Thursday, April 29, 2010

Michigan




Once again I am humbled by the seemingly unending power of the universe. My wife has told me many times that I am SUPPOSED to be taking this journey, doing this work, completing this healing project. And I, the worlds great skeptic, scoffer at all things, have tried and tried not to believe. Yet, on way too many occasions we meet someone or some coincidence seems to occur that proves her right on target and it has happened again, today! Again, my confidence that I am right is shaken.

Just a few hours ago, I was in Mt. Pleasant, Michigan at the Michigan Vietnam Memorial. This site has panels inset to a brick V shaped wall listing those from the state who gave all, an array of flags, POW/MIA markers etc. It also boasts a beautiful statue called "War Cry". Having taken a number of pictures, I was standing beside the statue talking with an Iraqi War Vet who jogs to this site every day. As we spoke another guy quietly walked up, popped open a can of beer and circled the statue emptying the can on the ground surrounding "War Cry". He glanced at us and said "I'm giving my brother a drink" He explained that his "brother" died three years ago today (April 17, 2010) from complications of agent orange exposure. He said he comes here occasionally to "give him a drink" As we talked he became somewhat overwhelmed, yet continued with the story of how his friends former C.O. had wanted to give him (the friend) a birthday present a few years back. He got a Vietnam Era Jeep, towed it from Kansas City, Kansas and gave it to the friend, whom he had not seen in 30 years!. The friend thought this was a great gift but was a little unsure regarding what to do with it. He decided to give it to all vets. So, he and others have driven the Jeep in various parades and to events and gatherings and invited vets of all eras to "sign" it with an indelible pen they carry in a box. They have been featured in newspaper articles and written up in The American Legion's magazine. I commented that I would love to see it and he said that it was here in town and he would take me to it. He called ahead to say we were coming and we went a few miles away to home of the daughter of his friend.

When we arrived her husband had pulled the Jeep out into the drive and started it up for us. As you can see, from the pictures, it is covered in signatures of vets. Nearly every available space, inside and out, has someones name on it. They have no idea how many have actually signed it, but now it has two more. My new friends asked that I sign it. I am not sure that I have ever felt so honored as to be included! I commented that my sometimes traveling companion, Steve, would just love this and they insisted that I write his name, too. After I finished signing his name, I took some more photos of our names on the Jeep to send to him.

This is the point at which I became overwhelmed. Once again, something I never anticipated, could never have dreamed up in my wildest imagination had fallen into my lap. I guess my wife is more attuned to the possible than I will ever be!

I will post lots more about the sites I visited in Michigan in the near future, but, for now, I wanted to share this story about a little different kind of memorial, the Jeep.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Michigan




I think it is about time for me to give up on believing in coincidences. I have no explanation for why, after posting the last about the service of women, that the very next monument I go to has the above as a large part of its story. I will post more on this site later, but I wanted the full weight of this to sink in and stand on its own. Be sure to enlarge and read the dedication plaque. It says it all so much better than I ever could.

It occurs to me that I spoke to the service of our Grandmothers, Mothers and sisters in the previous post and that I should have mentioned, now, our daughters, too.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Women in service



I am sure that most people know that eight military women were killed in 'Nam, but in doing some reading I have learned that 59 civilian women perished, too! These women worked for a number of different and diverse organizations and I will list them further on.

This got me to thinking about something else I read recently. The memorial in D.C. that depicts two nurses aiding an injured G.I., and awaiting a medivac chopper, is entitled "The Woman's Memorial" although many, including locals have dubbed it "The Nurses Memorial" and I now understand why those who are most deeply involved in this site have objected to this unofficial renaming. I had no idea that 67 women had died in 'Nam!

These civilian women included;

3 American Red Cross workers
2 Army Special Services workers
1 Catholic Relief worker
2 C.I.A. agents
2 U.S.A.I.D. workers
2 Journalists
4 Missionaries
4 POW/MIAs (still unaccounted for)
1 U. S. Navy civilian
38 Killed in a plane crash during operation "Baby-lift"

Two of the 59 were children and two others were murdered by American soldiers. The remainder were mostly killed in gun battles and explosions and other hostile activity.

This got me thinking about the service of civilian women in other wars and the fact that just last month (March 2010) the Womens Army Service Pilots (WASP) were finally recognized for their exemplary service during WWII. These women performed numerous flight duties including towing targets for battleships to shoot at for practice! I know this because my former Mother-in-Law (a great lady) was one of the ones towing targets. Well, last month the organization (each member, living or deceased) was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal (the highest civilian award one may receive) and the remaining WASP members gathered in Washington D.C. for the ceremony. It is a wonderful tribute to these brave patriots, but it took over 60 years for it to happen. As a result only around 300 of the original 1600 (approximately) were actually able to see and enjoy their day of recognition.

So, the next time you are in D. C. make a point to visit The Woman's Memorial (near the Wall) and recall the service and sacrifices of our Mothers and Grandmothers in the past and our sisters in 'Nam.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Alabama II






The vets in Alabama feared that anyone who wasn't there would be unable to do this site justice, so they did it themselves. Nearly everything at the site was designed and built by the vets. They also like to remind us that this is a Veterans Memorial, not a "War" memorial.

I think one of the most striking features of the site is the POW/MIA bracelet which stands at the edge of the site. It was designed and constructed by a local vet and is said to have the names of still missing Alabamians etched upon it. I could find no such markings and assume that they have been rubbed off by the thousands and thousands of hands that must have touched it over the years. You can see the bracelet in the first picture in the last posting and a close-up here.

A small plaque tells the story of the now familiar POW flag and another explains the POW/MIA bracelets.

Another interesting feature is the War Dogs memorial and tribute found here. As I have mentioned in previous posts these are becoming more common and I am always glad to see them.

Lastly there is a poem. Written by someone identified only as "A Vet" that expresses what so many must feel.

In the literature posted at the site, there is a quote, from JFK, that bears repeating here, too.

"A nation reveals itself not only by the men it produces but also by how it honors, the men it remembers"

Friday, April 9, 2010

Alabama






Alabama is in the unique situation of having more than one Vietnam Memorial. Even more intriguing is the fact that they are all in the same place! The story goes something like this. Vets in Southern Alabama wanted a memorial, so they arranged to build one at Battleship Park where the USS Alabama has been on display and open to the public for some time. It was, also, decided that when the States traveling memorial, dedicated to all of Alabama's fallen completed its tour, that it, too, would be placed at the same site. The Baldwin and Mobile County Memorial was to honor the 175 fallen from those counties while the larger one pays tribute to all 1213 lost from the state.

It was later determined that the the larger traveling wall was not a candidate for inclusion at Battleship Park, so the vets decided to build their own version. It, too, is now located at the site. The site is said to include a "Huey" but it was not there on the days that I visited. The site does have a couple of interesting and extremely moving features not seen elsewhere.

First, there is a life-size statue of a vet looking at the wall, "Remembering" as the information on site explains. It was decided that he should be representative of vets today and therefore he is clearly older. Described at the time of placement as "fiftyish", he is in an old fatigue shirt and jeans. A patch on the shirt reads;"It's never over" It occurs to me what a statement that is. Despite all the literature and movies to the contrary, most of us came home and pursued our lives in a relatively "normal" (whatever that means) fashion. We went to school, and/or got jobs, married, had kids, grand kids, just like everyone else. It is also true that a day does not go by without some memory or less frequently, now, a brief flashback to that other time. For me, it is usually triggered by the smell of diesel fuel from a construction site or something. I think it is probably safe to say that all vets from all wars have similar experiences.

The third picture in this series is of an commemorative wall that is part of the continuous fund raising necessary to maintain the site. It sits just on the edge of the pentagon shaped memorial site and bricks can be purchased for any service veteran to help in this effort. As you can see there are a number of spaces yet available for purchase. If you would like to participate please contact the memorial;

Call (334)649-2281 or e-mail watkeison@aol.com


There is a B-52 on site and the wall is considered to be "under the wing", once again protected by these iconic planes. This one is a vet too. Named "Calamity Jane, she flew more than 100 missions in 'Nam. I think everyone has probably heard of the motorcycle run held each year in D.C. Thousands and thousands of bikes ride from the Pentagon past the Wall. It is referred to as "Rolling Thunder" due to the throbbing engines but I wonder if as many people know that the name comes from the bombing runs made by this and other B-52's, in country, called "Rolling Thunder." It is my greatest wish to ride in D.C.'s Rolling Thunder and am currently making plans to do just that.

More on this moving, exceptional site next time.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Florida VI addendum



I was doing a little more reading and discovered a possible error in my last post. I called the statue of the little girl a tribute to the children of Vietnam Vets. I have read that in more than one spot, but, the inscription on the statue itself says, "... children of America's 20th century heroes" I am not sure why this is reported differently in various places, but I thought I would try to report correctly! If anyone knows more about this, please contact me. You can make a public comment or use the email on the site.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Florida VI





My last stop in Florida was in Pensacola.

Here, after a visit from the "Traveling Wall" vets decided they wanted a permanent memorial of their own. After a five year fund-raising campaign an exact replica of the "Wall" in D. C. was built in a small park, 5 and half acres on Bayfront Parkway, overlooking Pensacola Bay. A "Huey" was added to "watch over", as well as a statue of a child representing the children of Vietnam Veterans. Other memorials to other wars have been added or relocated to this site to make it truly a Veterans Memorial Park.

At one time, this was the only place other than on the Wall in DC that all 58,000 plus names of KIA/MIA's were listed. But, now, at least in Bozeman, Montana there is another replica containing all the names. It (Montana) is part of a site being built to honor all veterans at the Sunset Hills Cemetery.

As at other sites, people leave things at the Wall. These are collected and cataloged by volunteers. The Vietnam Veterans Wall South Foundation is very proud of the fact that not "one dime" of taxpayer money has been spent on upkeep or to maintain the site. Maintenance and upkeep of the park is the responsibility of the group and this calls for ongoing fund-raising and a continuous need for volunteers.

If you would like to help, they may be reached at;

Vietnam Veterans Wall South Foundation, P. O. Box 17886, Dept.W, Pensacola, Fl. 32522

There is a more complete telling of the story of Wall South and the man behind it at;

http://www.vietvet.org/collins.htm

The very last picture is self explanatory!