Archive 2008 - 2019

Memorial Day Reflections

by Bill Dooling

Today, while our daughter Shannon was reorganizing our Mudville shed she found my old Army fatigue jacket.

Shannon’s serendipitous discovery of the jacket just prior to this 2019 Memorial Day triggered many stored thoughts and feelings about my June 1968-69 tour in Vietnam; although it was just a year “in country” that year seemed to have lasted a decade; yet it now feels that the 50 year time lapse from my tour has precipitated introspective reflections about my “Coming Home” experience that has transpired like a blink of an eye.

On Memorial Day, in particular but on many other days throughout the year, I find myself reflecting upon the friends and comrades with whom I have served in Vietnam. Such ponderings generally precipitate thoughts of other soldiers from history who have made the ultimate sacrifice to ensure the continuation of America’s freedom and democratic values. These heroic soldiers and their sacrificing families deserve the nation’s eternal respect and gratitude.

Yet it was Shannon’s uncovering of my field jacket that tapped into more personal thoughts and memories about my own Vietnam experience.

Most soldiers who were sent to Vietnam can vividly recall three indelible memories of their experience: the memory of their first in-country day; an individual intense in-country experience and the exhilarating feeling when the pilot announced that the plane had left Vietnam air space.

My own entrance to Saigon was certainly not D-Day spectacular but rather personally isolating.  We flew over watching a Western movie on a TWA commercial flight; I was seated next to a nervous Army Major. After landing I had to, on my own, find my unit’s Saigon HQ.  This individual entrance to this war was replicated for thousands of other soldiers: since my entrance date to Vietnam was June 22, 1968 I knew that my exit date would be June 21, 1969. I shake my head as I well remember the first day and reflect upon the life time changes that this unique experience would wrought within me.

Like my fellow Vietnam veterans I also have easily recalled many “in-country recollections.” But one epiphanous event I experienced that remains embedded in my memory took place in a refugee camp outside our base.

I was asked by a Civil Affairs officer to act as a translator for a woman who had landed in the refugee camp outside our base camp. She was speaking either the Laotian or Cambodian language. Since I had been trained in the Laotian language in Washington DC I was asked to attend.  But it was our company’s Cambodian linguist who learned that this particular woman was a Cambodian mother of three who was searching for her Cambodian Army husband.

Although there was a rancid stench throughout the camp, it was especially pungent and overpoweringly nauseating in her hovel hut; the foul odors have long since dissipated but what is forever indelibly burned into my heart and soul is the uniquely human dignity and integrity that this mother displayed on that memorable day 50 years ago.

 I have often thought of her, perhaps more so now as I watch video of the mother-refugees on our Southern border carrying their children trying to survive and looking for a better life. In that Pleiku, Vietnam refugee slum-camp I experienced a lasting intense, deep and emotional awareness regarding what I had been raised to believe and what Christ had taught: all human beings have unique worth, dignity and integrity no matter their dire circumstances.

I never made it to my expected June 21 departure date because I received a direct commission to 2nd lieutenant at our Pleiku Company Hq on June 10, 1969 and was  given orders to depart Vietnam on June 13th. This Commission altered the rest of my service time and kept me connected with the Army and Veterans for fifty years.

 After my slightly accelerated departure date, once again like thousands of other Vietnam veterans I found myself on a plane alone with hundreds of other returning soldiers who were carrying their own indelible life time memories of friends and comrades who had lost lives, limbs or slivers of their souls. Buried memories for a life time that perhaps percolate up into consciousness as they watch old veterans pay grave site honor and respect to fallen comrades.  

In our departure flight the pilot in announcing our leaving Vietnam airspace precipitated loud enthusiastic celebratory shouts and then a strange eerie stillness and contemplative silence took over the atmosphere in the plane as tired soldiers settled into their own personal recollections. I often wonder what became of those exhausted rejuvenated warriors when they resumed their “life in the World.”

Memorial Day is in fact a special day in which America and Americans honor those men and women and their families who have made both the ultimate sacrifice and have endured a life time of daily physical psychological turmoil and emotional pain.

For me an old field jacket triggered a monsoon of memories: this Memorial Day I will think about the human sacrifice, the cost of war and the price of freedom.

Bill Dooling 1Lt (US Army Ret.)

Comments (11)

Thanks for continuing to teach us and for sharing a different side of war.

Christina Cronin | 2019-05-31 08:17:05

What an incredible story and well written article, one of the best I have had the pleasure of reading. Thanks for sharing and, more importantly, for your service. Both the article and what you went through are very much appreciated!

Jim Barry | 2019-05-29 08:58:58

Always my favorite teacher.... love you dools

Lisa Neitlich’s | 2019-05-28 20:29:59

Great to see you Bill. Thank you for sharing your memories. Thank you for your service to this country and to the many students your taught afterwards.

Grace Magley | 2019-05-28 20:00:38

Beautifully written, Bill. It brought tears to my eyes to think of what you and so many others went through at such a young age. Thank you for sharing this, and thank you for your service.

Ginny Keniry | 2019-05-28 14:03:44

I love you Bill. You are my hero. You bring humanity and heart to every situation.

Beth Greely | 2019-05-28 10:30:07

Bill - I recognized that patch right away --- IFFV First Field Forces Vietnam, as its the same patch I wore. I served like yourself in Pleiku on Artillery Hill. Forty years now you have lived 3 houses away and I don't know that info about you.

Bobby Blair | 2019-05-28 09:07:16

Bill, Thanks for sharing.

Steve Bradford | 2019-05-27 17:50:39

As a fellow Vietnam veteran, I have enjoyed our conversations over the years. We all have our own unique stories and experiences from that far away land that was our home for a period of time, so many years ago. It is good for all of us to reflect for a moment about the sacrifices that some people have made or what others have been forced to experience. This is what memorial day represents. Thanks for your part in doing this.

Herb Brockert | 2019-05-27 14:33:30

Thank you for sharing and reminding us that Memorial day is more than the end of a long weekend

JoAnn Slymon | 2019-05-27 09:12:49

Thank you Bill for the personal and thought provoking article

Lee DeSorgher | 2019-05-27 08:53:57