A QUIET HERO

Many times I have been told to “get over” Vietnam. I absolutely have no intentions of getting over Vietnam; I will always be a child of that generation and that war. Vietnam shaped us, molded us, and instilled deep within us memories that will never leave.

I was a sophomore in 1964 in high school in my small hometown of South Whitley when the war began to take on new life. Johnson had been overwhelmingly re-elected to his first full term as president following his assumption of office after the assassination of JFK in November 1963.

My girlfriends and I were absorbed with school, boys, and stopping at the local soda fountain after school every day for a cherry coke and some chatter with other kids from school. Or sometimes we popped in at Bowers Restaurant for an order of fries and a coke. The Beatles had landed in the United States, and I had watched their performance on the Ed Sullivan show on February 9, 1964, with my best girlfriend.

We immediately adopted their songs and sang them nonstop as we traveled to away basketball games and band concerts. The school bus we rode on reverberated with the sounds of “She Loves You, Yeah, Yeah, Yeah” and “I Want to Hold Your Hand.”

We never dreamed in our sophomore year that some of our classmates and our fellow high school students would soon find themselves flown close to 10,000 miles away to fight in the jungles of a country we had not even studied in our history class. All we were told was that it was necessary to stop the spread of communism and help the South Vietnamese stay free from the Communist North Vietnamese. We heard the term “domino theory” and were told that if South Vietnam fell, then one country after another in Southeast Asia would fall.

My class graduated in 1966, and it wasn’t too long before my classmates were being drafted to go to Vietnam – at least those who hadn’t enrolled in college or were lucky enough to have some other deferment.

Bob Wilfong was one of those who was sent to Vietnam in the summer of 1966 – barely a couple of months after graduation. He was quiet, and he was shy. He was one of those kids who was there but never drew attention to himself. I remember he always blushed easily. I never heard him say a bad word or an unkind word. I have to admit I did not know him well at all. I knew sort of who he hung around with, but in those days, girls and boys didn’t really mix in groups like they do today.

He lived in a house on the northeast edge of South Whitley, on a curve heading out of town on State Road 205 toward Columbia City, our county seat. His parents were also very quiet, and they bought groceries at our family-owned store. I am sure Bob got his quiet nature from them.

I remember hearing about his death. I am not sure now how I reacted, but I do know that I have not forgotten his death or that of the others from South Whitley who died. I also knew two others – Lyle Smith and Avery (Tracy) Nye – who had been killed in Vietnam.

I always thought that if I got to Washington, D.C., I would stop at the Wall and look for his name. In September 2006, I did just that. I will never forget going to the Wall. I walked the length of it several times, and, just like others I always saw in pictures, I touched the Wall as I walked along. I found the names of the three young men from South Whitley who had died in Vietnam, and I made pencil rubbings of their names.

I can’t say how others feel when they go to the Wall, but I instantly felt at home; I felt a connection and a closeness with this v-shaped, long, black-granite wall with over 58,000 names carved into it. I felt I was with a friend. And I felt relief that I had finally made it. My fear had always been that I would not see the Wall before I was too old or unable to travel.

I have included two versions of the song, “50,000 Names Carved in the Wall.” One is by the writer of the song, and the other is a rendition by someone else. I had not heard the song until this past Saturday at our Peace Rally, and I have listened to it dozens of times since then.

Forget Vietnam? Never, it isn’t possible, and, even if it were, I wouldn’t do it. The memories of that time are forever etched in my memory, and I make no apologies for how I feel. I hope to return to the Wall again this year. I am drawn to the Wall. Perhaps it is the memory of a quiet young man from a quiet little town who became a quiet hero for all time.

In honor of Robert Wesley Wilfong and all those whose names are carved in the Wall.

ROBERT WESLEY WILFONG
LCPL – E3 – Marine Corps – Regular

Length of service 1 years
Casualty was on Jul 29, 1967
In QUANG TRI, SOUTH VIETNAM
HOSTILE, GROUND CASUALTY
GUN, SMALL ARMS FIRE
Body was recovered

Panel 24E – Line 49

Advertisements

About Charlotte A. Weybright

I own a home in the historical West Central Neighborhood of Fort Wayne, Indiana. I have four grown sons and nine grandchildren - four grandsons and five granddaughters. I love to work on my home, and I enjoy crafts of all types. But, most of all, I enjoy being involved in political and community issues.
This entry was posted in The Sixties, Vietnam Wall, Vietnam War and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to A QUIET HERO

  1. J. Q. Taxpayer says:

    Well stated Charlotte. I am proud of all who served in a war that now seems to have been worthless.

    If we learned anything out of that war is methods to fight an urban war. That allowed for tactics to be figured out that has protected maybe thousands of troops in Iraq from being killed.

    Sadly one can never figure out a war is “just” until it gets so far out of hand as WWI and WWII.

    Look at Iran today. Do they have nukes? If not, when will they have them? When does the world stop some crazy nut? I do not have the answer but I do hope it gets stopped before he starts firing them.

  2. Charlotte, that’s a beautiful trbute to your friend Robert Wilfong, to remember the war by remembering its cost.

    I’m a volunteer who helps friends and relative of the fallen to remember the lost on the web site named The Virtual Wall(TM) at http://www.VirtualWall.org

    The Virtual Wall has thousands of personal remembrances like yours. We do not yet have a remembrance in honor of Robert, only because nobody has yet to ask for a memorial page in his honor.

    The Virtual Wall
    does not accept fees, donations, or advertising in order to honor the fallen.

  3. ice-ironman says:

    I am hoping that my friends who have sacrificed will be given the chance to win the war.

  4. Ice-ironman:

    I didn’t realize you had any close friends over in Iraq. If so, my hope for them is that they come home alive and well. I hope they do not lose arms or legs or they do not come home mentally shattered with TBIs or PTSD.

    War is not a game that should be seen as “winning” or “losing.” I am tired of people with the George Bush mentality of “bring it on.”

    These are people’s lives we are destroying.

    And, by the way, how would you define a “win?” We are no longer in the days of trench warfare and fairly well defined lines of defense and attack.

  5. ice-ironman says:

    Winning the war is leaving the country in a stable state. A state in which my children may actualy decide to vacation in Iraq. Seems impossible but I dont think so. Who would have thought Japan would be a great ally. Who would have thought my brother would just return from Germany? Winning is in the tearing down of the horrible teachings that Americans (Jews) are the devil and evil and must die. This happened under Saddam. My hope is that The children can see true American heros in action. That is to say “normal” Americans at their best. Helping and serving the Iraqi people. It is a sad day when we have to define winning a war. I havent had any friend killed in action. My friends are on third and fourth tours and happy to do it! I know if something ever happened to them I (they) would want their mission to be completed and not to die for nothing. Did you know two weeks ago more people died in LA gang violence than soldiers killed in Iraq? Thats because no soldiers were killed in action. The surge is working and soon we will see the sacrifice pay off.

  6. Ice-ironman:

    The bottom line is that the invasion of Iraq was not justified. It never will be. W lied to the American people and to Congress to go after his own agenda of changing the Middle East.

    No weapons of mass destruction were found, so what did W do? He simply started changing the reasons he went in. He had an agenda, he manipulated data and information, he got his mandate to go in, and now we are stuck in an area of the world where we have no business being.

    By the way, the Jewish religion only has about 13,000,000 members – compared to 2.1 billion Christians and 1.5 billion Muslims. Of those 13,000,000, over 10,000,000 live in just two locations, the U.S. (5,000,000+) and Israel. No wonder they have such great influence over our foreign policy decisions.

    If you think we will see the “sacrifice” pay off, you are kidding yourself. At some point, we will leave, and Iraq will degenerate into chaos and ethnic battles. It is an Islamic nation, and it is surrounded by Islamic nations. Americans who think we can change the very foundations of the second largest religious population in the world are burying their heads in the sand – literally.

    By the way, it has been over 5 years since Bush arrogantly strode across the USS Abraham Lincoln and declared “Mission Accomplished.” I guess he just forgot to say which mission and how long it would take.

    The fact that upping troop levels worked is irrelevant to the final outcome. All the surge has done is squelched the situation for now. The Iraqis want us out, and they don’t want remnants such as bases left.

    We have no business in Iraq – it wasn’t connected to 9/11. It is merely a pawn in the oil game and the Bush/Cheney power trip.

  7. ice-ironman says:

    Did Iraq comply with UN on this “1441 is a resolution by the UN Security Council, passed unanimously on November 8, 2002, offering Iraq “a final opportunity to comply with its disarmament obligations” that had been set out in several previous resolutions (Resolution 660, Resolution 661, Resolution 678, Resolution 686, Resolution 687, Resolution 688, Resolution 707, Resolution 715, Resolution 986, and Resolution 1284). [1]”

    Bush didnt hang the Mission accomplished sign. The sailors on the ship did.

    “We have difficult work to do in Iraq. We’re bringing order to parts of that country that remain dangerous. We’re pursuing and finding leaders of the old regime, who will be held to account for their crimes. We’ve begun the search for hidden chemical and biological weapons and already know of hundreds of sites that will be investigated. We’re helping to rebuild Iraq, where the dictator built palaces for himself, instead of hospitals and schools. And we will stand with the new leaders of Iraq as they establish a government of, by, and for the Iraqi people. (Applause.)

    The transition from dictatorship to democracy will take time, but it is worth every effort. Our coalition will stay until our work is done. Then we will leave, and we will leave behind a free Iraq. (Applause.)

    He was referencing the fact that they (sailors) were headed home, their mission was accomplished.

    Boy, those islamic nations are sure ignorant, they cant live without a dictator telling them what to do. They are so stupid that they cant handle freedom.

    Can you give me the name of the soldier who told you the Iraqis want us out? I can give you the names of soldiers who “claim” things are going 100% better than what the media want to let on. But why would we listen to them- they are only over there everyday-they dont know whats going on.

  8. Here is the report on the banner:

    “Navy and administration sources said that though the banner was the Navy’s idea, the White House actually made it.” “We took care of the production of it,” McClellan said. “We have people to do those things. But the Navy actually put it up.”

    Six of one – half a dozen of the other. Bush and his cronies were in on the banner – they agreed to make it. They could have said no, but they didn’t because they were suffering under the delusion that major combat was over.

    Here is Bush’s speech. Read it, and then assess where we are exactly in Iraq and Afghanistan compared to his “glorious” words on that day.

    http://www.cnn.com/2003/US/05/01/bush.transcript/

    I guess your view of religious tolerance is only when it is a religion with which you agree. Sad, so sad. It is no wonder many countries in the world hate us. Our government and many Americans think we have the only real and valuable way of life, and the rest of the world is inferior and not worth much.

    I am almost certain that God is God is God, and s/he doesn’t favor one country any more than another. The notion that we have God’s “special” blessing is as about as egotistical and ethnocentric as one can get.

    Kindly remember that our God-fearing ancestors helped decimate Native Americans, owned slaves, tore African-American families apart during the slave era, killed slaves for not performing the way they should have and for wanting to be free, lynched African-Americans because of who they were, treated women as second class citizens subject to court-sanctioned physical punishment, drove some religions west, killed their leaders, and on and on.

    This nation was not founded by perfect individuals. They owned property, they were wealthy,and they were educated. They set up a system that protected their own interests. Article I, Section 9 (1), even provided that slaves could still be imported until 1808. So the Founding Fathers actually enshrined slavery in the Constitution until 1808.

    The only way we got past much of this destruction is because there were people out there who believed that what was being done was not right. They fought and died to change things in our own country. It hasn’t been that long ago that lynchings of blacks was still common in the United States.

    By the way, if all the soldiers are so “happy” about being in Iraq and Afghanistan, why are almost 50% coming home with some form of emotional and mental disturbance? Over 30% have sought help for mental health problems. Here is some info on suicide among veterans:
    _______________________________________________________________________________

    Dr. Steve Rathbun is the acting head of the Epidemiology and Biostatistics Department at the University of Georgia. CBS News asked him to run a detailed analysis of the raw numbers that we obtained from state authorities for 2004 and 2005.

    It found that veterans were more than twice as likely to commit suicide in 2005 than non-vets. (Veterans committed suicide at the rate of between 18.7 to 20.8 per 100,000, compared to other Americans, who did so at the rate of 8.9 per 100,000.)

    One age group stood out. Veterans aged 20 through 24, those who have served during the war on terror. They had the highest suicide rate among all veterans, estimated between two and four times higher than civilians the same age. (The suicide rate for non-veterans is 8.3 per 100,000, while the rate for veterans was found to be between 22.9 and 31.9 per 100,000.)
    ________________________________________________________________________________

    Sure sounds like a happy bunch, doesn’t it?

  9. Pobept says:

    I’m getting to be an old man, I served January 1968 to March 1970, 6th Battalion 32nd Field Artillery, Fire Base Wilson, Ninh Hoa, South Vietnam.
    Your posting brought back a flood of memories. This is the second time in as many day that I have been reminded of that place and time so long ago. If you have time visit my Vietnam photo album at http://k5set.info/vietnam/index.html
    no blood and guts here just daily life of artillery men in South Vietnam.

    I and many like me thank you for not forgetting the ones that did survive and those that did not.

    Thanks for your posting Robert

Comments are closed.