When I saw the announcement on the NMFA website asking for volunteers to wash the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall on August 12, 2017, it brought back mixed memoires. I served in Vietnam in the late 60’s as a Captain, Company Commander. I retired from the Army after 33 years and that assignment in Vietnam was one of the most challenging, and also meaningful, assignments of my career. It instantly brought back memories of two of my soldiers killed in Vietnam, and a few college friends who served and gave all. The names of all of these individuals are noted on the Wall.
I quickly decided this would be a great opportunity to honor my soldiers, friends, and all who served and died for their country by taking part in the washing of the Wall–something that happens before tourists come out, and sometimes, before the sun comes up.
Looking back, Vietnam was not a popular war with the American people, and we did not come back from Vietnam as heroes. I was okay with those opinions, as I thought I was doing what I should for my country–regardless of conflicting views. I left my wife, Mary, who was 7 months pregnant, and our 14 month old baby girl to go to Vietnam. I moved them into my parents’ modest home, where there were already had 4 teenage children living. I got to see my son for the first time 14 months after he was born. The sacrifices military spouses and families made then, and make now, are still not properly recognized as they deserve. I was doing my job for the Army–Mary and my larger family were supporting me in that patriotic responsibility…sometimes at significant sacrifice to themselves.
I believe I am like many soldiers–we don’t talk about our combat experiences. Those experiences, like mine in Vietnam, are held in our memory, and every now and then, deeply held feelings and thoughts leak out.
Now that I am older and wiser (I hope), I wanted to share the experience of washing the Wall with my children, their spouses, and my grandchildren. So, I invited all who were in town to join my Mary and me in washing the Wall early on that beautiful Saturday morning.
I was gratified everyone in my family, who was available, immediately said yes to my invitation to wash the Wall. Our daughter-in-law, Amber and her two children, Skye and Aidan, joined us and they felt honored and privileged to participate in this important event. And that morning, for the first time in a very long while, I elaborated a little about my service in Vietnam and the loss of 2 soldiers in my unit. For me personally, washing the Vietnam Memorial Wall allowed me to honor my fellow soldiers and rekindle my pride in my service to our country. I am very proud of my service in that conflict, and especially wanted my grandchildren to know a little about my experience versus what they may read in books. I also think it is important for all Americans to participate in service projects to show gratitude to all service members who sacrificed so much for the greater good of this country.
After the event, I asked Amber, Skye, and Aidan what they thought about the experience of helping me and NMFA with this project. Collectively, they said, “Washing the Vietnam Memorial Wall with everyone there was a unique opportunity for us to not only honor those who gave that ultimate sacrifice protecting our freedom, but also show our gratitude to our grandfather for his service. It was an amazing experience and we are honored to have been able to give back in a small way to those who truly gave everything for us.”
Needless to say, this experience touched all of us, and reminded us, again, of the sacrifices that service members make every day–some with the ultimate sacrifice.
Thank you, NMFA, for this opportunity to participate in this meaningful project and we will see you there next year.
Posted by John G. Meyer, Jr. MG(R) U.S. Army, Special Adviser to NMFA