Hey Tim! I know, especially on Memorial Day, your family and relatives that are still alive think about you, but I had to let you know that I do too. Did anyone ever thank you for your service to our country? I knew you from the track team and some classes that we took together in High School. We even had a class together our freshman year at UW-M and I picked you up once or twice when you needed a ride. Never got to know you well enough to know that your parents owned a restaurant in Glendale where we lived. Matter of fact I never got to go there until after I was out of service. It felt funny knowing your parents owned it. I never did work up the courage to talk to them after I got back. Something I probably should have done.
My parents received the Glendale Herald weekly and kept your obit for me, but they didn’t send it to me, probably not wanting to upset me by telling me that you were killed in Vietnam. For what ever reason I found out on a bus ride from Shu Linkou Air Base in Taiwan to downtown Taipei where I was assigned as a Navy CT. It was 4 pm or so in the afternoon and I had been doing some security training at the base and was thinking about where I’d get my first drink, where I’d have dinner that evening and who I go out with. I had picked up a Stars and Stripes Armed Forces newspaper and I was dozing as I read it on the Navy/Air Force bus. It was common for me to check the list of killed in Vietnam and that day was no different, except for the fact that I saw your name in the list. I think I stared at that list for the rest of the ride back to Taipei.
I knew a lot of guys were dying everyday in Nam, but I sure didn’t think any of the guys I went to High School would die over there. There were only about ten of us out of our 1965 graduating class of 250 that actually went into service. I joined the Navy so I wouldn’t end up in Vietnam, but then ended up getting credit for four tours over there anyway. I was one of the lucky ones. My ship, the U.S.S, Oklahoma City, got stuck on a sand bar and the Viet Cong picked up on that real quick. They fired at our ship for about 15 minutes, coming to within a football field, but they kept missing. Thanks to God and the Navy Air boys for saving us that time.
You and I must have enlisted up at the same time, right after we had our last exams for our freshman year of college. The last time I saw you was a sheer coincidence. We were taking our physicals for induction into service at the same time, in Milwaukee. Can that really be 47 years ago? That’s when I found out you were going into the Marines. It was a quick five minutes of small talk by two 19 year old acquaintances who were nervous, but didn’t want to show that in front of all the guys around us. We said we’d see each other at our five year reunion from High School. We were both going in for four years and would be out by then. We were 19, probably a little naive and little did we know at that time what the future would hold for us. We were just too young to think about the possibility of dying.
Tim, I may be the only one , but I hope not, of your High School class mates that still thinks about you and how much you could have accomplished and how much you missed. I never doubted that you would be a great Marine because you had the physical and mental strength to get through a really tough boot camp, you knew how to follow orders and you always did what you said you were going to do.
I looked up your name on the “Viet Nam Wall” in DC, when I was out there for some training with AT&T, after it first opened and cried not only when I saw your name, but also for all the men and women who died in that war that I now feel we should never had been in. I now do Funeral Honor Guard for our VFW in the county where I live. When I first got out I was proud of serving in the Navy, but most people had such a bad attitude about Nam Vets that I didn’t want to tell people I served at all. I feel very honored, at this point in my life, to be serving at these funerals to give these Vets one last “thank you” for their service and pray for their peace in Heaven.
I’ll think about you tomorrow as I put on my VFW uniform and participate in the Memorial Day ceremonies we do at seven different cemeteries. I wish I could have had the chance to shake your had and thank you for your service. You gave the ultimate sacrifice for you country and we do appreciate it and thank you for your service.
May You Rest In Peace
Saturday, May 4, 2013
Just a short note about the Honor Flight in case you are not familiar with it. There are 98 hubs in 35 states that fly WW II vets to DC to visit the monuments, especially the WW II one. There is no charge to the vet. It is funded by donations and I can proudly say that both my AT&T Pioneer service organization and my VFW group donate money and time to this program.
I volunteer with The Pioneers to register and thank these veterans for their service before they board their plane. It means getting up at 2am and being at the airport at 3am, but what a small price to pay when you see how excited they are. Two had birthdays today which made it even better. One gentleman turned 91 today and one lady was 98. We sent 88 vets out this morning and we’re doing it again on May 18th. Today’s group will be coming back into Madison about 8 am tonight.
Sending them off just makes you feel good, but welcoming them back is a whole different experience. When they return they are greeted by an over flow crowd of relatives, friends, VFW groups, a band playing 1940’s music, young women dressed in 1940s uniforms singing songs like the McGuire Sisters or Andrew Sisters of that era and non stop hand shakes as they make their way to a reception area.. Everyone there is waving a small flag and quite a few welcome their friends and relatives home with hand made signs, many with pictures of these vets when they were young and proudly serving their country. They are almost overwhelmed by the number of people, the continuous clapping and the shouts of “thanks for your service” from the crowd. If you have never experienced this, please give it a try. I can’t think of any generation that was more willing to give so much to keep our country free. They will forever remain “The Greatest Generation” and deserve this final thanks for their service.
16 Million served in WW II and only 20 percent have gone. Currently 1,100 WW II vets are dying each day. This illustrates the urgency in trying to get everyone of them on one of those flights. There are currently 16,000 on the waiting list. Each vet must have a responsible guardian with them and they have to pay their own way, usually about $500 a piece for the honor of being with these vets for the day. Please get involved and volunteer because I have found that many times I get more out of it then those that are on the receiving end. If you don’t want to participate or can’t, think about making a monetary contribution to the Honor Flight program in your area. We owe it to them.