Twenty-five years have passed and I have finally made it to a place called “The Wall.” It has been said that all Vietnam Veterans must make a trip to this place to complete the cycle of healing. We all go and hope we do not find those names of friends to whom we never got to say goodbye, but as you look at panel after panel your worst fears and realized, here on panel 2-E is your friend’s name with a diamond beside it, stating he was killed in action. Looking further down you see the name of the man you never got to know but knew him only as the NFG (new fucking guy), his name was Miller, but a cross is after his name.
We never recovered his body so the government has listed him as a MIA. Sudden guilt overwhelms you and the question we all ask ourselves is “did we do everything possible to save our fellow brothers?” This question will only be answered when we meet in heaven.
My aim was to help you feel the emotion that draws so many people to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial every year. Another speaker asks all of us to register, and vote for those who aren’t with us today. For you see “the price of freedom is written on the wall.”
In previous speeches you have been asked to use your imagination to reach exotic and faraway places, but tonight I will ask you to travel back into time. To learn why the Vietnam memorial has become a symbol of this country’s most emotional and controversial memorial in Washington D.C.
I ask of you to try to visualize the life of a nineteen year old who was in Vietnam in the year 1965. I am going to take you on a day and night experience of a combat soldier who was under constant emotional and physical strain.
Starting by waking up in a cold sweat, despite the heat, and asking the same question that he has asked every day since he arrived “in country.” This will be the same question that is on every soldier’s mind “Will I survive this day?”
As I wake up this morning to go on a company sized patrol knowing my squad will be leading the point on this mission. My best friend, Miller, will have the lead point in our platoon.
A light mist covers the rice paddies as we begin to cross toward our main objective, the village of Chu-Lai. Our worst fears ring out as the point receives incoming fire and the call for a corpsman rings back through the company. We know there has been casualties, but we do not know how bad or who.
As the rest of the company moves up to secure the village, those who were hit have been evacuated, leaving us not knowing if they’ll live or if they’ll die. As the adrenaline wears off we are all left with the anger of not knowing or being able to say goodbye to our friends.
Returning back to base camp from the day patrol, there is no time left to dwell on the emotions that have carried you through the day. Now you must forget the day's events and prepare yourself for the worst mission of a combat soldier. This is the night listening post where you are alone in the jungle as an early warning system for your company.
As the sun slowly sets, you inch your way out to your position where you observe the jungle as it will your friend, or your worst enemy during the long night. As you set in knowing that you have men on your left and right, but there is a NFG who has had no prior experience in combat and you begin to worry if he’ll make it through the night. Suddenly the darkness is broken by gunfire and a loud explosion coming from the direction of the NFG’s position.
You remain still so as not to be discovered and are afraid that the pounding of your heartbeat will give you away to the enemy. Finally dawn breaks, with the knowledge that you have made it through one more day.
Finally the day comes that you’re a short timer and you get on the freedom bird for home, but the question you always ask yourself is “What happened to your friend Miller and the NFG?”