Hue City, 3 Purple Hearts and a Full Metal Jacket
The last several days were certain evidence of a vibrant Spring here in the Nation’s Capital: crystal clear and cool, the trees in bloom, the birds singing and nesting, life all around. I spent them with a group of Vietnam Veterans and those that love them, touring the city. Marines, Army, Navy and Air Force, we saw the sights, including the World War II Memorial and the Korean War Memorial.
I got to know them, if just a bit, and was honored to be tagging along. They are a class act. Mostly in their sixties and seventies they are living full lives. Some of them were teenagers or just barely in their twenties when off to war they went.
The “highlight” or culmination of the trip would be visiting the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and the laying of a wreath of flowers there.
We walked up to the Lincoln Memorial first and then it was time. They gathered before the Wall as other visitors respectfully looked on.
Afterwards, they brought their flowers up to the sculpture, The Soldiers, by Frederick Hart.
I re-joined them at that point as it seemed appropriate. To be honest, I was a bit nervous, awed even, at the prospect of talking about the Memorial to such a group. Of course, I needn’t have been. I decided to tell them what I tell youngsters when I bring them there and then I asked what they thought I should be saying. I was glad I asked.
Among this group were several women, seemingly unattached. I stood there with them on that pristine afternoon and heard a reason why. Her husband was 19 and he enlisted, as she said, “to save the world.” During his time “in country” he received three Purple Hearts and fought in the grueling, bitter, house-by-house fight for Hue City in 1968. His platoon would be in the “bush” for up to three weeks straight, sharing a single toothbrush among 30 men.
He came home from Vietnam, but not really. The next forty years were filled with severe depression and crushing pain that neither therapy nor medications could touch. He constantly searched the “perimeter” of his house. He refused to eat, his weight falling to 115 pounds. He would cut himself and then sew the wound up.
Last year, days after his 40th wedding anniversary and at age 60, he shot himself in the head.
They took the body away but she and the kids were left to clean up the aftermath and thus the horror of Hue and young men at war came home again.
She wanted me to say to those seeing the Wall how terrible it was, and is, for men and women to come home from war and to be scorned for their service, heroism and bravery. And, she asked that I talk about the lasting and unseen wounds of war.
Her husband’s name belongs on that wall as surely as any other.