Karl Neathammer: Reflections on the traveling Vietnam Wall
“If thou be judge, thou shall be judged by the company ye keep,” – author unknown
When the traveling Vietnam Wall came to Carson City, I was a member of the Honor Guard. In no particular order, and if I’m to be judged, then the following comments are from men and their families whose company I choose to keep!
Carson City Supervisor John McKenna: “It was a privilege to be there and participate. It allowed me to reflect on those who lost their lives not just in Vietnam but in all actions defending the United States. The hard part of guarding the wall was that it brought back memories of those that I served with who died, and those that were wounded. The memories of their deaths and woundings are still vivid and painful even after 46 years.”
Michael Zola-Gunnery Sergeant, USMC (Ret.): “It was with great honor and pride that I could stand guard at the wall, having done my combat tour in Vietnam. It was the least I could do for the many that didn’t make it. When walking up to the display area for the first time, the ‘sand-bag’ wall brought back many memories in itself.”
John Hussong, 16th Tac Recon, Tan Son Nhut, Saigon 67/68: “The quiet reflection during the early morning hours offered solace and healing…just the wall and the names. Questions filled my mind about friendships and missed conversations. There were tears shed and words spoken, some aloud and some silently. To those that sacrificed everything for their country and their comrades, they are and will always be remembered.”
Verne Horton: “While I didn’t see the fellow in the picture accompanying the article mentioned, I did see a father/grandfather standing few feet away from the wall, midway down the “E” panel’s side with his arms around a 10-12-year-old boy who had his face buried in the man’s side, very noticeably crying. Needless to say, that sight tore me up. Something I’ll never forget. A truly awesome and humbling few days. Thanks for the privilege.”
Frank Carpenter: “It has been a great honor to serve on the Honor Guard. To the families, friends and fellow veterans, it has been a pleasure to meet all of you and help you find the names of your loved ones. I had a teacher ask for more information on the wall because “They don’t teach anything about this in school, and I want to tell the students about it.”
Richard G. Shuster, chairman, Board of Directors, VVA Chapter #989: “The honor of being there to assist visitors at the wall was one of my most emotional and spiritual experiences in many years. To be there for those attending was most humbling and rewarding. Again, thank you for the opportunity to serve.”
Ron Smith, president, Carson City Kiwanis club, U.S. Army 1968-1971: “It was wonderful for me to walk the wall and extend my thanks to over 58,000 of our nation’s finest and to thank them for their service and sacrifice. I was able to say thank you to my former tactical officer from Fort Benning Army OCS, and it also was an eerie feeling to see my namesake on the wall.”
Carson City Mayor, Bob Crowell, Captain, United States Navy: “The wall brings many memories, thoughts and, yes, tears that never seem to go away. So many young lives were lost and damaged in a war that was never really understood or indeed appreciated by many. The wall is a stark reminder that as a people, we should never abandon those who go in harm’s way in the service of our nation. It was the highest honor to guard the wall.”
Tom Washington: “I was in one of the museum tents looking at the pictures. You know how you get those moments when it all comes back? Damn picture of a kid who looked just like a buddy of mine over there who never made it back to the world. A little gal must have seen me getting choked up and came over and just put her hand on my shoulder and said, ‘Welcome home!’ I’m not much one to talk, but that little gesture of compassion and understanding got me telling stories. I have to say, she’s one of the first ladies I’ve ever met that really gets it. Pretty soon what started out as a hard memory got turned around to a good one. First time I ever left after seeing the wall feeling better about it all.”
Jack McQuirk: “Why did I work the Wall? It was my turn to guard the men and women who were on land fighting against the enemy. Most of my duty was spent at sea in North Vietnam near the Hanaoi River. Many of my fellow vets termed the area, “Tonkin Gulf Yacht Club.” We were more in the background, while many were fighting on the land. I enjoyed finally being involved in guarding the Wall. While on duty, it was a great time for reflection in the war. “Why has it taken so many years to be welcomed home?” “Why, so many years for the citizens of the United States to say anything?” Comparing our experiences of coming home to what we remembered of the troops coming home from previous wars was very upsetting. It is no wonder that many of us have had trouble becoming involved with any veteran’s groups or just admitting that we were veterans from a no-win war.”
John Lingar: “I’ve been to seven traveling wall presentations and have found that it doesn’t get any easier to face it. I’ve had the privilege of being on three difference committees to bring the wall to three Bay Area towns and found that you are never ready for the closing day ceremony. It’s a very humbling experience that you don’t want to end. You meet other vets, swap stories or just stand there staring in silence at the wall. I only have one name that I go to, CPL AR 1 AUG 67 24E 64. To sum it up, it is an overwhelming experience that takes weeks to put in your memory banks and move on with your life.”
•-Karl Edward Neathammer is a Carson City resident.