Mike served in the U.S. Army Aviation in the 1st Cav Division. In 1967-68 he was on a helicopter maintenance crew in Viet Nam. He doesn't talk about his experiences much, but I do know he enjoyed some good times there, worked with some great people, and had a pet monkey named Charlie.
We went over Friday early in the morning. It happened to be during the opening ceremony. We preferred to experience it on a personal basis, rather than with the huge crowd at the formal ceremony. So we wandered though the wall "museum," and listened to the patriotic music and speakers in the background.
Mike enjoyed the displays which included old worn boots (wishes he could get some like that these days), cans of C-rations, P-38 can opener (he carries his with him til this day on his key ring), notes to home from soldiers, dog tags, 1st Cav patch, and a purple heart. He showed me on a map of VN where he was stationed, mostly along the eastern seashore.
I decided to go back on Sunday to get an up-close view of The Wall. I asked Mike if he wanted me to look up any names and he gave me three--one from his high school and two from his outfit. Thankfully there is a directory with the 50,000+ names that are found on The Wall with the panel and line they are on. I found all three and took some pics. I had hoped to do one of those pencil rubbings, but the surface of this wall was flat with names printed on it. Many notes, fresh flowers, and remembrance bracelets were left in memory of names found there. A profound experience.
I was, on the other hand, against the war. Not against our guys who were actually fighting, like some people. They were following orders, in hopes that the higher ups knew what the hell they were doing. Back then there was a draft and guys had no choice (other than to go to Canada) about if they were going into the military or not, and where they would end up. And women were not allowed in the forces at that time.
So I was one of the "peace-loving flower children" you read about in the sixties, who was against the war in general and who thought it had a lot to do with oil and money. That is oversimplifying it, but it was how I felt at the time. I went to peace rallies and marched the streets of Pittsburgh, NYC, and Washington DC.
Anyway, this was a very touching event. I shed some tears even though I did not know anyone personally that died in VN. One person from my high school was a long time prisoner of war--John Sexton. Not a close friend, but I imagined what he went through. Not possible. I was thinking, too, about all the men and women who are currently in a war on behalf of the USA. It may be different this time, but still sobering.