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The Vietnam WallAug 06
The Vietnam Wall
During the first couple of years after Christy graduated from high school, Betty and I took several road trips, one of them through Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky and West Virginia to Virginia Beach. There we stayed in a timeshare condo for a week and toured the area.
One of the more interesting sites we visited was Colonial Williamsburg. Betty might not necessarily agree with me, but the best moment for me was a dinner in a 17th Century Tavern on Main Street. I have a picture of us standing on the street outside the pub and we were dead tired.
Inside we ordered a drink on the rocks: a shot of Apricot Brandy, a shot of Peach Brandy and a shot of Rum. We placed our order and sipped on the drink while an Irish balladeer entertained us with his words and music.
The old Irish folk songs continued throughout our stay, with Betty and I thoroughly enjoying the 18th century cuisine, all the while, dining on a very good steak and potato meal.
Of course, if the events had been reversed, the food first, then the drink and the music, I doubt the tavern would have been so memorable. The two of us being so tired, we may have fallen asleep instead. Whereas the strong drink had us primed for all that followed, and it was great.
On another day, across the street, we were entertained by a live play, one in which the audience was allowed to stand in the living room of an 18th century dwelling while the performance was under way, then later in the kitchen and slave quarters for the final acts.
The plot evolved a white man, set to marry a white woman and the man was trying to explain his intentions to his black concubine slave girl, and as would be expected, she didn’t understand. The performance was so real, it made me feel as if time had been turned back to the 1700′s and we were right there with them – the people that would have lived there during that era.
Another really great evening was a dinner-cruise up the James River, past the naval shipyard. But the highlight of our stay in Virginia Beach was a one-day bus trip up to Washington DC.
That night back in the room, Betty said she really enjoyed the trip. My thoughts were that it was a long bus ride up and back and being hurried from place to place was a little annoying to me. In one instance when I arrived back at the bus a little late, Betty said the driver had threatened to leave me behind. Luckily I showed up while the driver was still talking about it and he wasn’t forced to put his words into action.
Later, reflecting on the trip, I have to say it wasn’t that bad. We visited a portion of the capitol building, an old church and several museums. One of the museums had a giant blue whale hanging from the ceiling and a dinosaur exhibit, including a Tyrannosaurus Rex. But I was a little disappointed that it wasn’t as large as I had expected. Of course, what we saw was the skeleton, minus any flesh and skin the prehistoric beast once had and that would have reduced its size and appearance.
The entire journey to the east coast and back took us a good two weeks to navigate the Jaguar through 14 states, including stops in Myrtle Beach, Tunica and other places to sightsee, shop and gorge ourselves on some really great seafood.
We returned by traveling down the coast to North and South Carolina then west across Georgia back to Oklahoma. I had wanted to stop in Tupelo, Mississippi, thinking that was the birthplace of Elvis Presley. I remembered Jerry Reed’s song, The Tupelo Mississippi Flash and thought he may have been referring to Elvis and mentioned that to Betty. But I don’t think she was that impressed or was tired and we did stop.
A few minutes later I saw the sign, Tunica, Mississippi, 22 miles and realized Betty’s true intentions and that was spend the night in one of the casinos and gamble a few hours before returning to Pryor the next day.
Reflecting on the trip as a whole, I was impressed but also disappointed that we didn’t get to see that much of Washington DC. Still the situation rectified itself a few years later when I was sent back to the capitol on a business trip and Betty went along. On that trip we had seven days to prowl the streets, restaurants, subways and any museums we may have missed on the previous trip – including most all the national monuments.
One evening we took a subway out to Wolf Trap and listened to Peter, Paul and Mary perform their hits before a sold out crowd: most of them crowded inside the semi-enclosed structure but also many of them seated outside on the grass.
The next morning we took a subway to see the war memorials: the Vietnam Wall, the Nurses Memorial and the Korean War Memorial. They were all very good but I was the most impressed by the one that had the least to offer and that was the Vietnam Memorial Wall.
When I say it had the least to offer, I mean it consisted of 50,000 plus names etched into a rock wall, and that was it. But the emotions were as thick as a 9-day pea’s porridge, and there was nothing there that should have set me off. I suppose it goes to show you the power of the media – because I was primed.
Sure, I was in the Navy during the Vietnam War but I wasn’t there where all the fighting took place. The closest I came to the action was two years on Guam, in 1966 and 67. There my only thoughts of Vietnam were the roar and black smoke from the eight jet engines of bomb laden B52s, as the monster aircraft flew out in the morning then returned in silence the same day, many times while we were enjoying a movie in the outdoor theater.
One of my cousins, Delbert Williams, spent a year in Viet Nam. He told me a sniper might have taken a shot at him while he was writing a letter back home, but other than that, nothing. Also one of the guys at work, Leroy Gibson said he was over there but didn’t want to talk about it. So that’s the extent of my first hand knowledge of the war – other than what I read in the papers and watched on the evening news.
Therefore, it’s hard to explain why I would have become so emotional on that day. I had no personal or emotional ties to anyone that was over there. Still, when we crossed the road to the sidewalk that led to the memorial, I could feel the pressure building as I approached a small table where a man about my age had a few pictures and some Vietnam memorabilia set up for sale.
One picture in particular showed a man in civilian clothes standing with one hand on the wall and inside the wall was the image of several soldiers, one of them with his hand on the back side of the wall with his palm matching up with the civilian on the outside.
When I arrived the memorial, there was nothing there for me, nothing but a black marble wall inscribed with the name of every American soldier, airman, marine, sailor and coastguard, both men and women killed in the conflict. Still, I could feel what others felt, those that were there – but why?
The following poem tells the story of a small boy who lost his dad in Vietnam then grew up struggling with the thoughts that may have gone through his father’s mind when he was sent off to war and later when he was killed in Vietnam. Finally, the boy, now a grown man, stands at the base of the wall with the thoughts swirling in his head, the emotions welling up in his being, his tears staining the marble. I called it simply: The Vietnam Wall.
The war was raging in Vietnam
When Daddy got the call
Now he lies in state
a twist of fate
Inscribed upon the wall
I wonder at times of his final thoughts
As death was stalking him
Did they drift away
to the month of May
When Mama gave life to me
I wonder if he had time to remember
When she first showed him me
Did he jump with joy
for his little boy
And clap his hands with glee
Did he see a part of him in me
And hold me to his breast
Did he wish for me the best of things
And lay my fears to rest
Did he stay up nights to rock my bed
And pat my back in time
Did he set me down upon his knee
And read me nursery rhymes
Did he say his prayers and speak of me
In hopeful gracious ways
Did he make a bet with all his friends
That I’d be great some day
Did he weep for me the night he left
And say he was so sad
Did he wipe the tears from Mama’s face
And say he felt so bad
I don’t know why it took so long
For me to face it all
As the tears well up and tumble down
My cheeks and on the wall…