Six Men on the Vietnam Wall

I want to tell you about six men so that you will know them not as names on a reflective, gabbro wall, but as people.

vietnam war dog tagsAs memorial day approaches, I find myself thinking about my friends whose names are on Vietnam Wall I would like to share something with you about them . . . not how they died, but how they lived. Behind every name on that wall….there was a personality, family and friends who loved them, and those of us who served with them, and because we served with them…..a small part of us is on that wall with them.

I want to tell you about six of the men who are forever enshrined on that wall, so that you will know them not as names on a reflective, gabbro wall, but as people.

1) Dan Lambdin. I knew Dan from Germany when we served together in the 7th Cavalry. He met me at the railroad station in Schweinfurt and when I took his extended hand there was a twenty dollar bill there. “What’s this for?” I asked. Dan replied, “Seeing as you were in transit over payday, I figured you might need it.” Boy, did I ever need it. I had less than a dollar to my name, and I hadn’t eaten a bite since the meal on the plane, the day before. Like me, Dan was a warrant officer, and we were part of a bowling team we called WOPA…meaning “Warrant Officers Protective Association.” I still have my bowling shirt. Dan and I went to Vietnam at the same time, but didn’t serve in the same unit. However, I saw him several times while I was there, and we made a few fun excursions into down town Vung Tau.

2) Walt Morris also served with me in Germany and was another warrant officer. Walt was only 19, the beneficiary of the army lowering the age limit for getting into flight school. We used to tease him, saying that he got on the wrong bus one morning, thinking he was going to high school, but wound up in flight school. Walt was also a member of the WOPA bowling team. I went with Walt to buy a Volkswagen “bug” which he was all hepped up about. But when we got to the car dealership the manager called over a “translator” to deal with him. She was one of the most beautiful young women either of us had ever seen. She talked Walt into buying a VW bus. “Walt, that’s three times more than you planned to spin,” I said. “I know, Dick….but wasn’t she beautiful?”

3) Benjamin (Bob) Bostic was a captain. We went through the AMOC (Aviation Maintenance Officers Course) together, and wound up, not only in the same unit in Vietnam, but as roommates in the BOQ. Bob was a graduate of Northwestern and he married a girl from Northwestern who was so pretty she would actually turn heads when she came into the officers club. Bob was a good artist, and we had actually planned for him to illustrate the cover of one of my books, when we reached our drop dates.

4) Jimmy Winston was my driver. He was a young black man from Chicago and because he had never driven before he got into the army, he loved to drive. We had a game we would play. If we saw a rock on the road ahead of us, Jimmy would call out, ‘Chief, grab that rock!’ He would swerve over so I could catch it with my foot, and drag it down the road. Of course, we could only do that on hard surface roads. Jimmy was a really good kid, and a good soldier, very much liked by the entire company. When I came through Chicago on my way back home I called his mother, and shared with her what a good soldier Jimmy was, and how much he was liked.

5) I didn’t serve with James Wyatt….who I had known for most of my life as “Jimmy.” We grew up as neighbors, playing kick the can, football, and baseball together. We also went hunting and fishing together. I found out that Jimmy was in Vietnam the same time I was, and wasn’t too far away. Twice, I tried to visit him, but he was gone both times. Twice he tried to visit me, but I was gone both times, so though were unable to connect, we did leave notes for each other. Jimmy was the champion horse shoe thrower in Sikeston High School, and I think he would want you to know that.

6) Leslie “LeRoy” Karnes. LeRoy is someone else that I didn’t serve with in Vietnam, though we were in the National Guard together back in Sikeston, Missouri when both of us were in high school. And like me, LeRoy had lied about his age to get in. It was easier for LeRoy to lie about his age than it was for me, because LeRoy was a big, strong, kid. Unlike a lot of big kids, though, LeRoy was never a bully. On the contrary I saw him, on more than one occasion, come to the aid of someone who was being picked on by a bully. LeRoy’s mere presence was enough to stop it. I said that I wasn’t going to talk about how these men died, but in LeRoy’s case I’m going to make an exception. He died, saving the lives of his squad, and for that, he received the Silver Star. I’m very proud of him.

I am an eighty year old man, gray hair, hard of hearing, and very much feeling my age. If Dan, Walt, Bob, Jimmy Winston, Jimmy Wyatt, and LeRoy Karnes were here today, they would look very much like me. But they don’t look like me. Like Teeter’s magnificent painting, Reflections in the Wall, those six men, as well as the over than 58,000 other names are, and will be forever, as I remember them. Young, vibrant, representatives of the best America had to offer. Yes, we weren’t always appreciated then…but America has come around. I wore my Vietnam Vet cap yesterday, and three people came up to me to thank me for my service. But they weren’t just thanking me, they were thanking all Vietnam vets, those of us who came home, and especially, those who didn’t.

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