Monday, May 29, 2006
Last night on local TV, I watched "We Were Soldiers" for the second time. The first time I saw this movie was at the theater when the movie first came out about four years ago. Although I later bought the dvd, I have never been able to watch it again. Toby had never seen the movie. Both of us had read the book over ten years ago when it was first published. I remember that time well. For the week it took me to read the book, I was a basketcase. I cried all week. I fretted and worried about the lost platoon. I dreamed about the soldiers. I was so upset, Toby finally told me to stop reading the book. I told him that I could not stop reading it, but that he would have to read it too. He did, and he was upset for the next week.
Last night I started crying early on in the movie because now, I have not only read the book, I have met many of the people mentioned in it. Jesse and I attended the Ia Drang veteran’s reunion in Washington DC several years ago. It was such an amazing experience, that we took Toby with us the next year. At the beginning of the movie, Mel Giblson’s character, Hal Moore, told his wife that whenever he prayed, he thanked God for her, I started crying. I have met Hal Moore with his wife, Julie. I have seen the love between them, and I knew that when Julie died of cancer a few years ago, it was very hard on General Moore. I have stood and talked with Bruce Crandall and listened to his jokes. He is like a stand-up comedian. I have had my picture taken with "Too Tall To Fly" Ed Freeman and his Medal of Honor. I met Mr. Rangel who signed my book on the page where he is described bayoneting a North Vietnamese soldier. Later Mr. Rangel told me how he was wounded and put into a helicopter flown by Bruce Crandall. He said that as he was put in the helicopter he could see a downed helicopter and feared the same would happen to him, but as they lifted off he watched the tree line, the mountains, and finally clear blue sky. He said that Bruce Crandall turned and gave him a "thumbs up" sign – something that he would never forget. At the reunion banquet, I sat at the same table and had dinner with Barbara and Camille Geoghean, the wife and daughter of Jack Geoghean who wore his daughter’s baby bracelet into battle and was killed. Camille is a grown woman now and very beautiful. At the same table, I ate with my cousin, Sheri. She was born during the days of the battle while her father, my Uncle Bob, was manning the big artillery guns a few miles from Landing Zone X-ray. Sheri’s father returned to her; Camille’s father did not.
I met other men such as Tony Nadal and Sgt. Gilreath. I found a picture of Mr. Nadal online and did a painting from the picture. I was able to present it to him at the reunion. I went to dinner with Chip Parker who flew helicpoters into the battle. I met many more men and some of their wives and listened to their stories. I have stood at the Vietnam Memorial Wall at dawn as Hal Moore and Joe Galloway read the names of the fallen soldiers. I watched as men cried and hugged each other. I saw my uncle find the name of one of his men who was killed in the first thirty minutes of the battle. He ran his fingers over the name and bowed his head in prayer. As I have said before, attending the Ia Drang reunion was a life changing experience. It made me understand the sacrifice of the soldiers and their wives and families. This sacrifice is not over when the war is over. It is forever. I am awed and humbled by these soldiers and all soldiers who have served their country past and present. I bow my head and pray for them today, and I am thankful for them.
Pictured above is Captain Jeff Donnithorne who flew some of the first bombing missions in Baghdad in the Iraq War, Ret. Lt. Col. Robert L. Barker (Uncle Bobby), "Too Tall to Fly" Ed Freeman, and Captain Jim Lively who recently returned from Fallujah (my cousin).