Friday, August 8, 2014

Never Came Home From Vietnam

Two weeks ago, I finished watching a three part special on the Vietnam war presented on the History Channel. Although familiar with the war, I never have read or watched an in depth history of the war. About part way through the special, I was reminded of a trip I took in sixth grade to Washington D.C. as part of our high school marching band. Along with all the normal tourist spots, we visited the Vietnam War Memorial and on behalf of my parents, I looked up the name of the son of our neighbor. His name was Richard and died during the war. I made the obligatory name tracing from the memorial and later when I returned home I presented it to his parents. I don't remember their reactions but I'm sure it was polite gratification.

I have met many Vietnam Vets over the years but never knew anyone who hadn't come home. My step-father's birthday was one of the last ones drawn in the draft so he never went. In my hometown, Richard was the only one who never came home. Now thirty years later, I decided I wanted to know more about Richard and his involvement in the Vietnam War. I quickly fired up the internet and soon discovered that he died on the infamous U.S.S. Forrestal fire whose most famous survivor these days is Senator and former presidential nominee John McCain. The fire is best described as a series of unfortunate events.

Needing 1000 pound bombs for a bombing raid scheduled to take place the following day, the Forrestal took possession of some 30 year old bombs that had been sitting in humid Subic Bay, Philippines since World War II. Everyone was nervous about them and wanted them removed but there were no more new Mark 83's left to replace them and so they were reluctantly prepared for the following day's mission. The following day an electrical surge and some unfortunate mistakes in safety caused an accidental discharge of a Zuni rocket which caused a rupture of several aircraft fuel tanks and the 30 year old "fat boy" bombs from Subic Bay. The newer Mark 83's could have safely withstood the fire but the the old "fat boy" bombs couldn't and exploded. In all 134 died that day putting out the fire and one of those was the son of our neighbors. He was 21 years of age. Today he would have been 69 years old.


warren said...

I never asked family members about it much. I guess it remains fresh in their minds. My wife's grandfather was in WWII and will discuss certain things, but there are many more things which he still will not even mention. Vietnam is even more raw maybe? I don't know but I have little info on it either...almost like it was taboo to discuss when I was growing up?

Anonymous said...

It is so very hard to comment on the Vietnam conflict as an outsider. It seems to me to resonate in the USA and Australia much as WW1 does for Belgium France England Ireland and Scotland. Sad waste seems to be the core feeling than most hold.

Ed said...

Warren - I find the same things true. My great uncle finally opened up to me about serving in World War II and I spent time talking to him about it. I was so enthralled with his stories. Unfortunately he died a couple years ago so I never got to finish our interviews.

Vince - I think it is hard for even American's to comment on the Vietnam War especially those like me who never served in the military. I think like Warren said, it is still a raw wound in our memories.