My father served with the Army Air Corp in Burma and India. That was his war. Too soon, we baby-boomers of The Greatest Generation had our war: Vietnam. My dad and his Band of Brothers fought for victory under the uncompromising Allied demand of unconditional surrender. My Band of Brothers fought for survival under an increasingly confusing concept of limited war, counter-insurgency, bombing halts, enemy sanctuaries, body counts, sparrow warfare, and honorable withdrawal, which was anything but.
The Greatest Generation was mostly retired or expired before Congress honored them with their World War II Memorial in May of 2004. My Band of Brothers was a bit luckier, I suppose, perhaps out of guilt from ambivalent politicians, but nevertheless given our Memorial in 1982: the Wall.
Designed by Chinese-American Yale student Maya Ying Li, the Wall is without an inscription to even identify the war, and void of grandiose statuary. Two converging walls of black granite delineate the Wall, with the names of American dead or missing.
At last count, around 58,267.
Richard B. Fitzgibbon is on the Wall, killed on June 8, 1956, the first recognized casualty of Vietnam. His son, Lance Cpl. Richard B. Fitzgibbon III, is also on the Wall, killed on Sept. 7, 1965. Three sets of fathers and sons are on the Wall.
The largest age group on the Wall was in their 18th year -- 33,103. The youngest, PFC Dan Bullock, was 15 years old.
Of the names on the Wall, 997 were killed on their first day in Vietnam. On their last day in Vietnam, 1,448 American warriors were killed in action. Among the Band of Brothers on the Wall are 31 sets of brothers.
Nurses are on the Wall, eight of them. The small town of Beallsville, Ohio -- 475 residents -- has six of its boys on the Wall. All nine male high school graduates of a tiny copper mining town in Arizona joined the Marines together as a group on July 4, 1966.
Six of the nine boys are on the Wall.
Hippies and protesters and politicians had their say, while 3 million Americans answered the call "in-country," of which two-thirds were volunteers, and 73 percent of those who died were volunteers, and, on the Wall.
Last Veteran's Day my pastor and I, along with several members of our church, joined American veterans at Applebee's for a free meal. Applebee's is doing the same this year, nationwide. I wish this year I could rejoin my Band of Georgia Brothers for a cold beer and war story or two, but that is not to be.
This Veteran's Day I'll be at the Wall. It's taken me over 40 years to recognize that I can at least do that for my Brothers on the Wall, perhaps touch the name of Doug Reyes. Doug and I graduated from high school together. Like my father, I became one of the flyboys; Doug, tough and rough, of course joined the Marines. While I stepped on and off of airplanes, Doug stepped on a landmine. He, too, was 18 years old.
Remember our veterans this Veteran's Day. We've certainly earned a day when our countrymen offer a simple "thank you" -- quite frankly, that's all we've ever needed.
Pete Mecca writes "A Veteran's Story" for the Citizen. It appears each Wednesday.