Saturday, July 4, 2009

The Traveling Wall

The Traveling Wall, a replica of the Vietnam Memorial that is located in Washington, DC, is in the Oklahoma City area this weekend. It is set up on the football field at the High School in Piedmont, Oklahoma. In 1995 Joanne and I visited the real wall in DC. That visit was very emotional for me since I have several high school friends whose names are on the wall but also the names of 20 crew members of my ship, USS NEWPORT NEWS (CA-148). Although these 20 shipmates served, and died, after I had left the ship they are still considered to be my shipmates.

This morning we drove out to the display in Piedmont. It is a very nice set up with US flags lining both sides of the road for several miles before you get to the stadium. Today we only went to the panel with the 20 shipmates names. I was surprised at the effect this had on me. I thought after seeing the real wall in DC that this would be different. Just as in 1995 I found myself chocked up and unable to speak. After taking a couple of pictures I needed to get away from the wall and with tears streaming down my face I walked away. (The visit to the USS ARIZONA memorial in Pearl Harbor had the same effect on me. Something about seeing a huge wall with the names of all these valiant men who had given their all for their country.)

I'm glad we took the time on this Independence Day to honor our guys. As I get older I find myself getting much more emotional when thinking about these things. The 20 shipmates all died on October 1, 1972, when a bad 8 inch round exploded in the barrel of Turret Two. I can't help but feel this could just as easily have been my name on that wall since the powder handling room, directly below the turret, in Turret Two was my very first general quarters station during the ships first Vietnam deployment in 1967.