Friday, November 11, 2016


I stood at the top of the incline, looking toward the long, black wall, with the more than 58,000 names just a blur. I watched people moving slowly along the wall…from those too young to have any memory of the Vietnam war, to those people whose hair had been bleached white by the passing of too many years.

Sometimes there would be a couple of men staring at the wall, engaged in quiet conversation.

“I don’t believe Smitty ever bought a cigarette of his own.”

“No, but he was a good man. You needed somethin’ done, you could always count on Smitty.”

“Problem with him, he couldn’t keep his mouth shut. He was always talkin’ himself into trouble.”

“He only had three weeks ‘till his drop date when he was killed. Can you believe that? Three weeks.”

Ruth had gone to check in the book to help me locate some of my friends. They aren’t listed alphabetically, they are on the wall chronologically, according to when they were killed.

She came back with the names. The first name was Dan Lambdin. Dan and I were friends from Germany, in Vietnam at the same time, but not serving together. I found his name on the wall, and, as dramatically as if it were a scene change in a movie…the wall, the people around me, tone and tint, disappeared. I could hear the sound of rotor blades, I could smell jet exhaust, I could feel the oppressive heat of the flight line at Phu Loi, Vietnam.

Dan was in Vung Tau, and I had flown over from Phu Loi to deliver a helicopter. Dan’s roommate was gone, so he invited me to stay with him. We lay there that night, talking across the dark space between our bunks, remembering funny incidents from Germany, talking about what we had encountered in Vietnam.

“The first thing you have to do is to learn not to be afraid you’re going to be killed every time you go out,” Dan said. “You need to stop worrying about your mortality and think only about the momentary reality.”

But we wondered what it would be like to be killed. Are you aware beyond death? Where does your soul go?

“Ha! You better believe, I won’t be staying here,” Dan said with a chuckle.

The next day we went down to the airfield together. I was going to fly back to Phu Loi, and Dan was going to deliver a generator to a Special Forces “A-Team” unit near Binh Khat. We exchanged some off-color remark by way of goodbye, and went our separate way.

When I landed at Phu Loi, the line-chief, who had served with Dan and me in Germany, came over to tie down the aircraft. “Chief, did you hear about Mr. Lambdin?”

“What do you mean, hear about him? I just left him. Hear what?”

“He was just shot down and killed near Binh Khat. He was delivering a generator.”

“No,” I said. “That’s not possible!” I spoke those words while standing at the wall, but they reached back across the almost forty years that separated then from now in an instant.

Then, with my throat choked, and my eyes dimmed by tears, I continued my sojourn down the wall, putting my hands on 22 more names, feeling each of them, seeing them as the young, vibrant men I remembered. Looking around I saw that I wasn’t the only one traveling through time and that day. To me, my fellow time travelers were no longer old men with gray hair and drawn skin. They were young, and they were wearing jungle fatigues and flak vests, and they had M-16s slung over their shoulders, or .45 pistols strapped to their sides. Their eyes weren’t filled with tears…they were set in the ‘thousand yard stare’ that we all wore then.

I said one more goodbye to all my friends that day, then I walked away, leaving the wall behind me, but not the ghosts and memories. They will be with me until I cross that great divide. Vietnam was but three years out of my 76 years of life...but the impact those three years made on me is incalculable.

On this approaching Veterans Day I think not only of my Vietnam and Cold War peers, but of all 40 million who have served this country since its birth. We are one long line stretching through the battles that mark our history; Bunker Hill, New Orleans, Matamoros, Shiloh, Little Big Horn, San Juan Hill, The Marne, Iwo Jima, Chosin Reservoir, Ia Drang, Baghdad, and Fallujah, and I am proud to say that I am a brother to all of them.
Robert Vaughan - CW3 - US Army (ret)

All of us gave some…some gave all.


  1. Beautiful words, for beautiful truths.

  2. Beautiful words, for beautiful truths.

  3. A wonderful post, Robert. Beautifully written.
    My sincere thanks to you and all your brothers in arms for your service to our country ... and God Bless.

  4. Robert,

    Eloquently written.

    For every young man who served, it is always a heavy burden. At least the soldier never forgets...

  5. Dick, this post is one of those unforgettable ones that stay with the reader. My husband is also a Viet Nam vet, and I know firsthand that being in a war is one of the things that shapes your personality and thoughts forevermore. So many memories--it's good to share them. Thank you!

  6. Regardless of you feelings about conflict, it is a responsibility for everyone to honor those who discharged the duty they undertook. I lived through that time and worked with many who had served then and in the conflicts before and after,still do and a more honorable group I have yet to find. May those who served never be forgotten, and your post serves those and yourself well. Doris

  7. My best friend Pat's cousin is still an MIA in Viet Nam. A few years back, when I went to D.C. for my nephew's wedding, I went to the Viet Nam Memorial and had one of the volunteers rub Jimmy's name onto a sheet of paper. (That's one of the things they do there). A very moving spot. What struck me the most was the silence in the middle of the hustle and bustle of D.C.

    Thanks to all of our veterans.

    Jim Griffin

  8. Thanks, Dick. Great post. A good buddy of mine from high school, one of those guys who makes you wonder just how good a guy a guy can be, just came home last year. He was found still in the back seat of his intruder (a navigator) in twenty feet deep sea water. My brother got out of the Navy as a F8U jockey before Vietnam and I had three kids when it started, so wasn't called. Unlike much of the country, we cheered returning vets, but not the politicians, particularly Johnson. Worthless old men should let the military handle military matters. God bless you and all the vets, and those currently serving.

  9. What an emotionally moving post. Thank you for your service and welcome home (even though it's a bit late). God keep you in His care.

  10. What a heartfelt tribute. Thanks for sharing, Robert.

  11. I'm a vet, Vietnam and 26 years in the Army. I have to admit something. When someone says to me, "Thank you for your service," I appreciate it, but to be honest, it makes me feel a bit uncomfortable because I was just doing a job that I liked a lot. I got so very much out of the experience that I feel I don't have to be thanked for doing it. This was a really good article and I'm forwarding it to some vet buddies.

  12. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. It was a wonderful memorial to those who served and those who paid the ultimate price. One of my books that was recently published included fictionalized versions of some of my husband's Vietnam War experiences. He is not a writer, and it was a privilege to share his stories--not only descriptions of what happened, in a way some of his thoughts and feelings.

    I had the opportunity to travel to the Washington, D.C. area years ago for business. I took the bus tour that allowed us to visit the monuments. I stood outside the Vietnam Memorial, but decided to not go in. I did not want to go there before my husband had an opportunity to travel there and remember old friends whose names are on the wall. We are planning the cross country trip two summers from now. That is the main thing in D.C. he wants to see. You expressed very well the reason why that is.

    Thank you -- Robyn Echols writing as Zina Abbott

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  14. Thanks for such a moving tribute, Dick. I think most of our generation could trace our fingers over the names of those who in some way intersected our lives and see their reflections in ours.

  15. Memories. Thanks, Dick.

  16. It's a privilege to "know" all of you who are veterans. All of the war memorials felt like hallowed places, each moving in its own way.

  17. A fine tribute to all the vets, very eloquent.

  18. Thanks for your service Dick. It's a privilege to have you as a friend.