First Visit to The Wall
FIRST VISIT TO THE “WALL” WILL NEVER BE FORGOTTEN
Dale Shultz was two years younger, but old enough to take part in our neighborhood games. Freeport Borough Field and its play areas often were the focal point for afterschool evenings and weekends and our summer days. In the winter, if we got there before the salt truck, the alley behind Dale’s house was great for sled riding. A good, slippery day would get us all the way to Third Street, maybe beyond, if we went down piggy-back, although we made sure we were extra cautious after we heard that Freddie down the block slid unhurt under the tail end of a passing car.
I remember Dale as one of the nice guys. If there were arguments in our games, I don’t recall him being part of them. He was quiet, somewhat shy, somewhat, in those days, like myself.
Because we were in different grades in school, I did not get to know Dale that well, but I liked him. Everybody seemed to like him.
In 1970, our games became reality. In February of that year, as a belated college graduation and wedding present from the Army, I went to Vietnam. Dale, who also had enlisted, left on Mother’s Day. He volunteered for training in sniper school and ranked third in his class, earning a Bronze Star and Combat Infantryman Badge with the First Battalion of the 14th Infantry. He transferred to Chu Lai and two days before Christmas was killed in action when he stepped on a booby trap.
Just as my wife and family were receiving word in Freeport that I would be coming home, Dale’s family and fiancée received a knock on their door from Army representatives letting them know that Dale also was on his way home. He had become the 71st Alle-Kiski Valley (Pittsburgh suburbs) serviceman to lose his life in Vietnam.
I thought about Dale and those other men when I was in Washington, D.C, with my family a few weeks ago and we made our first visit to the Wall, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. I wanted to go to the Wall for myself. Though it soon will be two decades since I spent a year in Vietnam, I’m still trying to come to terms with what that time meant. I wanted to go to the Wall for our children, too, so they might understand the impact of war apart from their school textbooks. I wanted them to understand it in the way the young boy we saw there that afternoon began to
understand it when he asked his dad, “Are all those the names of guys who served or died?” When his father told him that each of the 58,000-plus names engraved on those black granite panels were fatalities, the boy uttered an exclamation of amazement. The Vietnam War began to come home for him.
That’s what the Wall is supposed to do: put the Vietnam War in human terms so that, I’d like to think, we give long and sober thought to the prospect of never becoming involved in something like it again. Consider the capacity of the Steelers’ stadium and you’ll have a bone-chilling understanding of the number of names on that Wall. They are the names of men and women like Dale, many just teens, who were loved and who are missed.
I wanted our children to see the notes and messages and photos and personal memorabilia left by those loved ones at the Wall, such as the birthday greeting a daughter put there that day below her father’s name. “Daddy,” the note attached to the flowers said, “I still miss you.” I also wanted to go to the Wall for Dale’s mother who told me when we spoke last Memorial Day weekend that she still had been unable to bring herself to visit that memorial and risk the possibility of revisiting those horrible memories.
Our youngest daughter, who never would have been born had I not been more fortunate in Vietnam than Dale, helped me select the flower that we took to the Wall to lay at the base of the 10-foot-high panel bearing Dale’s name. Because it was near the top, she snapped the photograph of his inscription for me, as I held her on my shoulders, our oldest daughter and my wife
steadying us. Together, we summoned a park ranger and she mounted a ladder to make a wall rubbing of Dale’s inscription for us.
When his mom feels she’s ready, I want to give it and the photo to her. I think she’ll be pleased to know that, though his inscription is up very high, the Washington Monument reflects off Dale’s name. I was grateful that my family and I were able to walk away from the Wall together. They just as easily could have been there, I knew, trying to find my name.
Dale Edward Shultz: PANEL W5 LINE 3