For What Did They Die? | WHAT REALLY HAPPENED


For What Did They Die?

It is autumn, and the air is crisp and cool at night at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.

It gets very quiet at The Wall around midnight. The tourists have gone home, and are all tucked into bed.

A homeless Vietnam veteran patrols the black granite panels. He tells us that he has cancer and is having a hard time getting any benefits from the Veterans Administration. He lives in a mission that houses those who have nowhere else to go, but the doors don't open until 11 p.m.

He sees my interest in Panel 3-East, the third panel to the east of the apex of the memorial, and he asks if I was there at the Ia Drang Valley battles that contributed 305 of the names that are on that panel. I nod, and he grows animated. "Oh, I know these guys well. Or at least I know their names." He begins calling the roll to prove it: "Henry T. Herrick, John Geoghegan, Willie Godboldt, Travis Poss, Carl Palmer, Wilbur Curry, Thomas C. Metsker . . . ."

Twenty, then 30 of the names trip off his lips. "I tell people about them when they ask."

So do I.

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