Ron is a geography whiz. He’s got a long history of reading maps and coordinates for search and rescue missions in his home state of California. So when our group first got together, he asked us all for our records. He wanted to pinpoint our fathers' sites and send the coordinates to us so we could see them in Google Earth. There’s something eerie but incredible about plugging in that coordinate and zooming in on your dad’s site, knowing it’s that place. For many, it was the first time they had seen the spot. And for that, we’re all grateful to Ron on this Thanksgiving Day.
You were young when your dad died, right?
I was four weeks old, so I only know him through the memories that others have shared with me. My grandfather, my mother’s father, just passed away, and at his funeral my mother told me something I never knew about what happened at my father’s funeral service. She said she passed me around and let everyone hold me. Then she took me and held me next to my father in the casket. She said she knew that it was important to do, because it would be the closest I would ever get to him.
With no memories, how did you get to know your Dad?
I periodically researched the war when I was in school. A few years after my daughter was born, and my wife was pregnant with our son, someone came back from the Wall with a rubbing of my father’s name. I got curious again. All I knew was that my Dad died in the battle at Khe Sanh and that he had been trying to help save another man. The Internet was getting big and I found a gunner page from my Dad’s division. I sent an email asking for any information about my Dad. I got no response for several days. What I didn’t know was that my Dad’s unit was having a reunion that weekend. My phone started ringing as soon as they all got back home. The first guy I heard from was Eddie. He’d been in boot camp with my Dad. He told me how when they were in training, my grandparents came over and piled everyone into the car and brought them home for a BBQ. He told me my Dad was very well liked, that he looked out for everyone. The next guy to call was Pete. He told me my Dad was always the first to grab a rifle and go. And that the hill my Dad was on got hit every single night. What I learned later was that my Dad’s unit (first battalion, 9th) has 749 names on the Wall, more names than any other unit. It had a 93% casualty rate. It’s the only unit in USMC history to be named by the enemy. The loose translation of what the Vietnamese called them is “men walking who are already dead.” The Marines took that as an honor. They renamed them “The Walking Dead.”
Did you know anyone else who had lost a father in Vietnam?
No. I grew up on a kind of island. But a while back, a friend I’d known for 10 years told me her father was still listed as missing. She was the first person I knew with that shared experience. This year I went to the Sons and Daughters in Touch conference. Now I know hundreds of others who lost their dads. We may have grown up in different circumstances, but we have an uncommon bond.
What are you hoping to get from the trip?
I’m going with a pretty open mind. I know we’re going to visit some places and see things that have a completely different slant vs. what we’ve heard. I understand that. But I’m going with my eyes wide open.
Do you think you’ll get closure?
Is there ever closure?
What does your family think about you going?
Everyone is definitely supportive, especially my daughter. She’s a junior in college in Washington DC, and is a few blocks from the Wall. She decided that when I go to my dad’s site, she wants to be standing at the Wall at that very moment, in front of her grandfather’s name. I told her it would be in the middle of the night in DC so I don’t want her doing that when it’s dark. She agreed but then asked me to send her the complete itinerary and everyone’s names and their dad’s names, so she could honor all of them on the days we visit their sites.