Wall of Faces
In an effort to further preserve the legacy of those who sacrificed all in Vietnam, Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund (VVMF) is committed to finding a photo to go with each of the more than 58,000 names on The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall. As of February 2020, all Alabama veterans killed in the Vietnam War have had a photo located and uploaded to the Wall of Faces project.
Oral Histories (conducted by APT)
Oral Written Histories (Submitted by Users)
We were “corporate nomads” moving every 2-4 years depending on the needs of the company. At the time of the Tet Offensive, I was in the Third or Fourth grade living in Monroeville, AL. I was always out in the field in front of the house playing (if not playing football) with a balsa wood airplane or with a paratrooper toy complete with parachute you could throw up & the toy paratrooper would float down underneath the opened parachute. Just so happened our second house in Monroeville was next door to the parents of Cpl. James Marshall, one of the Marine guards killed at the US Embassy during the VietCong attack on the Embassy. Afterwards, his parents gave us their son’s Marine Corps service cap that I still have to this day, something I will always treasure. I later joined the Army serving in Korea, Panama, Belgium, Fort Lewis, WA; & deployed with the Alabama Army National Guard to Saudi Arabia for Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm.
This is an account of the battle on November 4, 1969, at Fire Support Bases Buttons, near Song Be city. Phuoc Vinh Province, Vietnam. Written by 3rd Platoon, I Troop, 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment. Submitted by Charles Tyler Dodge
My daddy, with his World War II images, eventually framed the Vietnam War for me.
When I was in college, I never met any of the people who were angry at our soldiers. I would not have understood the anger, since the young men had been drafted. I too opposed the war, but for a different reason; I did not want any of my male classmates to die.
It seems odd, especially now, when I have adult children, that so many of the parents I knew when I was a student seemed to support the war. When I was and in my late forties, I asked some retired academic colleagues old enough to be my parents why, even though they had sons, they had supported the war. They said they were just supporting the U.S. government.
I am proud to say that my father was more concerned that mere youths in US uniforms could die in Vietnam. His whole frame of reference was from World War II, with his younger brother being a hero of the Eastern Theatre. He was proud of that brother and of the other three who fought. (He himself, a young man with a limp from childhood polio, was drafted but never left this country.) He seemed not to see any conflict between pride in his brothers and paternal concern for the young men of my generation.
Not long before his death he would write a poem and send it to the Jackson Daily News, which had published his poetry when he was a young man. No matter that the images were of another war. Taking in every generation, he called the poem “War.”
Roaring guns, blasting shells,
Night aflame like forty hells.
This is war.
Destroying the living, taunting
This is war.
A lifeless youth, eyes fixed to the
Far from home, to young to die.
This is war.
Hungry children roam the street
Empty stomachs, bleeding feet.
This is war.
A nation prays, give us peace,
War is hell, let it cease.
This is war.
Dwight L. Gardner
Jackson Daily News
One day before Thanksgiving, 1968
Submitted by Gerald Boykin
Now that I have reached 50 plus years in life, I do recall the Vietnam era as a very young kid while growing up in the 60’s. When my father picked me and my brother up from our grandmother’s house after baby sitting. I do remember Walter Cronkite, a old news anchorman, talking about our troops in Vietnam on our old black and white tv made by RCA. I did not understand anything about the war and how the newsman conveyed the troop logistics in Laos or Camdodia.
But as I got older as a kid while attending Orchard Villa Elementary School in Miami, FL. In 1971, I had a fourth grade teacher that returned home from the Vietnam War. I can vividly recall one of the students asking Mr. Depalo, “Who won the war?” He simply shook his head and said nobody did. He told the class about seeing his friends blown apart on the battle field and how it stuck in his mind.
During my young adult years in life, I met a fellow exposed to the Agent Orange chemical and I talked to a few guys who had serious psychological effects from the Vietnam War. Also I got the raw details of what really happened to the U.S. troops there.
In Loving Honor of Major William V. Hawkins, USAF, Retired
Respectfully submitted by Nancy Hawkins Kahn
My story begins in the early summer of 1960 when I began my second job after high school. I was a teller at the credit union located at Pease Air Force Base in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. While I was born in Portsmouth, I grew up across the river, in Maine.
Several weeks after I started, a young Air Force Lieutenant came into the office to apply for a loan to purchase a sailboat. Another staff member took care of his request and I paid little attention to him. But several weeks later he returned to thank the staff for their help and to invite us all to go sailing with him. My coworkers, who were both married with families, gracefully declined but suggested he ask me because I was single. He invited me, but before I could respond, one of my co-workers said, “Of course she will; what time will you pick her up?” That was the beginning of a whirlwind courtship that resulted in marriage in April 1961. My new husband was from Homewood, Alabama.
He was a navigator/bombardier, on a B-47. In June 1962, we welcomed our first-born son, followed by his brother the next year. We travelled to Alabama that year to introduce the boys to their grandparents, and me to Alabama. Bill proudly showed me Shades Valley High School, the Vulcan, the Zoo, and other local sights.
Fast forward to 1965 when the Air Force announced they would phase out the B-47s. Pease had been the last Air Force Base to have this aircraft. Transfers were scheduled to take place by December 31. All aircraft crews were to be transferred to other bases to be trained in flying other aircraft. When Bill’s orders came, he was assigned to Pope Air Force Base in North Carolina, a base that supported the Army at Fort Bragg by transporting the 82nd Airborne in C-130s. He was to report by January 15, 1966, and our third child was due to be born December 31, 1965. We moved into our new home on January 13, and when our new son was six weeks old, Bill received a new assignment. Bill’s new orders moved him to a new command; he would remain at Pope, but would join a group of men who would be forming a new squadron, flying a specially modified C-130, and would be assigned to a base in Vietnam as of August 1966. When the squadron deployed, our baby, John, was 7 months old.
In the early summer of 1966, we travelled back to Maine to find suitable housing for the boys and me. Since we could not continue to reside in base housing during Bill’s absence, I opted to return to Maine to be near my parents rather than move into the unfamiliar town adjacent to the base. We then returned to Pope to arrange for the move which would take place shortly before Bill deployed in order to give our young sons as much time with their Daddy as possible.
While settling into our new home, I became aware of the need to create a plan to somehow keep the memory of Daddy alive in the developing mind of our baby. The older boys were old enough that this would not be a problem for them, but I quickly realized I had a different problem to resolve regarding them. For John, I framed a picture of his father and hung it above his crib. Together we developed a ritual of saying “Good Morning or “Hello” to Daddy every time he awoke and “Good Night” every time he went to sleep. I did not know what else I could do. For Richard and Tommy, the issue was more complicated but surprisingly, the solution was much easier. They talked together about their Dad constantly, but they also became aware that Vietnam was constantly in the news on television. Consequently, they would run to the TV to see if they could see Daddy. I simply began to not watch the news until later, when they were already asleep.
Bill was wonderful about sending us taped “letters” which we listened to as a family. In turn, Richard and Tom eagerly taped their messages to him. John was still months away from talking, but I made certain he heard Bill’s messages to him. I often wondered whether John was making the connection between Daddy’s voice and his photo.
In February of 1967, Bill told me the squadron had received news that not all of the men would return in a year. The Air Force had determined the squadron returns would be staggered as well as their replacements in order that the squadron replacement occur over a longer period of time. Therefore one-third of the crews would come home after 9 months, the second third at the end of the first year, and the remainder at 15 months. Those who volunteered to remain and be in the last group would receive their choice of assignment upon return. Bill volunteered. He requested a European assignment, which unlike Vietnam, would allow him to bring his family.
So the boys and I persevered. The boys grew taller. John began to walk and talk. In September, Richard entered kindergarten and Tommy started Pre-K. John was quickly becoming a little boy. Then came the day that Bill told me by the month’s end he would arrive on the west coast and then fly commercial to Boston on October 15. He would let me know more as soon as plans were finalized. I was ecstatic!
One week later I learned Bill would fly into Logan Airport in Boston at 3 AM on October 15. Because the arrival time was so early in the morning, I had my younger sister spend the night with the boys and me so I could get up and leave in time to meet Bill’s flight at the gate. What a wonderful reunion!
When we arrived at the house around 6 AM, we could hear that John was awake. Both Bill and I ran upstairs. As we entered his room, John was standing up in his crib. When I said, “Look who’s home,” he looked at Bill’s picture, then at his Daddy, then back at the picture, then put out his arms to be picked up, snuggling into Bill’s shoulder. At the same time, Tommy came running from his room, took one look and ran to Richard’s room, and we heard him say, “Richard, wake up! We have a Daddy again!”
In March, 1968, we arrived all together at Ramstein Air Force Base in Germany, where we spent the next 5 years.
When Bill retired from the Air Force in the summer of 1980, we sold our home in Florida, purchased a home in Vestavia Hills, and I became an Alabamian.
Submitted by Frank Huskin, Vietnam Veteran
I was a pilot during the Vietnam War. In 1967, I was the Aircraft Commander of a C-141 aircraft, which is a large four engine jet cargo aircraft. I was at Clark Air Force Base, Philippines, when I got a call to fly to Saigon, South Vietnam, for a special mission. Upon arrival in Saigon, I was met by a small group of nurses, and a doctor. With them was a patient who was on a stretcher.
While we were refueling, they put the patient on the plane and secured him. One doctor and two nurses stayed with the young man. The doctor had given the young fella some very powerful pain killers as his whole body had severe burns from a phosphate bomb that had gone off near him. It was hard to see.
I was instructed to fly the four individuals to the Army burn center in San Antonio. It would be and 18-hour flight including a refueling stop in Japan. The government of the United States spent approximately $40,000, in fuel alone, to try and save this young fella’s life.
I never did find out if he lived. I wish I knew because it was the most important mission I flew in a 22-year career. It showed the effort we went to save one individual. I still say a prayer sometimes in hopes that he did survive.
Derick R Hill
HSC 15th Medical Battalion
Vietnam Veteran 1970
They hurried to bring you in, but they need not to have hurried. Your ghostly white body already drained of blood: a shredded green uniform never to be worn again.
I knew not who you were, nor what your life had been. I thought of your family, your wife, or your girlfriend. They were, as of yet, unaware of a horrible truth-a truth that when learned would affect the rest of their lives.
Then I thought that maybe you had no one. No one to know or care of your death. No one to cry for what had happened.
Then I began to cry.
I cried for what you had been made to do.
I cried for the senseless immaturity and inhumanity of war.
I cried for what you would be missing in a life cut all too short.
I cried because I saw myself in you.
I knew not who you were nor what your life had been, but I cried for you and I cried for mankind.
Submitted by Ruth Vann Lillian
I was seven years old when my parents asked me if I’d like to have another baby come to live with us. My sister, Cora Elizabeth, had died of Leukemia two years earlier, and the three of us were still bereft but trying to rebuild our lives. I thought the idea an excellent one and I was eager and impatient to have a new sister. A few months later, the Friends of the Children of Vietnam sent my folks a letter and picture. There was a little boy who needed a home, and would we be interested? I was not at all sure about having a brother, but in the end I was enthusiastic about this new addition to our lives.
My parents are both gone now, but as I remember my mother’s account, it took another year or so before all arrangements were completed and my dad, Birmingham City Councilor, David J. Vann, headed for San Francisco where he was scheduled to meet Mike’s plane. Then came a news report that a plane full of refugee children from Vietnam had crashed en route. My parents waited a whole day before finding out that it was another plane.
Mike’s plane had a rough trip over, stopping once in Guam and then again in Hawaii due to mechanical problems. Finally, several days overdue, the plane arrived and Mike was finally in his new and very proud father’s arms. Because Dad was running for the office of mayor, CBS news decided to cover the story of the adoption and a film crew traveled with Dad and Mike from San Francisco back to Birmingham, arriving April 17, 1975. Thirteen days later, Saigon fell.
Michael was abandoned as an infant and brought to the orphanage in late summer of 1973. A judge later selected the birthday, August 8, for him, which was two days before Dad’s, so we always celebrated their birthdays together. His legal Vietnamese name was Le Van Kim, and since our last name was “Vann”, my parents added another “e” to Americanize “Le,” and gave him the name, “Michael.”
It is not surprising that he would bond first with the other child in the house, and I claimed him quickly as my little brother. He was 20 months old, walking, actually running most of the time, but knew no English. He arrived severely malnourished with considerable digestive problems and still in diapers.
Mama recalled that his little legs seemed like toothpicks and his swollen belly looked, I thought, like he had swallowed a basketball. My parents had been told that he had suffered a severe injury to his left cornea, but they discovered early on that he could barely hear anything. Mike went through several surgeries his first few years, resulting in successfully grafted eardrums, which he got to abuse later with loud music during adolescence! Efforts to restore his vision were unsuccessful despite a cornea transplant. As in any adoption, there was a period of adjustment for all of us, but I remember falling deeply in love with this adorable little boy, and spending many happy hours with him. I also remember bossing him around and resenting having to babysit when I had matters more interesting to pursue. The chaos of my father’s mayoral campaign made an interesting blend with the building of our family, and Mike’s introduction to American life was frequently made in front of crowds and cameras. Dad, at 47, had his own little boy to kiss and show off, and took Mike and me everywhere as he campaigned around the city. My mother, who eschewed the public eye, was there to greet the tired and hungry Vanns when we returned. Michael turned 2 in August, and in November, my father was elected to the Mayor’s office.
A hyperactive child who had difficulty focusing, he exhibited athletic ability, and in spite of the blind eye, learned to play soccer, baseball, and tennis with proficiency. In fact, during his early 20’s he won the regional championship in his tennis division one year! He went to on to graduate from the University of Alabama and works today as a tennis coach in Washington D.C.
As a child, I was barely aware of the war in Vietnam until we started preparing to receive my brother. I did not understand until much later that my parents’ desire to adopt was not only born from the loss of my sister but also from the conviction that this was a right and productive response to the horror and suffering inflicted by the war. Ironically, because of that war, Michael brought light into the dimness of our home, and with speed and energy, he pushed us into a new life together and made us a whole family again. My parents adored Mike, and he and I are still very close. He is my brother, and my reminder that out of the most unspeakable, destructive atrocities life and love will still emerge victorious!