorials, I visited all of them) within a few minutes walk from the Lincoln Memorial. The day was sunny and as crisp as an early fall day here in The County so I decided to wear my Marine Corps leather jacket with patches from all of the units in which I served (I must add that it was the first time I wore it in public). As we walked from the Lincoln Memorial toward The Wall we came upon the Vietnam Memorial (not the same as the wall–see picture) and took a photo of me standing in front of it.

Turning from the statue and walking to the entrance to The Wall was an experience that I will never forget. I steeled myself to show my usual tough Marine appearance and was doing all right until my partner, Jane, reached over with a tissue and wiped the tears from my face. I believe that at that moment all of the resentment I showed in regard to the treatment we received upon returning home disappeared. In fact when a woman passed by and said “Thank you for your service” I replied “You’re welcome. I’d do it again.” (You may remember my blog of last year in which I ranted about people saying, “Thank you for your service.” and how I  felt that they lacked sincerity.)

I turned toward the mall and felt a strange serenity come over me. The Wall is surrounded by several busy streets and I heard none of the cars, trucks, and buses; it was as if I’d entered a cone of silence. Later Jane would laugh at me and say, “Some big bad Marine you are–walking toward The Wall, crying, and pushing a stroller with a five pound Maltese in it.” I smiled Maggie, the Maltese, is my Attack Fu-Fu; she barks at anyone who comes near Jane or I–at The Wall she was as silent as if she understood how this visit was important to me. For forty-eight years I’d been carrying around a sense of guilt that I survived when so many of my friends and fellow servicemen did not.

At the wall we were immediately greeted by George, a Vietnam Veteran who volunteered at The Wall to assist visitors. He took one look at my face and asked, “When were you there?”

I replied, “January 1968 to February 1969.”

He said, “Those were two of the worst years.” Then added: “This is your first time, right?”

My throat constricted and I had a difficult time answering him. “C’mon,” he said, “I’ll show you around. We stopped beside a panel and he showed me the diamonds beside some of the names and said: “The diamonds and crosses indicate whether a person is confirmed dead (those who died in accidents are included) or missing/whereabouts unknown. The diamond indicates a person’s death was confirmed. The crosses indicate that a person remains missing and unaccounted for and are not a religious symbol. A cross symbol can be easily turned into a diamond if a person is declared dead (such as the return of their remains). A circle will be inscribed around the plus if the person comes back alive. As of this time, no circle appears on the wall. On the West wall the symbols precede the names, while on the East wall they follow the names.”

As we walked along The Wall, George asked, “Are you looking for any particular names?”

“Four.”

“Who’s first?”

“An old friend from my teen years, Richard Bubar. He was killed in what they called the Halloween Massacre the night of October 31- November 1, 1964.”

In no time George located the name. “Would you like a rub?”

“Is that allowed?” I asked.

George opened his coat and suspended from his belt was packet of special paper and a stick of graphite. We did four rubs that day:

Richard P. Bubar. Richie was a longtime friend of mine and the son of my parents best friends. He was killed during a mortar attack. Date of Death: November 1, 1964. (Of the first three Maine men to die in Vietnam, two were from Caribou, Richie was the second.)

Dana L. Mace. A friend from high school. Date of Death: July 7, 1969.

THE WALL by Lee Teter

Donald S. Skidgel. Born in Caribou. Date of Death: September 14, 1969. Winner of Medal of Honor (Posthumously) for his actions near Song Be, Republic of Vietnam.

Joseph A. Zutterman: Marion, Kansas. Joe took me under his wing when I arrived in Vietnam and when offered a promotion to sergeant if he extended did so. April 15, 1968 was the first day of Joe’s extension and he flew a mission as door gunner. Their helicopter was hit by an RPG (Rocket Propelled Grenade) and exploded. Although we all know that Joe is dead, he is still officially listed as MIA believed Dead because the bodies of the four crew members were not recoverable.

Joe’s death had a profound impact on me and I made up my mind that I was not going to get close to anyone again. Unfortunately, I did so for forty-eight years. My late wife once said to a friend: “Vaughn fought the war in Vietnam; I fight the war in him.

I spent two hours at The Wall and when I came away I felt as if a great burden had been lifted from me. It was as if the 58, 307 people whose names are there told me that it was all right that I survived and it was past the time for me to move on. The Wall is a memorial to all who made the ultimate sacrifice and a place of healing for the rest of us.

This Christmas season, please take a few moments to think about these men and women (yes a great number of women served there too and eight have their names etched on The Wall) and the sacrifice they made so that we, those of us who survived and those of us who came after, have the freedom and liberty to celebrate in the way we want. I for one would willingly do it again in a heart beat.

 

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59 Responses to Time To Move On

  1. Crystal L Toller says:

    I would like to thank your for serving in Vietnam. I have read a number of books about the war and it remains a special interest of mine. I really enjoyed your blog about your visit to the Wall. Thank you for this.

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  2. Well said, Vaughn. Thanks

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  3. Gail Arnold says:

    I am of the age that many friends and friend’s husbands went to Vietnam. One is still classified as MIA and his wife still waits. I sincerely thank you for your service and will never forget any of you. Thank you for the moving post. I hope you find peace.

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    • Vaughn C. Hardacker says:

      Gail:

      Thank you for your comment. Your friend must be a woman of incredible faith. To still have hope after 45 plus years is commendable. If a loved one is listed as KIA you can go through the grieving process and in time move on. The MIA label is like a wound that won’t heal. Your heart keeps waiting for that loved one to walk through the door, even though your brain tells you that as each year passes the chances of that happening decrease exponentially.

      Vaughn

      Like

  4. Richard Cass says:

    Thank you, Vaughn.

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    • Vaughn C. Hardacker says:

      Thank you Dr. Collier. It has definitely helped me to deal with my PTSD issues and finally dispel a lot of internal unrest and anger.

      Vaughn

      Like

  5. Beth Warren says:

    Mr. Hardacker, your blog moved me to tears. Each morning I walk my dog along the Kennebec where I am joined by a friend and his dog I met on the trials. He is also a Vietnam veteran. Two years ago it was time for his drivers license renewal. He went to the DMV to do the task, and was surprised when the woman taking his picture asked if he were a veteran. She then excitedly asked him if he’d like the flag background in his picture. He was so pleased she had taken the time to honor him, and was then taken aback as she verbally thanked him for his service. He told me it was the first time in over forty years he had been thanked. I now make sure every Veterans Day I give him a small gift and thank him.
    I have visited the Wall as well, and was in awe of the silence surrounding. A woman asked if I would take her picture as she stroked her loved one’s name. No words can fully describe the atmosphere there.
    My dad was in the Navy in WWII and was a Patriot until the day he died. He instilled in me a love for our country. Please know your service is much appreciated. Thank you for you sacrifice and service to our beloved country. Merry Christmas.

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    • Vaughn C. Hardacker says:

      Thank you and Merry Christmas, Beth. I’m astonished by the response to this blog. It’s a living testament that people do care.

      Vaughn

      Like

  6. Lea Wait says:

    The wall is a very special place. I’ve been several times, and looked (and found) names of my friends. Yes — it was a difficult time for the nation. But — yes — the nation thanks you, Vaughan, and the thousands of others who served. So glad you visited that place of memories … and dignity.

    Like

  7. Monica says:

    There is definitely a cone of silence at the wall. It’s not something you notice until you suddenly hear the traffic again. I took my kids there when they were in junior high. My son, who had an inkling of the war (his father was in the Navy), said, “I get it now.” He understood, in a deeper way than textbooks give, the magnitude of the loss of life. He witnessed grown men crying, wounded men bearing witness.

    Like

  8. Vaughn C. Hardacker says:

    Monica:

    Taking your children there was a wonderful thing. The history textbooks deal with wars as if they were a statistic. They emphasize dates and events without giving one the individual experience. Seeing those 58, 307 names on the Wall one cannot but feel the pain all those families went through. My parents were lucky both of their sons served there and both returned physically unscathed (we won’t delve into the psychological damage such as PTSD).

    Vaughn

    Like

  9. stephanie says:

    The Wall, and other monuments honoring our the men and women who served in conflicts around the globe are moving and can be cathartic. I have often wondered what purpose these memorials serve until I visited the Wall and the WWII monument on the Mall. I realized they don;t glorify war but serve as a place for us to honor the dead and their sacrifices, but also to celebrate their lives, loyalty and bravery.

    We may not agree with all the reasons our country enters conflicts but we must always honor the people who are in the Armed Services who serve with loyalty to both protect our country, but who also protect the ideals and ideas we are privileged to enjoy as it’s citizens.

    When I thank you for your service I am also thanking you for surviving and coming back home to live.

    Like

    • Vaughn C. Hardacker says:

      Very well said, Stephanie. We have to keep in mind that the men and women we send into harm’s way are usually the best we’ve got.

      Vaughn

      Like

  10. Thank you very much for sharing. It was incredibly moving. I’m proud to know you. Merry Christmas!

    Like

  11. Mary Anne Sullivan says:

    When I went to the wall many years ago, I told my ex-husband I’d be looking for the name of 3 boys but especially one I grew up with in my neighborhood. His name was Harold Walker from Auburn, ME. The wall is huge. And I am a sane person. My ex was trying to direct me towards a place where they tell you which panel a name is on. I had tuned out everybody and I walked right up to Harold’s name and put my hand on his name. People were shocked. I know Harold met me and brought me to his name. The dead from that war find a way to speak to you when you visit.

    Like

    • Vaughn C. Hardacker says:

      Mary Anne,

      Thank you for your comment. There is a supernatural air about the wall, it is illustrated in Lee Teter’s painting THE WALL.

      Vaughn

      Like

  12. Brian Thiem says:

    Wonderful, emotional post, Vaughn. I’m happy you found some healing. I’m especially glad that you can now accept people’s expression of thanks for your service as a sincere thanks. I’m grateful that when I returned home from Iraq it was to a nation that had learned its lesson about how not to treat returning warriors. Merry Christmas.

    Like

    • Vaughn C. Hardacker says:

      Thanks, Brian. No one knows about the bond that forms between men of arms in a war better than those who have experienced it.

      Vaughn

      Like

  13. Vaughn, Thanks for the reminder of the sacrifice so many have made for our country. My grandfather, father, myself and son have all served and now my grandson is nearing the age and I just fear he will also have to do his duty. When my son was at the Naval Academy we visited the Wall. It was one of the most emotional moments of my life. To see my son’s reflection in that wall chilled me to the bone.
    I have veteran’s plates on my car and often get a thank you when people notice. It means a lot to veterans. I encourage everyone to thank those who have sacrificed.
    In my latest novel, set in the 1950’s my main character is a WWII vet who suffers from shell shock. It was a story I felt needed to be told. Thank you Vaughn for your sacrifice. Merry Christmas.

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    • Vaughn C. Hardacker says:

      Thank you, Russell. It is amazing how military service runs in families. Veterans seem to instill in their children a sense of duty and responsibility than non-veterans seem to be lacking in many cases.

      Vaughn

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  14. Good post, Vaughn. I was visited the Wall some years ago, and found the names of friends and classmates there. The experience brings back things I thought were long forgotten and sometimes barely articulated even then. It’s interesting how controversial the design was, and now how important the Wall has become.

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  15. Linda Lord says:

    Thank you for your service and for sharing your experience at the Wall. It was profoundly moving to me.

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    • Vaughn C. Hardacker says:

      Linda:

      You’re welcome. For the longest time people looked down on us as the first American generation to lose a war. My response to them is we were the best America had so they sent us and then tied our hands and wouldn’t let us win.
      What really disturbs me is looking on what our military is dealing with in Afghanistan and Iraq, the politicians haven’t learned from either experience.

      Vaughn

      Like

  16. Skye says:

    Vaughn, I have never been to the Wall, there, but I stumble upon the one in Philadelphia, and to a degree, I had the same reaction. I lost many friends in Vietnam, and many of the ones who did survive, really didn’t survive ( Agent Orange and PTSD). My former fiancée is serving two consecutive life terms at Graterford Prison, and for a crime he didn’t commit, but he came back for South East Asia arrogant and as a stranger. I am still writing a memoir of my reactions to that time frame from the perspective of a young girl, stateside. You were in Vietnam during the TET Offensive, and my deceased husband was there after that time frame but his boat cruised 30 miles away from the coast, so he didn’t experience the horror. I send my love and understanding to you.

    Like

    • Vaughn C. Hardacker says:

      Skye. Thanks. I was informed by George that the wall is a work in progress as they are planning to add those who, like me, exposed to Agent Orange. The VA is still linking serious diseases to that crap. They should also consider those who suffered from PTSD (again like me) and were killed by either drug/alcohol addiction or their own hand.

      Luv U 2!

      Vaughn

      Like

  17. Skye says:

    I misspelled a word above: it should be ‘from’ and not ‘for.’

    Like

  18. Linda Lord says:

    I visited the wall with a Purple Heart Vietnam vet. It was an amazing powerful experience as was your post above. Thank you for your profoundly moving remarks and for your service.

    Like

  19. Meg Moore says:

    I remember all the disagreements about the design when it was first proposed. It was not a traditional memorial, and people called it ugly and compared it to a scar. Yet I’ve heard many stories of people who finally found some peace after their first visit. The volunteers are just wonderful. My husband took my father-in-law there a few years back and he was also approached by a volunteer. He said later that it was the first time anyone had ever told him, “welcome home, brother!”

    Like

  20. Barb Ross says:

    Beautiful and moving.

    Like

    • Vaughn C. Hardacker says:

      Thanks, Barb. I believe it was my best post to date. It took a lot for me to open up and share the feelings I had. If I had not visited the Wall I would probably have been unable to open up.

      It shows growth when I can put aside my BS machismo attitude to push a stroller with a Maltese in it! She is one of the true loves of my life and is truly a therapy dog.

      Vaughn

      Like

  21. Gayle Lynds says:

    What a beautiful and important post, Vaughan. I lost friends in Vietnam and then became friends of others who fought and lived. You brought tears to my eyes. What a horror that those who served weren’t thanked and honored and celebrated. Thank you for your service, and I mean it.

    You have an acute and sensitive writer’s voice that is commanding in its insights. Your stories are wonderful. I hope everyone reads your novels.

    FYI, folks: http://www.vaughnhardacker.com/

    Like

    • Vaughn C. Hardacker says:

      Wow! Coming from an accomplished writer such as yourself makes your comment extremely important to me.

      Thank you,

      Vaughn

      Like

  22. Ruth Nixon says:

    Thank you for this post even if I had to use a whole box of Tissue. I’m glad your visit to the wall helped you find peace. My family has a long history of service and the lost never gets easier. One week in January 1945 my daddy went down with his ship, an uncle lost in Europe and a young cousin in the Pacific. When men came home from WWll they were all treated as heroes. My son came home from Vietnam to a different welcome. Thank you for your service

    Like

    • Vaughn C. Hardacker says:

      Your son and I share a common experience. We came home and tried to go underground, stifling our need to talk it out.

      I too lost a relative in WWII. My father’s younger brothers served in WWII; Vaughn (whom I was named after) died while fighting in the hedgerows of Normandy on August 15, 1944 (one week shy of turning 20), the youngest brother, Earl, won the Silver Star in Belgium. My father did not serve he was medically turned down. However, he became a merchant marine and was torpedoed five times while running cargo into Murmansk, Russian and sunk once off the coast of Morocco.

      Vaughn

      Like

  23. John Clark says:

    Thank you. The wall is an extremely moving experience. I remember finding my cousin Eddie’s name there and time seemed to freeze.

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    • Vaughn C. Hardacker says:

      You’re welcome, John. It amazes me how seeing a simple name on a wall of black granite can bring tears and healing.

      Vaughn

      Like

  24. A heartfelt thank you, Vaughn, both for your service and for sharing this experience with all of us.

    Like

    • Vaughn C. Hardacker says:

      You’re welcome, Bruce. I imagine you too know the pain and anger you feel when a friend has his or her life cut short.

      Vaughn

      Like

  25. When I went there at least 20 years ago, I cried the whole length of The Wall. And I didn’t even know anyone who’d served there. I felt those lost men and women calling out to me and to everyone else who came there to honor them. Everyone should visit The Wall. Your story of your visit is a very powerful one. Thank you.

    Like

    • Vaughn C. Hardacker says:

      You are welcome. Your experience there is why every American should visit there. The memorials to the Korean War and WWII are great, but seeing those names makes it personal. If you haven’t visited the Korean War Memorial you should. The figures of the soldiers are impressive, but their wall has the faces of Korean vets in it so it seems as if you’re meeting them.

      Vaughn

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  26. When I went there at least 20 years ago, I cried the whole length of The Wall. And I didn’t even know anyone who’d served there. I felt those lost men and women calling out to me and to everyone else who came there to honor them. Your story of your visit is a very powerful one. Thank you.

    Like

  27. Barbara M. Sullivan says:

    Thank you for your service, seems so useless and yet that is all those of us who appreciate those of you who sacrificed so much. Still thank you, for your service and for your ability to communicate that experience.

    Like

  28. A powerful post, Vaughn. I shed tears when I visited The Wall, too. Like you, I lost friends and classmates in that awful war.

    Like

    • Vaughn C. Hardacker says:

      I think the thing that bothers me is that the politicians didn’t learn anything. We are once again involved in a mess that isn’t our fight.

      Vaughn

      Like

  29. Vaughn, your account made me weep.

    As the daughter of a WWII POW, I think that when we cry for these fallen men and women, we’re recognizing their courage in having fought and died for something larger than their own needs and desires. Back in the ’60s and ’70s, what mattered to most of us boomer kids was the dying part. We never got over our anger at those who risked their lives because their country asked. I believe that’s why the U.S. is now in its third generation of young people dedicated to “me first.”

    Like

    • Vaughn C. Hardacker says:

      I agree with you, Sherry. The current military also falls into this category. In the 1960s the draft sent many young men into the military when they didn’t want to. There was a percentage of us who voluntarily enlisted. However, I wonder how many of us would have done so if not for the draft hanging over our head. Over the years a number of people have told me: “I didn’t go to Vietnam, but wish I had.” My reply was: “You didn’t miss anything.”

      In virtually every war in history was started by old men who sent young men out to fight. Maybe having the heads of the countries meet in a field and have a duel. The winner wins the war.

      Vaughn

      Like

  30. sandy neily says:

    Vaughn,

    …….if we didn’t say it at all, or say it loud enough, or mixed up our resistance to the war with the struggles and sacrifices of our amazing soldiers so that we created a sad divisive gulf between us all…
    WELCOME HOME….

    Like

    • Vaughn C. Hardacker says:

      It was a confusing time, that’s a fact. What hurt the most was that people didn’t (or wouldn’t) realize that our country sent us there, we weren’t mercenaries who asked to go.

      Vaughn

      Like

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