I remember hearing their names. I was very young back then, but I still remember. The dead, the wounded, the “missing in action”. One by one, our local radio station would read the names at 9 o’clock every night. That was my bed time back then. I would listen to the names as I drifted off to blissful slumber, too young to realize what the list of names meant. Too young and blissfully ignorant to realize the horrors that these young men faced as they crossed the gate into their eternity. Too young and blissfully ignorant of the politics, the protests, the failed leadership, the inane orders that were inevitable when a nation enters into a semi-commitment of a “police action”. I also remember the sadness in the broadcaster’s voice. Even though he was a professional, even though it was his job, he could not help but be betrayed by a slight quiver in his voice as he read the names.
Looking back, I realize why his voice quivered. He knew. He understood the sacrifice that was being made by these………these boys. Not really even men. Just boys, barely out of school. Yet, every night he read the names. One by one. This Private, Missing in Action. That Sargent, Killed in Action. That Private, wounded. On and on he would read. Like a demented lullaby, I would drift off to sleep as he read. Naïve to reality that was Vietnam. Unscathed by the inconsolable devastation a father was enduring over his son, or a mother over her baby. Mothers always see their children as babies…even when they are adults. I guess that is both a blessing and a curse that I, as a man, can never fully understand.
I am grown now, and less naïve. I understand what happened back then. I also understand that war really is hell. The scars it leaves, even on the heroes, are wounds that time cannot heal. The names mean more now. A mother’s son. A father’s pride and joy. A brother, even a sister that will never come home. A father that will forever be listed as “Missing in Action”. No funeral, no closure for the family….which may be even worse than news of death.
We’ve been through more wars since then, and I have seen the devastation war can cause, even when it is a war many miles away. We are no longer sheltered from reality, thanks to technology. And, it’s not just men giving their all, it’s women as well. They all fight for what they believe in, and sometimes die. The ones that survive are scarred, sometimes physically, sometimes mentally….and sometimes both.
It means more to me now that the memory of these young men and woman…..these boys and girls……never be forgotten. Their names need to be remembered. It is the least we can do to ensure their legacy lives on, even as some of their fates remain a mystery, left behind in a foreign land never to be found.
Remember them. Not merely their actions, but remember their names. Because, what are you without a name?