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James W. Anderson

Retired from the U.S. Air Force, having served in south Asia, 1967-68.

He lives in Talladega.

TALLADEGA -- There are 58,267 names now listed on that polished black wall, including those added in recent years. The names are arranged in the order in which they were taken from us by date and within each date the names are alphabetized. It is hard to believe it is 59 years since the first casualty.

The first known casualty was Richard B. Fitzgibbon, of North Weymouth, Mass. Listed by the U.S. Department of Defense as having been killed on June 8, 1956. His name is listed on the Wall with that of his son, Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Richard B. Fitzgibbon III, killed on Sept. 7, 1965. There are three sets of fathers and sons on the Wall.

 

39,996 of the names on the Wall were just 22 or younger. 8,283 were just 19 years old. The largest age group -- 33,103 -- were 18 years old. 12 soldiers on the Wall were 17 years old. 5 soldiers on the Wall were 16 years old. One soldier, PFC Dan Bullock was just 15 years old. 997 soldiers were killed on their first day in Vietnam … 1,448 soldiers were killed on their last day in Vietnam … 31 sets of brothers are on the Wall.

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Thirty one sets of parents lost two of their sons. 54 soldiers attended Thomas Edison High School in Philadelphia. Why so many from one school? 58 women are on the Wall, nursing the wounded. 244 soldiers were awarded the Medal of Honor during the Vietnam War; 153 of them are on the Wall.

Beallsville, Ohio, with a population of 475, lost 6 of her sons. West Virginia had the highest casualty rate per capita in the nation. There are 711 West Virginians on the Wall.

The Marines of Morenci: They led some of the scrappiest high school football and basketball teams that the little Arizona copper town of Morenci (pop. 5,058) had ever known and cheered. They enjoyed roaring beer busts. In quieter moments, they rode horses along the Coronado Trail, stalked deer in the Apache National Forest. And in the patriotic camaraderie typical of Morenci's mining families, the nine graduates of Morenci High enlisted as a group in the Marine Corps. Their service began on Independence Day, 1966. Only three returned home.

The Buddies of Midvale -- LeRoy Tafoya, Jimmy Martinez and Tom Gonzales -- were all boyhood friends and lived on three consecutive streets in Midvale, Utah. On Fifth, Sixth and Seventh avenues. They lived only a few yards apart. They played ball at the adjacent sandlot ballfield. And they all went to Vietnam. In a span of 16 dark days in late 1967, all three would be killed.

 

LeRoy was killed on Wednesday, Nov. 22, the fourth anniversary of John F.  Kennedy’s assassination. Jimmy died less than 24 hours later on Thanksgiving Day. Tom was shot dead assaulting the enemy on Dec. 7, Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day.

The most casualty deaths for a single day was on Jan. 31, 1968 -- 245 deaths. The most casualty deaths for a single month was May 1968 -- 2,415 casualties were incurred.

 

No one can relate more to these heart-rending facts more than I. In our rural north Alabama farming community, three of us buddies who grew up together all went to Vietnam. Only I came back. It was most difficult for me to look up Harold and Pee Wee's names on the Wall in D.C. But even more devastating was when I rotated back to the states and was told to change into civilian clothes as soon as possible to avoid being spat upon and called baby killers. I killed no one!

For most Americans who read this, they will only see the numbers that the Vietnam War created. To those of us who survived the war, and to the families of those who did not, we see the faces, we feel the pain that these numbers created. We are, until we too pass away, haunted with these numbers, because they were our friends, fathers, husbands, wives, sons and daughters.

There are no noble wars, just noble warriors.