My Memorial Day fifty years ago was spent in South Vietnam, in the company of my Marine rifle platoon—First Platoon, Lima Company, Third Battalion, First Marines. I had graduated from the Marine Corps’ Basic School for officers seven months before. The 185 members of our class—B Company, TBS 1-67—had gone their many ways just before Thanksgiving. One third of us went into the infantry and onward to units in the First or Third Marine Divisions. We almost completely lost touch with one another after our assignments to Vietnam, especially so for those who, like me, left the Corps after four years of service.
Incredibly, through the efforts of a couple of mates who, in the early 1990s, began to wonder what happened to us all, we began to meet and communicate regularly. We have met in reunion every five years since 1996, and just last October we had our most recent, marking 50 years since our experience together in The Basic School. (The story is pretty well told in a multitude of notes and bulletins in the B Company website one of those mates established years ago: TBS167.com.)
At our reunions, we had always paid homage to those we had lost during the conflict: seventeen were killed in action—including one who died of wounds years later—and four died in the line of duty. However, beyond donating commemorative bricks that line the walks of museum paths, we had never established a formal memorial in remembrance of them. Through the leadership of one of our classmates (Col. Hays Parks-Ret.), we at last did so on Wednesday, the 24th. Through the efforts of another class leader (Col. Bob Lange-Ret.), we had invited as many family members of our lost mates as we could find. A good number came, as seen above. (More about this in another post.)
It was all done the Marine Corps way, with a chaplain (Fr. John Cregan, Lt.Col. USMC, Ret.) on hand, a color guard, and a bugler to play taps. The plaque along with its dedication wreath is situated on one of several memorial walls the USMC Heritage Foundation has built along a beautiful memorial trail that winds through the grounds of the National Museum of the Marine Corps . A 30 minute video of the event (including my own brief contribution directed to family members) can be reached on the B Company website. Attached is the program with a close up o f the plaque DedicationProgram-web.
While thinking this day of those whose names appear on this plaque and on the Vietnam War Memorial and memorials around the country, I think too about the names that don’t appear. These include the names of beloved family members and friends, that I imagine to be invisibly filling the spaces surrounding the engraved names. Also absent, but in need of remembrance, are the many, many more names of those who suffered wounds, visible and invisible, many felt to this day.