My first trip to the WALL was back in 1987, the first
Vietnam Veterans reunion was being held in Melbourne Florida, and the
traveling Wall was there on display.
So my brother and I went over to Wickham Road Park to
view the wall.
My first shock was that there were so many names; the
list seemed to go on forever.
My second shock was that I couldn’t remember one name
of the many (31Marines) who had lost their lives in my presence.
I was becoming a basket case all over again, all the
emotions that I thought I had buried long ago, were suddenly raising their
All I knew were dates, and in half the cases, only
The one date that still stands out, and always will,
was 9 December 1965, Day One, Operation Harvest Moon (17 Marines KIA in less
than 2 hours, another 42 wounded including myself) So I asked one of the Wall
attendants to point me in the direction of December 1965.
As I walked up to the Panel I began to read names and
suddenly there they all were, my heart began pumping faster and faster, my
breathing began to get rapid and shallow, I was almost hyperventilating when
I felt this arm wrap around my shoulder and there was this Gal, I looked down
at her and she said, “Welcome Home”
I wasn’t wearing patches, Insignias or anything that
would have given away who I was (back in those days it still wasn’t very
popular to be a Vietnam Vet) but she was with the wall committee and was
obviously trained to spot us closet cases. Her timing couldn’t have been
better either, I think I was about to have a nervous breakdown.
That was my first “Welcome Home” 21 years after the
fact and that was my last trip to the WALL or another Reunion for 19 years, I
just couldn’t handle the emotional trip.
The annual Vietnam Veterans Reunion has been held there
in Wickham camp ground & Park in Melbourne every year since 1987, this year
2006, was the 19th annual Reunion.
My reasons for not attending were simple, (PTSD) I was
pretty sure I had psychological problems when I first got out of the Corps in
1968 and by 1987 I thought I had gotten it all behind me.
The WALL had brought it all back to the surface, and
the Reunion revolved around the Wall, so I stayed away from any and all
Vietnam Veteran Reunions.
This year was different, I had recently regained
contact with Frank Pavone, 0331 Guns, Frank was not only with me on 9
December 1965, I was hit while providing his Gun Team cover fire amidst a
major ambush we had just gotten ourselves into. When I got hit, it was Frank
who broke off from the attack and helped get me back to the make shift aid station our Corpsman had set up in a
Frank and I met here in Orlando in early March and
spent a week together telling war stories and filling in holes each other’s
heads, that’s when we decided to go the this years Vietnam Veterans Reunion
at Wickham Park.
We set up a little pop-up tent trailer, and spent 4 days
there. On our first day we went to the wall, The DAV has a very nice replica
wall that is a permanent structure now.
Frank and I both dreaded going over to the WALL, but as
Frank stated, “It’s out DUTY, we owe it to our Brothers on the wall, after
all this was their Reunion”. So we went to the wall on our first day figuring
we would get it out of the way early so we could settle in and enjoy the
other Vets around us.
Going to the WALL for those of us who survived Vietnam
is a tough job, it takes all we can muster up to keep our shit together.
With the exception of knowing right where to go, this
trip to the WALL was no different than my first, It was hard, I mean really
hard, all the emotions came flowing back and this time with tears.
The rest of the Reunion (the remaining (3) days were
excellent, (Out Fucking Standing) We met so many Vets and not just from
Vietnam, we had Veterans there ranging all the way back to WWII. I had the
pleasure of Saluting my first living Medal Of Honor Recipient, Sam Davis US
Army Vietnam 1967.
We also had the pleasure of welcoming home a couple of
dozen Iraqi War Vets. It turned out to be a weekend of High Energy and
surprisingly low alcohol consumption for Frank and I. We were so caught up in
the energy that we forgot to drink (much).
The closing ceremony was held on the last day at
sunset, at the WALL, God another trip to the wall, it actually gets harder each
time, more tears, more emotions, more hate, more of everything we have tried
to forget through all the years, but the ceremony was fantastic.
On our first trip to the WALL Frank and I placed a
plaque under the December 1965 panel that read,
“If you can read, THANK A Teacher -
If you can read in English, thank a Veteran.
Our plaque was still there for all to see, and I’m sure
that the wall committee has it in safe keeping someplace.
As for the Reunion, I highly recommend it, in 2007 they
are holding their 20th annual Reunion, this one will be even
better than the last, and Yes, I’ll go back to the Wall, and yes, it will be
tough, but it's my duty. For those of us who did survive Vietnam, it is our
duty to continue to honor our Brothers who gave all.
Yes it’s tough to go to the WALL, I’ve never been to the
Vietnam Veterans Memorial in DC, and I don’t think I can handle it either,
BUT, if I did find myself in DC, I would go, because I owe it to my Brothers,
those who sacrificed all, the Names on the WALL.
Golf Company 2/9
Lime Company 3/3
3rd Marine Division - Vietnam 1965-1966