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.
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.