|Meet Me at The Wall|
David Regenthal wrote this on Memorial Day 1992 in a newsletter that he publishes for the members of Company F. It was his intent was to encourage those, who have not made a trip to The Wall, to do so.
I remember my first trip to the Wall; it was on Veteran's Day 1984. My brother Mark, George "Swisher" Haspador, and I left early on the three hour drive from Barnegat, New Jersey, to Washington.
Mark was a six-year Navy man, missing 'Nam only due to the fact that he was born in 1956. Swish, who unfortunately now resides in a retirement home, is a dear friend and veteran of the European Theater of WWII. Both of these guys are cut from the same bolt of cloth--the kind that would give you the shirts off their backs without your having to ask. I hold them both in the same regard as you guys. People like these are getting harder to find these days.
On arrival in D.C., we found a place to park near the Memorial and joined the growing crowd at the entrance. The Park Service had erected a temporary fence surrounding the site for crowd control as this was the year that the three-man statue was going to be dedicated, and President Ronald Reagan was going to speak on behalf of America's Veterans. I was disappointed to learn that, until the Secret Service arrived and set up the metal detectors at the entry point, no one would be allowed to enter. We had to wait nearly two hours, until around noon, for this to take place. Had it not been for that moderate inconvenience, I might have overlooked something very important . . .
You see, until that day, I had always believed that the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, in addition to memorializing our fallen comrades, had been built only for us. In retrospect, I believe that my statement is true, but perhaps a little selfish. Clearly, the Wall serves many purposes for various groups and individuals.
While I waited--looking around at many of my brothers, some of whom were in full Vietnam-era uniform, and others, who, like myself, were disguised in civilian attire--I saw something I had not expected to find . . . There were vast numbers of people, both young and old, who did not fit into the 30 to 40 year old primary bracket that the majority of us comprised. I found that there were groups and individuals representative of both the age category which we had once been in during our time in Southeast Asia and others from the 50 and above group. What gives? Like getting hit over the head with a sledge hammer because I immediately realized just who these "other Americans" were.
Not only had I made the trip with, and found myself in the good company of my "brothers" when I arrived, but now I found myself completely enveloped by the men and women who were the parents and children of the colleagues whom we had come to memorialize.
Where had I been all those years? I was then, and remain today, humbled beyond words by the presence of these--our Gold Star Mothers, Fathers, and children. The depth of my feelings defies my ability to put into words how I am affected. For these, of diverse ancestry, culture, or religious family, for their sacrifices and the sacrifice made by their loved ones, I can only say, "God Bless America."
After what seemed like an eternity we were allowed to enter "our" memorial grounds. I stood in line waiting to look for a few very important names on the Wall, not realizing that I would not be able to find them without some assistance. After my first run at it, I went back to where a Park Ranger was assisting folks, using the directory of names in finding the correct panel and line number.
By the time it was my turn, I had become so emotional that I was nearly on the brink of tears. To my dismay, I was not immediately able to find my best friend's name in the directory. What the hell had happened, why wasn't I able to find Duane's name? Had I lost my mind, overlooked it by virtue of the moist blur that was building up on my eyes, or simply misspelled it? It's curious how the mind plays tricks like, "maybe he isn't really gone, and you just don't know it?"
Duane Alfred De Vega can be located on panel 32W line 10. I had forgotten that De Vega was two separate words in the correct presentation of his last name.
He had been so bright and alive. Duane was married and had two young children. He was from New York City. We shared the same room as NCO's in 2nd Platoon. We talked, drank, and did some other things that we probably would never have admitted to our children. For many years, I was angry with myself for not having been able to prevent his departure from this earth. I have thought of him often, and the times we had. I miss him, and what is most important for me to say is that I loved him. He was my friend.
In 1984 they had a public address system over which they continually played the theme from "Chariots of Fire" and a song sung by a Black woman called "Welcome Home." My brother asked me if I was alright, realizing how upset I had become. He and Swish did the best thing they could possibly do for me at the time; they were there for me. I have returned many times since that first time, exorcising my demons. It's always difficult, but it becomes a little easier, a little bit better.
The statue was great, tho' I did not hear the President speak. The Wall is beautiful.
It's a beautiful place, and it's ours. I will be there on Memorial Day this year, and I
will be standing there quietly beside you.
©1992 by David Regenthal, all rights reserved.