May 31st, 2010

On Memorial Day: those stories behind the names

It’s Memorial Day. Time for picnics and get-togethers.

Time, also, for remembrance of those who sacrificed their lives in American’s wars. This post by Gerard Vanderleun at American Digest offers a poignant poem in honor of a high school acquaintance of Vanderleun’s who died as a result of wounds suffered in the war of our generation, Vietnam, It ends with the following lines:

Now he’s just a name on that wall.

Cut into stone.
Cut to the bone.

Long gone.
That’s all.

Vanderleun provides a link to a site dedicated to alums from his high school who died in that war. The stories there—of these young young men “long gone”—are still heartbreakingly poignant, especially the following, which can stand for so very many:

Herbert Ernest Frenzell, the only child of Army Colonel Ernest H. Frenzell and his wife Chilant Costa, was born June 20, 1944 in Modesto, California. Due to his father’s connections all over the world, Herb became an avid foreign stamp and coin collector from the time he was a child. He attended Encina High School in Sacramento for three years before transferring to nearby La Sierra High School where he graduated in 1962. Herb was attending American River College when a good friend told him that he planned to enlist. Herb decided to go with him, and they enlisted in the US Army together. Herb was deployed to Vietnam in November 1966. He served with the 2nd Platoon, A Company, 4th Battalion (Redcatchers), 12th Infantry, 199th Light Infantry Brigade. At age 22, on January 21, 1967 in Binh Thuy, Private First Class Frenzell was killed by small arms fire. He had been part of a patrol that was ambushed by well-entrenched Viet Cong forces. Even though he had been in a relatively safe position in a tree line, he chose to expose his position by opening fire on the enemy in order to draw fire away from his fellow soldiers who were pinned down. His unselfish act allowed the other soldiers to get to cover. As Herb then attempted to rejoin his squad, he was fatally shot in the chest. Specialist Billy Jones dragged and carried his friend’s body through swamp and jungle for two hours. Once an open field was reached where helicopters could land and evacuate the remaining squad and Herb’s body, Jones was also shot and killed by enemy fire while trying to rescue another fallen comrade. Both Herb and Jones were awarded the Silver Star for their heroism, and their base camp in Vietnam was named Camp Frenzell-Jones in their honor. A memorial service for Herb was held at the McClellan Air Force Base Chapel, and burial was at Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, DC. Mrs. Frenzell has said of her son, “Herb would have given his life for his friends anywhere. It could have been while he was swimming or water-skiing. He was not the kind of person who would stand by and watch something tragic happen to others. It just so happened that he was in combat when he was called to help his friends.”

I am very fortunate that I don’t know what it’s like to get that news. But I do know what it’s like to wait for it and to fear it. For a year, my boyfriend served in Vietnam as a door gunner on a Medevac helicopter, which meant constant exposure to danger. Not a day went by that I didn’t think about it—in fact, the situation occupied my entire senior year of college, which I recall as a vale of tears and tension.

I did get bad news about my boyfriend when, in the middle of his year-long tour, he was wounded in the head. He recovered (mostly, anyway) and went back into combat. Then, unlike the young men on that plaque at Encina High, he went on to live his life. At least, I know he did for a while; we broke up after a few months, and I don’t know where he is now. He would be old—well, oldish, anyway; a few years older than I. But in my memory he remains that handsome twenty-one-year old I knew and loved.

There is a story behind every name on every war memorial—and also for many of the names that don’t appear there, like that of my boyfriend. If you are part of a war like that, you don’t forget it, and it forms you. It teaches you things you would otherwise not know. Some of them are very dark things indeed. But some are very good things like comradeship, selflessness, sacrifice, and courage.

Today we honor those who had the courage to make that ultimate sacrifice, and we hope and pray that this country continues to be worthy of it.

9 Responses to “On Memorial Day: those stories behind the names”

  1. vanderleun Says:

    Thank you. I’m flattered but also touched by your expansion of my post.

  2. John Says:

    Thanks Neo.

    I think often of the friends I lost in Vietnam .

    Especially today.

  3. Gringo Says:

    When I saw a high school classmate’s name on the Vietnam War Memorial, I immediately thought of the 23rd Psalm: “Though I walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Death…”

    My classmate died in Vietnam a month before our high school class had graduated. Not long before, had had attended in uniform an assembly at our school which had two adults debating, “Should there be a draft?” My classmate in uniform stood up and made a a comment during the debate. Not long after, he was killed in Vietnam.

  4. IgotBupkis Says:

    The pastor of an old, mid-sized church notes young Johnny staring intently at a large, prominently displayed plaque in the church’s hallways. He thinks nothing much of until he comes by 10 minutes later and sees the eight-year old still studying the plaque intently.

    The pastor goes over and stands next to Johnny and looks at the plaque with him. Johnny finally asks, “Sir, what is this list of names?”

    Pleased with Johnny’s interest, he informs Johnny, “That, Johnny, is a plaque commemorating those parishioners who died during the service.” he continued “We respect and honor their memory with it.”

    “Wow”, said Johnny, noting the long, long list of names on the plaque.

    “Sir?” he intoned.

    “Yes, Johnny?” the pastor replied.

    “Would that be the 8am service or the 10am service?”


  5. Assistant Village Idiot Says:

    My family has little military tradition, and none that extended to my generation. Now I wait for the boy I brought from Romania 9 years ago to finish his time in the USMC. I’m proud, but going to the cemetery to decorate graves today can’t help but bring fears to the surface.

  6. geran Says:

    Much thanks for the celebration of our military (“nee” patriotic) traditions!

  7. Oldflyer Says:

    I first became aware of the cost of war at about the age of 8. The “boy” next door died in his P-38 over New Guinea; the one across the street died over Germany. I admit it was years later before I understood the utter devastation that those families suffered.

    My mother held it all together for over two years while my Dad was in the Pacific.

    Many years late when we were at NAS Lemoore, Ca, home of the USN light attack squadrons during Viet Nam, my wife told me how the women in base housing dreaded seeing an official car in the neighborhood during the work day. She has also told me of the near agony on the occasions when word leaked that our squadron had lost a pilot while deployed, but it seemed to take forever to get name.

    I was thinking as I saw Biden at the Tomb of the Unknown today, that the honor of placing the wreath should really go to a representative family member. They pay such a high price.

  8. Richard Aubrey Says:

    When I was in, a uniformed soldier did not stop at the home of a deployed individual without calling first. Not to return a book, not for anything. And you did not wear a hat while driving side streets, in case somebody thought you were coming for them.
    I notified a family in the Flint area. Found the house, but had to park several doors down. A family, just leaving in a car, froze, looking at me in horror.
    What a crappy memory, recalling the relief and gratitude that I was going to the home of a neighbor.

  9. maureen tabor Says:

    Beautiful America: I was moved to post this poem – and note the link to the audio version on the RH side

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