Thursday, May 21, 2015

Maryland VIII

Memorial Day is once again upon us. Most years, as my long term readers know, I write about its history and admonish you to enjoy your cook-outs but to take just a moment to remember what it is all about. This year, I thought I might tell you about the new Justice Plaza in Rockville, MD.

Some time ago, back when I posted Maryland III, which you can find elsewhere on this site (and below), I told some of the story of the Montgomery County Maryland Vietnam Memorial site. It was placed on the County Court House lawn and was a plaque honoring all those from the County that has served or perished. It contained no names and was placed directly under a White Oak, the Maryland state tree, and we assumed that that was all there was to be.

Well, times have changed

The Eternal flame awaiting unveiling.

Now, nearly 30 years after the original was dedicated, the site and memorial were lost to expansion of the Justice Center, which now contains an eternal flame, some plaques, and other appropriate items, honoring many who have served in the Military, but also those remembered for other services and reasons.

A few of the plaques

A replica of the original Vietnam plaque seen above

Dedicated last November 10th, State and local dignitaries were in attendance and the keynote speaker was Cmdr. Alvarez, a Montgomery County native who was the first pilot shot down over North Vietnam and only the second P.O.W. He spent many years in the infamous Hanoi Hilton. It was a true honor to meet him.

I did not get his permission to post his picture, but I think this one is safe. Ike Leggett, County Executive, Cmdr. Alvarez, and Craig Rice, President of the County Council, ( from right to left ) pull the cover of the Eternal flame.

The Eternal Flame

This was a beautiful and fitting ceremony that honors all who have served.

Some of us, however, still wanted to have a memorial specific to the many from the County lost in 'Nam: more than 130 at last count. I am pleased to tell you that the Montgomery County Vietnam Memorial Project has been formed and we are making headway towards our own memorial to be placed in the revitalized Wheaton area. Many details still need attention, but we have gained approval and a piece of land has been designated for the memorial. I will keep you posted as to the process and progress.

Next time, I hope to post some pics from the WWII Flyover that featured planes from the WWI, WWII, and Vietnam eras that took place in Washington D.C. a week or so ago. So, join me as always, at 9:00am on Monday the 25th. I know, it is a day earlier than my usual rotation, but it is also the day we honor Memorial Day and I think it is fitting to show these planes in honor of all.

To see other memorials from Maryland, or any other state, click the state name on the left side of this page.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Florida XI

I flew in and out of Jacksonville on my first trip to Florida and on the day I was to fly home I just drove around a bit. I eventually stopped at a neighborhood restaurant and had something to eat and a beer, or maybe two.

I got talking to some guys in the place and told them some of my story and they wanted to know if I had seen the memorial in the parking lot at the Jacksonville Jaguars stadium. I had not and as it turned out it was only a short drive away.

This memorial, like so many others honors those from several wars, WWI on through the Global War On terror and an eternal flame honors their final sacrifice.

Originally built in 1995 and expanded in 2005 in honors more than 1600 from the Jacksonville area.

I am always struck by the reflections so many of these sites provide. I have written before about how they are designed to be reflective, for us to see ourselves in the lost, but the reflections still grab me, every time.

Something I have never before encountered surprised me as I read the names on the wall. The names are listed in groups of which High Schools they attended. I really liked this approach and have not seen it again in over 500 visits to other memorials.

Next time, on the21st, we will return to Maryland, so join me there, as usual, at 9:00am

To see additional memorials from Florida, or any other state, click the state name on the left side of this page.

Monday, May 11, 2015

California XIII

Oxnard, California lies about an hour or so North of Los Angeles and is the home of a major U.S. Navy facility. My wife visits often as part of her job and I often tag along.

One day I decided to wander in to the "Old Town" section of Oxnard just to check it out. In the town square with a beautiful Japanese (?)  Gazebo like building in the center, I ran across this beautiful and unusual Memorial. As in so many small towns it honors many wars and of course Vietnam is not forgotten.

I have photographed this site, perhaps 6 or 7 times and have always found the glare from the rock's surface to be an issue. I have tried in the morning, mid day and in the evening all to no avail. Someday, I will be there at just the right time!

Oddly, as is all too often the case, I have been able to locate exactly zero information on this site. So, as I always do, I will ask anyone from Oxnard, or any place else to fill me in on the details. I have scoured the internet and can't find even a mention that this site exists. Odd, for such a great memorial. so, if you have any info, I would love to have it.

The Vietnam portion of this memorial honors the 46 from the area who were lost


Flags always attract my attention. They were blowing hardily the day I was there

Next time, on the 16th, we will return to Florida, so join me there as always at 9:00am.

To see other memorials from California, or any other state, click the state name on the left side of this page.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Arizona VII

I do not usually write about individual soldiers that were lost in Vietnam, but I completed a journey on this trip to Tucson that started several years ago, in fact it was late October of 2009. I was visiting a local museum to see the exhibition of artist’s interpretation of Del Dia los Muertos, the Day of the Dead. You have probably seen the brightly dressed skeletons celebrating the feast. They are often depicted dancing, playing musical instruments, drinking as this is a day of celebration and remembrance in the Mexican and Southwestern culture.

The museum, located at Tohono Chul Park, was just full of these marvelous representations, but then I came across one the likes of which I had never seen.

A skeleton, like all the rest, except that he was dressed in Army Class A’s, the green dress uniform worn on special occasions was staring back at me.  Around his neck was the Medal of Honor. A small note identified the artist and told the story that the artist had created this to honor his brother, lost in Vietnam.

I had never seen anything like this and was quite stricken by it. I stood and looked at it for quite some time wanting desperately to know more. There was a sign in the museum saying “No photography” and I always respect the wishes of these places or the artists involved. However, this time I was just overcome. I knew I would not be back, I knew that the exhibit would soon end; I knew I only had this one chance. So, I surreptitiously snapped a photo.

To prove that the universe is indeed just, when I got to look at the photo, it was lousy, completely unusable. Point taken.

I returned home haunted by this art work. I decided to see if I could locate the artist and maybe arrange to get his permission to photograph the piece.

I search the internet and found nothing. This went on for months, then a year, then nearly two years and finally I came across a group of which he was a member.  My hopes which had been dashed repeatedly, soared. Only to be dashed again, there was no contact info for him on the site. I tried repeatedly to contact the group with no luck, either.  Then I tried to contact other group members that did have contact info. And finally found someone who pointed me in the right direction.

I contacted the artist, Rhod (Rod) Lauffer and he was kind enough to tell me that the next time I was in Tucson we could get together and I could photograph his work.

A couple more years passed before I made it back, but I did and Rhod welcomed me into his home and shared the work with me. He, also, showed me his brothers Medal of Honor, Citations, Purple Heart and other artifacts.

Rhod and his tribute to billy

He, also, told me the story of how his brother, Billy Lane Lauffer, feared that he would not make it back from ‘Nam and how Rhod had chided him for thinking like that. Billy went off to ‘Nam; five days later he was gone.

Note the pin (red) to the right across from about his chin
Rhod did not tell me the details of Billy's loss or of his heroism. When I returned home, I was able to track down the story of this remarkable, brave, young man. 

Billy’s patrol came under fire, a couple were killed and others were wounded. They were pinned down and Billy realized that his buddies would not make it to safety unless something changed. He stood up and single handedly attacked two enemy machine gun placements, killing four and wounding many others. The wounds inflicted upon him cost him his life, but he is credited with saving many of his fellow soldiers.

Rhod made this to honor his brother.  Every single piece of this, except the pin marking where Billy was killed on the map of Vietnam, is made of paper. It is truly a remarkable piece and a stunning tribute.

Rhod told me that the Tucson Unified School District named a Middle School after Billy in 2005. Billy Lauffer is the only resident of Tucson to ever be awarded the Medal of Honor. I went to the school and was granted permission to photograph the school and was shown the display case where all the schools achievement trophies and awards surround Billy’s picture and story. The lady who escorted me said, “We try to base our excellence upon his excellence.”  I will write more about the school at a later time.

I want to thank Rhod, and his wife Diane, for allowing me in to their home, their memories and their lives. It cannot have been pleasant to bring all this back up and I want them to know that it is greatly appreciated and based on what I hear from Vets, all over the country,  I know Billy's story will be another that adds greatly to the healing of many.

I have been waiting to tell this story for almost 6 years. I hope you feel, as I do, that it was worth the wait.

Next time, on the 11th, we will be back in California, join me then, as always, at 9:00am.

To see other memorials from Arizona, or any other state, click the state name on the left side of this page.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Virginia X

The 1st Recon Battalion was formed as part of the 1st Marines in 1941. They saw action in WWII, Korea and Vietnam just to name a few.

By my count 228 of these brave men lost their lives in Vietnam. Two were Medal of Honor recipients, four were awarded The Navy Cross, and two more were awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Commendation.

This memorial stands among the many at the Marine Corps Museum in Virginia and it honors and forever remembers those lost in Vietnam. Notice how the reflection of the pavement looks like the stars and stripes.

I have visited the outside grounds of the Museum on several occasions but have not yet been able to go inside, where I am told there is quite an exhibit on Vietnam. If I find myself inside, I will most certainly report here.

The Marine Corps Museum is located on Route 95, south of Washington, D.C. and it is well marked on the highway and, in fact, easy to see from the road. the exact address is 18900 Jefferson Davis Highway Triangle, VA 22172

Next time, on the 6th, we will revisit Arizona, where I just completed a multi-year effort to track down a special memorial, so join me there, at 9:00am. It is quite a story.

To see other memorials from Virginia, or any other state, click the state name on the left side of this page,

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Texas XI

116 miles west of Dallas is the town of Ranger. I knew they had a memorial there so I headed in that direction. The memorial was located in a small park and was easy to find. Ranger is a really small town. It had a population of under 2500 in the 2010 census and as I have said so many times before, I was amazed at what small towns manage to do for their own. I have been to states that have no official state memorial and yet, these small communities manage to find a way to honor their sons and daughters.

It was a bright and hot day and the usual issues with reflection were rampant but the memorial still shines through honoring those from the area.

The back names those involved in the project and what appears to be additional names, as so often happens, added later. I read that this was dedicated in 2007.

Nearby, this reminded of the POW/MIAs stands guard.

A short distance away, in the same park, I found this older, more general, remembrance for those who served. It is dated 1998.

A word of warning if you decide to visit this memorial. I was cited by the local police for exceeding the speed limit by 5 miles an hour. This happened in a practically stereotypical speed trap. The cop was uncommunicative and unfriendly, rude actually. He insisted that the fine would be $105 dollars, but after paying all the "fees" for paying by phone, using a Visa card and several other nonsensical fees, it was nearly $200 dollars, so be careful if you go!

Next time, on May 1, we will travel back to Virginia, so join me there, as usual at 9:00am

To see other memorials from Texas, or any other state, click the state name on the left side of this page.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

South Dakota XV

I had a little time, so I thought I would drive out to Devil's Gulch, where Jesse and Frank James evaded a posse in hot pursuit by jumping the gulch. Well, it was a little difficult to find and then when I did, it didn't seem as if the average horse would have much trouble jumping it. I think they got away because they jumped from Minnesota into South Dakota, but that is really just a guess.

I decided just to cruise through the town of Garretson, SD just to see if maybe there was a memorial in the town. I hadn't driven but three or four blocks when I came upon this multi-war memorial near the corner of 2nd and Main.

The wind was blowing pretty hard, you can see that the flag pole is under some stress.

As with all multi-war sites, several involvements are honored here, Vietnam is on the top right side with the four from the area who were lost named and honored forever.

So, a side trip to check out Jesse James lead me to a memorial to four of our brothers. I have learned not to be surprised by what I find on this journey.

Next time, on April 26th, we will once again, visit Texas, so join me there at 9:00am, as always.

To see other memorials from South Dakota, or any other state, click the state name on the left side of this page.