The Wall
Jack Stoddard
CW2 Jack C Stoddard, USA, Ret.
© � 2005

The Wall

Jack smiled at the pretty young blond headed stewardess, as he and Ed took their seats in first-class for the five hour flight to DC. His body may have made it successfully onto the plane, but his mind was still recalling what had just happened in the airport lobby just a few minutes before while he was patiently waiting for Ed’s connecting flight to arrive in Las Vegas from LA.

Thinking it would be fun to greet his old war buddy while wearing his tattered and faded Army issued jungle hat, fondly referred to by most soldiers as a boonie hat, Jack hurriedly dug through his carry-on bag as Ed’s plane docked at the terminal gate. But as his fingers blindly touched the familiar worn cotton brim of his boonie hat buried deep in his bag, a sudden feeling of guilt flooded over his body, as if somebody had just thrown a bucket of warm water on him, his hand now oddly frozen inside of the bag as if it had been somehow glued there.

Beads of sweat suddenly covered his forehead while thousands of black and white photographs rapidly flashed before his eyes, as if he was watching part of his own past unfolding from a hidden location that had been locked somewhere in his mind, safely hidden away for many years. 

It was the summer of 1970 all over again, as Jack found himself standing in the San Francisco Airport, wearing his uncomfortable, over starched, short sleeved Khaki uniform, the foul smell of rotting canvas escaping his duffel bag which he held in his left hand, his worn boonie hat in the other.

Why are they looking at me like this, am I out of uniform?” he thought naively, as he felt the stares from both young and old alike, stares that silently cried out, war mongrel and baby killer, something that Jack knew nothing about, but they still came, these strange looks, as he walked through the long terminal halls with no welcome home greeting but rather just the stares. 

“Screw them, screw them all,” he thought, as he felt engulfed by the constant looks of loathing coming from the long haired strangely dressed teenagers that had no idea of where Vietnam was, no less what it was like to fight in that terrible War. Jack wanting now only to leave this place from his past, violently  shook his head back and forth, trying his best to leave the past behind and return to the future where he no longer felt these overbearing feelings of hatred.

“Are you all right Sir,” asked the heavy set man who was softly holding his shoulder.
“Yes, yes I’m fine thank you,” moaned Jack, wiping the sweat from his brow before softly adding, “Well no  ... no I’m not.”

Jack had no reason why he said what he just said, other then the fact that he felt a strange bond with this complete stranger that had just reached out in kindness towards him.

“What do you mean,” the large neatly dressed concerned looking man asked.

“This may sound strange, but I just had the weirdest sort of flash back,” stated Jack attempting to laugh the matter off as best he could. Then Jack went on to tell the man what had just happened to him, about the photos and coming home from the Vietnam and even about how he could smell the rotting canvas of his duffle bag. Hell, he’d even told this complete stranger about feeling of fear he had just felt, something that a man just didn’t share ever with anyone -- not ever.

“That’s not so strange, it happened to be too,” exclaimed the man who’s smile widened even more as he saw the surprised look on Jack’s face. “Hi let me introduce myself, my names Charlie, Charlie Cummings, and I served as a platoon leader with the 1st Cavalry in the Delta.”

As the two men shook hands, Lieutenant Charles Cummings explained that he had also proudly brought back his own boonie hat from Vietnam. He then went on to explain that many years later he too decided to wear his tattered and frayed hat to a reunion and how he had experienced the very same feelings of guilty, just like Jack just had but without the pictures!

“I think we all felt the same thing when we got home, you know, no parades, no welcome home banners, only those damn war protesters running up and down the airports calling us baby killers. I’m glad at least that it’s not that way today for our boys fighting in Iraq,” Charlie added as he pointed to the young pimple-faced Army private wearing his desert tan battle dress uniform. Jack smiled as he looked over at the young soldier sitting nervously, as if he couldn’t wait to get back home. “He’s probably flying stand-by; I’ll bet the airlines put him in first class if they can,” added Charlie.

“What do you do for a living Charlie, if you don’t mind my asking?”

“I own the largest travel agency in the DC area,” he replied pulling out his card, “If you and your friends ever want to fly back to Vietnam just let me know, I’ve always got a few great deals going,”

“I doubt if we’d ever do that, but thanks, here’s my card,” replied Jack reaching into his carry on bag, handing his new friend from the “Nam” a copy of his latest book.

“Of course, I thought you looked familiar! You’re Jack Wilcox, hell man I read your books all the time, would you mind signing this one for me,” he laughed loudly, as Ed’s plane was starting to unload.

Jack gladly signed his book for Charlie as his old friend Ed, unloading with the other passengers, had just arrived from San Francisco. He was easy to spot as he was the tall guy wearing the boonie hat!

Charlie and Jack both had to laugh as the three men stood and shook hands while attempting to explain what was so funny, besides the fact that Ed looked really silly!

A short time later after their plane was in the air; Ed offered a toast right after the pretty blond stewardess had given them there mixed drinks in one of those little clear plastic cups. Jack had ordered a beer for the young under-aged looking soldier sitting across from them in first class, just like Charlie said he would be. The stewardess had given Jack sort of a funny look as if they both knew the kid was probably not old enough to drink, but Jack just smiled as he whispered in her ear, “Take my word for it, he’s earned it.” 

“This is from a couple of old soldiers who just wanted to say thank you,” she said as she handed the surprised young soldier his cup of ice cold beer.

The next four hours passed quickly, as the two old soldiers talked about everything from their tours in the ‘Nam to the current war in Iraq, and of course how they could  have handled the latest war much better then those idiots at the white house have been.

Ed, himself a career soldier, had just retired from the Army with the rank of Command Sergeant Major, which is the highest enlisted rank there was. He and Jack had been fellow squad leaders in the Aero Rifle Platoon and had even shared a room for awhile.

Ed had stayed in the service when they both returned state side, but Jack had gone back to school remaining in the National Guard for another six years before he found his love of writing, a short while later after his first book was published, he decided he had to give up one of the two, with the military being the loser.

Ed and Jack were arriving in Washington a day earlier than the other four ARPs. Ed had called and asked Jack if he’d mind visiting The Wall with him alone and not with the others. Jack hadn’t asked why, but of course instantly agreed, feeling strangely honored by the request.

The downpour of rain fell in sheets as if somebody was emptying buckets of water over the two old grey haired soldiers that now stood side by side, facing the long black granite Wall know officially as the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial Wall.

Jack searched panel 29 west one more time looking for Frank’s name among the one hundred rows of names that were engraved deeply into each of the adjoining panels. “It has to be here,” he thought to himself while at the same his mind hoping that by some miracle maybe it wasn’t  ...  maybe it wasn’t Frank that died that day.

“It has to be here doesn’t it?” he said out loud as he wiped the rain from his eyes. “I can’t see it anywhere!” he said louder, looking over towards Ed who was standing by himself two panels away.

At first Ed didn’t bother to answer, but continued his own search for the names of six members of the Aero Rifle Platoon that had all died on the same day Jack had flown out of Tan Son Nhut to start his seven day R and R in Hawaii.

“I can’t find Frank’s name God damn it!” Jack exclaimed nervously in complete frustration. “I tell you Ed, he’s not here!”

“Of course he is,” exclaimed Ed, as he walked over and instantly managed to located the name of Jack’s closest friend from the ‘Nam, right here, see -- Sergeant Frank Saracino -- his own mind having quickly returned from the jungles of the past, to the reality of the present. “Look right here,” Ed repeated pointing to the last name in row 92.

“Oh,” softly answered Jack, his eyes already starting to redden as he touched the name of his long departed friend, a friend who had earned the right to be called a hero. The never forgotten smell of the rain soaked jungle filled his nostrils once again as the monsoon like rain poured down on his unfeeling shoulders.

“Hi good buddy,” he whispered, his throat instantly knotting up causing him to stop trying to speak, as like at the airport, the feelings of guilt rushed through every part of his of body making him numb as his mind searched desperately to remember what his friend had looked like. “I know Frank, I should have come sooner.”

No longer did Jack feel the rain that poured in sheets around him, well if he did, it didn’t seem to matter anymore. For unlike the names chiseled into the black granite before him, he was still alive and he could leave this place but not the soldiers whose names where here on The Wall, they couldn’t leave, but only watch for eternity as their fellow soldiers and family members cried out loud while paying their respect to the soldiers that will never grow old.

“Reminds you of the damn Monsoon don’t it?” Jack finally said to Ed, as he quickly attempted to wipe away the tears, not wanting his friend to see him crying shamelessly like a baby.

“Maybe this is the way it was supposed to be, just us and them, you know what I mean?” replied Ed, as he looked around seeing that no one else other the two old ARPs were  either brave enough or maybe stupid enough to be standing outside at The Wall in such a storm.

“Yeah, it’s like their sort of crying back at us,” Jack found himself saying, not caring if Ed would think him crazy for saying such a thing. They both stood close to each other, each in their own thoughts of a war they had fought many years before, as the down pour continued unmercifully for what seemed a very long time, only the rain could be heard, as it loudly pounded the side walk, then splashed upwards towards the black granite. Neither spoke as they stared at there own reflections on The Wall, the rain pouring down its face in sheets before entering the drainage canal at the bottom, a place where people would normally leave things, like medals and pictures for the men that now lived inside of the granite.

“Yeah, I was thinking the same thing,” Ed finally replied before he returned looking for the names on the other panel. “You know that damn Lieutenant got them all killed don’t you,” said Ed as he located the group of names.

“You mean Lt. Hampton?”

“Yeah, Hampton,” Ed swore loudly, “I told you the story right?”

“A couple of times, I wonder what ever happened to him?”

“I don’t know, but I hope it wasn’t good!”

“Yeah,” replied Jack, touching the group of names that took up almost two full rows, “what a damn waist,” he added, his voice cracking under the strain.

“Remember the time we sent Oreo off looking for a can of squelch for the prick 25!”

Jack had to laugh out loud as he too remembered exactly what Ed was talking about; it was Oreo’s first day in the ‘Nam. He was fresh from state side and Ed had made him his radio operator, telling the raw recruit that his radio called a prick 25 was leaking squelch which was a common joke played on new guys all the time! Anyways, poor Oreo had fallen for it and had spent the next three hours being directed from one tent to the other, as all of the old soldiers played along with Ed’s joke and Oreo’s misery. 

“I reckon we really popped his cherry that day,” laughed Jack, as he tenderly touched Oreo’s name on the black granite.

It was then that another lone old soldier appeared in the rain, walking toward them slowly, not looking up at first, his broad shoulders shaking slightly as he cried openly. At first he attempted to hide his face from the two soldiers of the Aero Rifle Platoon who had noticed that the stranger was wearing a red baseball cap with the yellow emblem of the Marine Corp on it. But as he got closer, their eyes met for the very briefest of times, no one spoke a word, but only nodded, as the large Marine passed.

You see there was nothing that needed saying, when their eyes had met; all three of them had had that look. It’s called the thousand yard stare, and it had said all that needed to be said between the three old soldiers.

If that look could have talked it would have said, welcome brother, we understand, go ahead and cry, it’s okay to be alive my friend, my brother of the ‘Nam. Yes, that lone single nod had said it all.

Jack felt good as he laid the copy of his first book about the war wrapped in a waterproof baggy at the foot of The Wall. Now maybe he could get on with his life. He had finally said his farewells and all was okay between him and the black granite Wall that he had feared for such a long time.

“It wasn’t that bad,” he said loudly to his friend Ed who hadn’t said a word while his friend placed the book against the black granite just before the two of them started their walk towards the statue of the three soldiers at the far end of the memorial.

“Yeah I know, I thought it would be worse too,” replied Ed, knowing that they were both lying. But then that’s the way it was supposed to be wasn’t it?


Official Information:

SGT - E5 - Army - Regular
11th Armored Cavalry
20 year old Single, Caucasian, Male
Born on Oct 30, 1948
Length of service 1 year.
His tour of duty began on Oct 16, 1968
Casualty was on Mar 20, 1969
Body was recovered
Panel 29W - - Line 92

Department of the Army
Headquarters, United States Army Vietnam
APO San Francisco 96375



1. TC 320. The following AWARD is announced posthumously.

United States Army, Air Cavalry Troop, 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment, APO 96257
Awarded: Distinguished Service Cross
Date of action: 20 March 1969
Theater: Republic of Vietnam


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