My Own 1993 Journey to D.C.
by Pam Young -- USN 1970 - 1974
©Pam Young, The Northwest Veterans Newsletter
As Delta Flight #1922 departed Dallas/Fort Worth at 10:35 a.m. on November 10, 1993, I looked out over the Texas landscape below....the day was sunny, the breeze mild as was the temperature -- a typical Texas November day. I was anxious about this trip for several reasons....this would be my first time to the Wall, my first time to personally become involved again with a POW family since Operation Homecoming, and my first time to come together face to face with so many of those who served in Vietnam. Just a short hour earlier, "they" had boarded the plane, found their seats, and quickly found each other: Vietnam Veterans -- former nurses, combat soldiers, helicopter pilots, medics....Army, Marine, Navy, Air Force. It wasn't long before they were sharing among themselves their stories, photo albums, laughter, hugs, a few tears, as well as moments in reflective silence. For some, this trip also would mark their first time to the Wall--they were making their own journey to D.C. Gail Watson was there, mingling with the other former nurses. It was good to see them all together, their camaraderie, and the bond they share. And while I didn't know her before my trip to D.C., Joyce Daugirda was on the same flight and we would later become good friends and fellow members of VVA Chapter 330.
During the flight I sat quietly reflecting on some of my own memories of two decades earlier, as well as on recent events leading up to this trip. On September 2, 1993, I had visited the touring Vietnam Women's Memorial in Hurst, Texas. It was the first time I had ventured into the public realm concerning my service during the Vietnam War. It was also a subject that I rarely spoke about, even to my own family and friends, since my discharge. As I drove from Dallas to Hurst, I was listening to the radio and on the seat beside me was a bouquet of 8 red roses I planned to leave at the Women's Memorial. Just then a song came on that I had not heard in a very long, long time--a song that holds immense meaning for me and took me back in time. A new artist, Pam Thum, was singing "Turn! Turn! Turn!" To this day I cannot listen to that song without tears.....I knew that afternoon was going to be a pivotal day for me.....little did I realize that what I experienced that September day in Hurst would be the beginning of encounters and events that would unlock even more memories (some very painful) that I had kept buried all these years.
It was a week or so later after visiting the touring Women's Memorial that I received a phone call from a stranger. Jolynne Strang, co-director of A Circle of Sisters/A Circle of Friends (a coalition of women who served with various civilian groups in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War) had obtained my name from the Vietnam Women's Memorial Project's Sister Search and, in particular, was interested in my involvement in Operation Homecoming during my service in the Navy. Her organization was planning a very special candlelight ceremony to acknowledge the more than 20,000 civilian women who served in Vietnam during the war and to honor the memory of the 55 women who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country. She requested my help in locating the family of the longest-held civilian woman POW of the Vietnam War -- Dr. Eleanor Ardel Vietti -- and to extend to them on behalf of the Circle of Sisters an invitation to attend the ceremony in honor and remembrance of their sister. In the subsequent weeks following the phone call from Jolynne, I would locate and maintain frequent contact with Mr. and Mrs. Vietti (Dr. Vietti's brother and sister-in-law), a time I will never forget and their friendship I will forever cherish. On November 10, 1993, I would have the honor in escorting them to the Wall and to the ceremony. A couple days before arriving in D.C., Jolynne asked if I would represent the families of Beatrice Kosin, Evelyn Andersen and Janie Makel during the ceremony, having been unsuccessful in locating their family members in time for the ceremony. This was an enormous honor for me, not only to represent the families at this ceremony honoring their loved ones, but also for me (former military) to participate in a ceremony honoring the civilian women who served and died in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War. As one might imagine, the trip to D.C. would present many emotional difficulties for the Viettis and me -- the Viettis revisiting their own private struggles since the capture of their sister; and for me, revisiting my own personal struggles as well as my first visit to the Wall, something I have feared for many years.
In preparing for this trip, I had the pleasure of coming in contact with many genuinely kind and sincere people, and one in particular warmed my heart. It was not until shortly before departing for D.C. that Mr. and Mrs. Vietti accepted the invitation to attend the ceremony. I contacted Maggie Godson (she served with the American Red Cross in Vietnam) and she accomplished the impossible by making all the necessary last-minute flight and hotel arrangements for the Viettis. There was one complication, however, hotel accommodations were nonexistent at the hotel where the Viettis were hoping to stay during their visit in D.C. It was Maggie Godson who graciously and out of the goodness of her heart gave up her own room at that hotel to the Viettis. The Viettis and I will always remember the warm kindness and gracious gestures by Maggie Godson -- for she truly is a "God-send"!
The flight is making its final approach in to D.C. and above my seat in the overhead compartment are two very long boxes containing a total of 25 long-stem red roses -- a few were from friends asking me to leave a rose in memory of their beloved friend or loved one -- the others, from me. I had carefully personalized each rose: some roses had a picture or a state flag; and all had ribbons with their names on which was written: You Are Loved and Not Forgotten:
|Name||Panel/Line Number||State of Loss||Comments|
|Alfred L. Spitzfaden|
|Carol A. Drazba|
|Elizabeth A. Jones|
|Paul A. Hasenbeck|
|Eleanor G. Alexander|
|Hedwig D. Orlowski
|Jackie R. Perry|
|Peter R. Cressman|
|Mary T. Klinker|
|Benjamin F. Danielson|
|Dwight A. Maslinski|
|Sharon A. Lane|
|Marvin R. Painter|
|Daryl G. Meidinger|
|Annie R. Graham|
|Pamela D. Donovan|
|Eleanor Ardel Vietti|
|Janie A. Makel|
|Betty Ann Olsen|
|Charles Duke, Jr.|
The plane landed at Washington National in the early afternoon and D.C. welcomed us with sunny skies, cool temps, and autumn colors ablaze! C.S. met me at the gate and off we headed to her home in Falls Church. C.S. served as a civilian for 22 months in Saigon and survived the '68 Tet. I had met her shortly after I arrived at CINCPAC and have remained dear friends since. Once settled in with friends in Falls Church, we made the short drive in to D.C. to the Vietti's hotel and met with them around 3:00pm to make sure they were comfortable and to finalize arrangements for escorting them to the ceremony.
It was about 4:30pm, the sun was starting to set, and in my arms were 13 of the 25 roses....the other 12 I planned to leave at the Wall the next morning before the Veterans Day events. It was now time for me to visit the Wall......As I walked down the sidewalk towards the Three Soldiers, I saw them ahead through the crowd and suddenly my eyes started to tear.....I quickly turned away momentarily to my left and just as I reopened my eyes again......there was the Wall in front of me.....that was it, I lost it and cried hard into my roses. C.S. had tried to prepare me but I just did not realize (visualize) how close in proximity the Wall is to the Three Soldiers. C.S. held on to me, we both were crying now....she's made the journey to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and the Wall a few times already, she says each time gets a little easier but I don't see how. We regain our composure somewhat and begin walking again towards the Three Soldiers....and the tears come again. I leaned over the chain to touch the center Soldier's arm. We stayed for several long minutes before proceeding along the sidewalk to the Wall. At its entrance you begin the walk downward, the panels of precious names on your left...the panels begin small and gradually become larger as you walk downward to the Apex....and you are well below ground level......It is so immense.....truly emotionally overwhelming...and I can't find the words to describe how difficult it was for me to catch my breath in seeing just how immense and long the Wall is, and all those names...all those thousands and thousands and thousands of precious names etched in the black granite. I can't stop my tears......I carefully found their panels and reverently laid their roses, I was thankful the sun was setting and that dusk was upon us, for the names were faint to see, even with the ground lighting to illuminate them. My emotions were all a jumble -- I was finally here at the Wall, among all those precious names. I was there, yet it felt like I wasn't there--kind of like a dream. Maybe it was because there were too many people around me; perhaps I wasn't ready yet to face the Wall, to embrace it, to allow the Wall to embrace me. I don't know, but my thoughts were for all of them, and for all of those who did come home, and for those who still remain unaccounted for, and for C.S. and all the civilians who served, and for the Viettis with whom we were now on our way to escort to the ceremony. It was already 5:40pm!
With Mr. and Mrs. Vietti escorted to their place at the ceremony to the immediate left of Michael Benge and taking my position to the immediate right Mr. Benge, the special candelight ceremony began at 6:00 p.m. honoring the civilian women who served and died during the Vietnam War. Laura Palmer (journalist, RVN, and author of "Shrapnel of the Heart") was Mistress of Ceremonies and began with a very heartfelt opening speech. The 7th Transportation Group from Ft. Eustis, Virginia, served as Honor Guard and presented the Colors; the National Anthem was sung by James Cava (Veteran, U.S. Marine Corps, RVN); the Invocation was given by Rev. Beth Marie Murphy (USNNC, RVN; Jeannie "Sam" Bokina Christie (ARC, RVN) gave a very moving poetry reading. Laura Palmer then began to read the Honor Roll of the civilian women who died in the Vietnam War. As the Honor Roll was being read, a flower (white) was placed by the family member/colleague/friend on the floral tribute at the center of the ceremony: two circle wreaths (each on its own easel and containing red carnations) with a dragon (red and yellow flowers) in the center connecting the two easels together. The circles symbolized the unity of civilian women who, though working for various organizations, have come together for this special ceremony for their own. The dragon symbolized the commonality among the 55 civilian women, and where they served and died--Southeast Asia. The colors used in the floral tribute represented the colors of the flags of the United States of America and the Republic of South Vietnam.
Flowers placed in the floral tribute in memory of the following:
American Red Cross
Army Special Services
Central Intelligence Agency
US Agency for International Development - USAID
The final flower (blue) in the ceremony was presented by Jolynne Strang and placed in the eye of the dragon to symbolize the life all hope to bring to the memory of those being honored and those still unknown.
After the reading of the Honor Roll, Cathleen Cordova (who served with Army Special Services in RVN) read a poem by Frances Warman entitled "Ballad of a Woman Veteran." The Honor Guard then retired the Colors, the Benediction was given, and Tammy Leverone bugled a heartrending "Taps". Marlene E. Bussie followed with a very moving and inspirational signing of "Amazing Grace". As the ceremony concluded, all the participants walked in procession to the Wall to lay one last flower (each with a name of the 55 civilian women) at the Apex.
Jolynne Strang and Cathleen Cordova (co-directors of A Circle of Sisters/A Circle of Friends) thought the ceremony might attract maybe 300 attendees. The ceremony was the first of its kind to be held in the nation's capital. After the ceremony at The Wall, Jolynne told me that a very unique thing happened during the ceremony: she observed that as the number of spectators grew, they surrounded the ceremony participants and became a "circle. The U.S. Parks Dept. estimated 2,500-3,000 were in attendance that night!
November 11, 1993. I woke very early. Veterans Day was sunny and cool, with bright blue skies and hardly a breeze. C.S. and I took the Metro the few short miles in to D.C. and with roses in arm made our way to the Wall. This would be my third time and as early as we were at the Wall, I was surprised and yet comforted at seeing so many Veterans there. However, this time, seeing the Wall in the morning light, was almost too much...and we left to collect ourselves near the Three Soldiers. Once composed we proceeded down the walkway, carefully locating the panels and finding each name....touching the name and leaving my rose. The last two that I left was for Ben Danielson (MIA) whose bracelet I wear, and Paul Hasenbeck (MIA) whose sister's story so touched me. After learning of her brother becoming missing in action, Jeannie Hasenbeck joined the American Red Cross and went to Vietnam where she was assigned to SMH (Service to Military Hospitals) and worked at the 24th and 93rd Evac Hospitals. I understand all too well about a sister's devotion to her brother and I felt a certain kinship with her story very deeply. (My twin brother was drafted and I joined the military in support of him.) As with both Ben's and Paul's roses, I had laminated their pictures and attached to each of their roses, along with the ribbons You Are Loved And Not Forgotten. As I found and touched Paul's name, though, I could no longer hold in my emotions and began sobbing on my knees. I remember standing and turning, not seeing much of anything through the tears, and ended up in the shoulder of a Veteran who was volunteering to work the Wall. As he held me, he asked "Was he your brother?" "No, another sister's brother. He's missing and his remains lie under water in a river in Vietnam and most likely never be brought home." He began to sob hard....and this time, I held him.
C.S. and I left the Wall shortly after that to rebound a bit by taking in the beautiful and brilliant fall foliage in and around the vicinity and venture over to the parade route. It was about time for the parade to line up and C.S. still had not decided if she would march. I had hoped she would and had made this trip especially to convince her to do so and I would cheer her from along the sidelines...she was an in-country veteran and this was her "welcome home" parade. She had earned it! Shortly before the parade was to begin, she finally agreed to march as long as I would, too. As we started to approach the parade line-up, we were to be given arm bands. I was taken aback by what happened next: women who served in the military were given red-white-blue arm bands, and the civilian women were given powder blue arm bands. I never thought that there would be any form of distinction between the women, especially on this particular day since the dedication and parade were essentially for ALL women who had served in Vietnam. After receiving my red-white-blue arm band, and as C.S. was handed her powder blue arm band, C.S. asked the VWMP volunteer: "Are you saying that my service in Vietnam was not patriotic?!!" The VWMP volunteer stood stunned...obviously, it never crossed their minds. We put on our respective arm bands and looked for a place to march. Of course, everyone was lined up by military units, hospital units, of which C.S. didn't belong. I could have marched with the Navy women but I had served with C.S. at CINCPAC and wanted to march with her. Then a woman veteran from VVA Chapter 227 came up to us and invited us to march with her group. That was grand!! I also related the arm band incident to her and told her I felt like not wearing mine since there should not be any distinction between among the women. She agreed and joined me, and a few others who had heard, by removing our red-white-blue arm bands. It was a show of solidarity for ALL women The parade was minutes away from commencing. There were three other women holding a banner and asked if we would join them in marching with the banner: Women Who Served In Vietnam. One woman explained that this would be the last parade this banner would be participating in, as it was being retired after 10 years, leading up to the dedication of the Vietnam Women's Memorial. C.S. and I accepted the honor to march with this banner.
The Parade. What can I say about the parade?!! It was like no other!! I've never marched in a parade before, so this was my first time, as was the same for C.S. As we began to march down and around a bend in the road onto Constitution Avenue, there were veterans up in trees, on lampposts, thousands along the sidelines yelling: "Welcome Home!" "We Love You!" "Thank You!" The applause and cheers were deafening, totally unexpected and very overwhelming! Even flowers were being tossed to the women by the men. There was a veteran sitting at attention in a wheelchair who held his salute as we passed, and I returned his salute and noticed tears streaming down his cheeks. The applause and the cheers grew louder as we marched further down the parade route; the shouts from Gold Star Mothers thanking the nurses, some even walking into the parade to hug a nurse. More veterans yelling "Welcome Home!" "It's about time, Ladies!!" The five of us carrying the banner took turns holding the banner as we searched our pockets for kleenex to mop our tears, tears of a myriad of emotions. We would look at each other from time to time, and you could tell we all were taken aback by the outpouring of sentiment by our fellow veterans and Americans gathered on the sidelines. Totally counter to what many of us experienced during the Vietnam years.
As we marched to the parade's end on the grassy area near the Wall, we thanked the other women for allowing us the honor to march with their banner. As C.S. and I started to walk back to where the marchers were coming in, a veteran came up to the five of us women and handed each of us a flower and thanked us for serving. These types of gestures were felt and appreciated dearly by us. We walked the short distance back to the end of the parade route to cheer and yell "Welcome Home!" to all the other marchers following behind us. Then, just when I thought for sure that the roller coaster of emotions was about to subside, a group from New Mexico had marched onto the grass carrying a banner. Their banner read they had walked the entire distance to DC to honor the women who served. I suddenly felt the wind knocked out of me -- such a loving gesture of devotion and honor was something too great for me to even fathom. It touched C.S., too, so much so that we both turned to hide our tears and I started to fall to the ground. But before I even reached the ground, one of the marchers from New Mexico picked me up and held me.... I looked up into his face to tell him I'd never heard of the wonderful thing they had done and thank him immensely. He, too, was crying and told me "Welcome Home"even though I told him I had not served in-country. I then told him that C.S. had served in Vietnam as a civilian and was there for Tet '68 and she's having a hard time today. He then went to C.S. and held her close for a long time. She was sobbing in his arms and then I heard a soft chuckle and a "yes" from her. Later she told me that he had whispered in her ear "Tet was a bitch, wasn't it?!" To which she softly chuckled and agreed. Both of them had survived Tet '68!
We continued to cheer and "Welcome Home" the rest of the marchers until all had finished the parade. Then C.S. and I sat on the grass near a tree and watched everyone at the parade's end mingle, find lost friends, veterans finding nurses and thanking them, lots of hugs, lots of tears, lots of laughter, too. What a parade!! What a Veterans Day in its truest meaning!
As we left the parade area and walked near the Vietnam Veterans Memorial to find a place to watch the unveiling and dedication of Vietnam Women's Memorial, some children came up to us and gave us each a card with red-white-blue flowers pinned on it. It read: "This Star Spangle Tribute was made by the hearts and hands of the youth of America to remember and recognize the Role of Women in the Vietnam War. November 11, 1993 -- Veterans Day." My card had a note written: "A Salute to the woman who served in the Vietnam War" and was signed, and the flower made, by Damon Webb from Holman Middle School in St. Ann, Missouri.
We took our place among the tens of thousands who gathered near the Wall to await the Dedication of Vietnam Women's Memorial. The U.S. Parks Department estimated the crowd to be approximately 200,000--one of the largest gatherings in recent years. The Mistress of Ceremonies was Diane Carlson Evans, former Army nurse and Vietnam veteran, whose vision and dedication over the last decade brought this memorial to reality. Glenna Goodacre created the breathtaking bronze sculpture in the round of three women, one of them caring for a soldier laying across her lap atop sandbags. Other guest speakers were Admiral William J. Crowe, General George Price, and Vice President Al Gore, all Vietnam veterans. The keynote speaker was Colonel Amelia Jane Carson, whose speech was heartfelt, emotional and inspirational. At the end of the ceremony, Crystal Gayle sang "Til the White Dove Flies Alone", the theme song for the Dedication specially composed by Rod McBrien and John Lind.
Towards the end of Diane Evans' Dedication speech, she said it best: "To my brother veterans, how proud we were to serve with you, and now to stand with you in bronze on this site forever!"
Photo Courtesy of Joyce Daugrida - VVA330
In closing, Diane Evans also said to all the women who served: "Let no one again mistake who you are. Let no one ever forget you and what you did for this nation.....and don't ever hide the fact again that you are a veteran of the Vietnam War. It's been a long journey here from Vietnam and other parts of the world where you served, but the journey for most of us still isn't over. Many are just beginning their healing, but this is our place to start. ... We have waited for this day, but we have also feared for this day. We feared that it may never happen .... and some of us women veterans have even feared to come to this Wall, and I know there are women today who have come to this Wall for the very first time."
Yes, I feared this day....and I feared going to the Wall. And, yes, this IS the place to begin the healing.
Col. Carson said, in part, in her speech:
"Regardless of occupation or location, each person's job was just as important as the others. We weren't drafted into the military. We volunteered to serve our country in time of need."
She also touched upon what many in-country women felt when they came home, but it was the same feelings that I, too, personally felt (and still feel) and that is: to have done more, to have saved more lives, afraid of not measuring up, and instead of dealing with our painful feelings and memories, we buried them deep inside and never let it out--because we feared letting them out would break the heart.......Colonel Carson paused a moment and then read a quote by author Alice Walker: "Sometimes breaking the heart opens it." Opens it to allow for healing.
At the end of her eloquent and moving speech, Colonel Carson stated:
"From this day forward, it will be a place of healing and hope for the thousands of women veterans who suffer the invisible and silent wounds of war. It will stand as a symbol for all generations as an enduring legacy of strength, courage, compassion and caring portrayed by the military and civilian women who faithfully served at home and abroad during a very, very difficult time for our nation. We must remember to break the heart and move on. We may not necessarily forget all the trauma of war, but forgiving is not forgetting. Forgiving is remembering and letting go. If we are to heal, forgiveness is a must, no matter how hurt or betrayed we feel or felt. And self-forgiveness is the start to our healing journey so we can forgive others. We know the price that our fallen brothers and sisters on the Wall made. We know the sacrifice that the families and friends made. Let us as women veterans not forget the price that we each paid for serving our country during the Vietnam War, and surviving that war. Let us remember, forgive and let go so that we can get on with the fullness of life. Let us be aware of each other's pain and provide the needed support to encourage healing. Love, forgiveness and healing are what this beautiful memorial is all about. ... ".
My journey to D.C.: they were four of the most painful days of my life but also four of the very best days of my life!
* * * * *
Yes, there has been healing and I have come far in that journey. My D.C. trip in 1993 was the start of that healing process. To feel that I, in a state-side support role at CINCPAC Joint Command and in Operation Homecoming, was finally being accepted to a certain degree by those who had served in-country. To also work in resolving issues within myself concerning Operation Homecoming and the abandonment of some of our POWs and MIAs. And even more personally, to begin the healing in what far too many women have been subjected to within the ranks...being assaulted by a fellow member of the military....a betrayal that goes beyond measure and comprehension! It has been a test of strength, I suppose one would describe it, in keeping so much buried inside for two decades.....and then when those "safety mechanisms" began to fail about a year before my trip to D.C., it became an enormous struggle. But, personally for me, these past five years have been an incredible journey in retrospect....and working with male veterans in VVA, working with my great and gifted counselor D.P. at VA, and having the love and support of my beloved husband of two years, have allowed me to confront and slay this dragon, and to put such an unconscionable violation into better perspective. To move forward in my life....and to be proud of my military service during the Vietnam War. I only regret that my parents would never understand or offer their support. I no longer feel the guilt and shame they attempted to inflict on me. I am much stronger now! That's how much I've healed....and it started at the Vietnam Women's Memorial and at the Wall.
Thank you, Diane Evans and VWMP, for making the Vietnam Women's Memorial a reality. And a special thank you to Colonel Carson for her deeply honest and eloquent speech, for her words helped to "break the heart to open it" so the healing could begin...
"A time for peace,
I swear it's not too late!"