Friday, February 10, 2012

Fallen Warrior ... Trey

    On my daily walk more than a decade ago in Knoxville, I saw a sign at a small shopping center near our house that read: "Vietnam Wall replica," with an arrow pointing the way.
    I wanted to see it, or so I thought. It was down the road a bit in an open area, and I walked that way. The closer I got, the more choked up I was.
    I couldn't do it. By the time, I got close, I couldn't hold back the tears.
    I knew I couldn't look at the name on Panel 34E, Row 24: Henry Lee Prather III.
    Trey Prather.
    People who were Woodlawn High School fans in the '60s, my schoolmates, know him. So do LSU and North Louisiana fans from that time.
     Those who were close to him will never forget him.
     Let me capsule this: Grandson of the longtime Northwestern State College basketball coach and then school president. All-State quarterback 1964, Class 3A (biggest class in Louisiana then). Strong arm in a pass-oriented offense, not fleet but fast enough and a tough runner when he did run. Star basketball player (forward or guard). Star baseball player (catcher or center field). Track and field athlete (good discus thrower). Smart, strong build, ruggedly handsome, popular with everyone especially the girls). Went to LSU on a football scholarship, starting QB on the freshman team (1965), backup QB for the Tigers in 1966, played sparingly. Dropped out of school, joined the Marines, sent to Vietnam. Dead a year later.
     Died in Vietnam.
     For five years -- two in junior high, three in high school -- Ken Liberto and Trey Prather were teammates in just about every sport. I was the manager/statistician, saw almost every game they played. We were tight.
      Ken was one of my best friends in high school; I didn't run in Trey's group, but we were buddies. Ken and I spent many hours at Trey's house between our junior and senior years, watching Woodlawn football films.
      They were planning for a big senior year together as the quarterback and wide receiver combo, and that's what they had. Both made first team All-State.
       We wanted Trey to join us at Louisiana Tech, but LSU's pull was too powerful for him. Who knows all the reasons LSU didn't work for him.
      What we do know is that the news in January 1968 was devastating. Marine PFC Prather, two months after going to Vietnam, stepped on a land mine while on patrol in the Quang Nam area. One leg was amputated below the knee at a Da Nang hospital. Two days later, he was gone.
       I was a student assistant in sports information at La. Tech. Calling in a story on a Sunday night, I got the news in a phone call to The Shreveport Times. Walked across the street to a dorm and broke the news to Liberto and Jon Pat Stephenson, our other four-sport teammate at Woodlawn who was two years older.
      A memorial service at Woodlawn and the funeral services, in the church and at graveside, were a week later. We were there together -- Ken, Jon Pat and I. It's the saddest funeral I've ever attended.
       Trey Prather's story is one that has fascinated me. I always thought of doing a book or series of stories, have mentioned it to many people. I have done a number of interviews, and considered the process of how to write a book.
        But I'm going to do it through this blog. This is one of the reasons I began this blog -- to write about Trey Prather. If it were a book, it would be called Fallen Warrior (suggested by my friends Cindy and Ron Marrus).
      Had another friend, another Woodlawn teammate, Warren Gould, ask me how Trey's story would be pertinent to today's world. Thought about that a lot. Here's my answer:
     Trey was the most dynamic, fiercest competitor I have ever been around. And when you consider how competitive and skilled all-around athletes such as Billy Laird, Jon Pat and Tommy Spinks were at Woodlawn (and Tech), that's a real compliment.
    Trey gave it his all at every moment, and he, unlike the others, literally  would fight. I saw it often.
      I love competitors. So he was an inspiration for me, and I'm sure he was for others. Not kidding, I think about him every day. And I have lots more to say about him. Hope you'll indulge me.
      Still haven't seen the Vietnam Wall, either a replica or the real Wall in Washington, D.C. Some day ...


  1. Another really good read. Nice job on what was obviously an emotional and difficult subject.

  2. From Larry Powell: Nico, when I came to work at The Times in the summer of 1968, I was astonished at the festival of quarterbacks in the area - Joe Ferguson at Woodlawn, Bert Jones at Ruston, James Harris at Grambling, Terry Bradshaw at Louisiana Tech -- it was an astounding collection of fabulous talent. And no matter what anybody said about any of them, there was always someone in the room who said, "Yeah, so and so is great, but you should have seen Trey Prather. He was the best of them all."
    I always thought it was one of the most heartbreaking stories, a prime example of all of the circumstances in that era that led to the deaths of so many people with promise.

    I don't know - maybe the time for such a recollection has passed. Still, I'm just enough of an old peacenik to maintain a little hope that humans will improve and learn from mistakes and history.

  3. From Nick: Glad I came across this. Brings back old memories.
    Our lives paralleled a good bit. I was a manager, trainer and statistician at Bossier High School (Class of '64). I also ran a little track and cross country. Loved athletics, but other than being able to run all day, I was not very "athletically gifted" unless you count my prowess as a good blocking dummy. However, I never would have gone to college if not for football. I wanted to be an athletic trainer and about halfway through my senior year, Coach George Nattin (basketball) stepped in and started talking to me about going to LSU and working with Dr. Marty Broussard, who was THE athletic trainer in the country at that time. Coach Nattin was an all-conference point guard at LSU and he knew my determination and work ethic.
    Bottom line is in about five months, I went from looking for a job to preparing to go to LSU. Like Trey, my dream didn't work out (my fault), but it got me into school and started on a path.
    From there my life somewhat paralleled Trey's. I spent two years at LSU majoring in physical education, where I met many fine athletes. I remember things like Freddy Haynes being my sparring partner; Maxie Estay being my wrestling opponent, and gymnastics with the world tumbling champion. I also remember not paying enough attention to my studies and having something which was barely over a C average. Like Trey, I ended up in the Marine Corps in 1967 and in Vietnam in 1969.
    But I grew up in the Marine Corps and learned the value of a good education as well. I returned to LSU, changed majors to electrical engineering, and finished up with a 3.5 GPA. The difference was the work ethic I had from the beginning, the initial experience at LSU and the discipline from the Marine Corps.
    About the (Vietnam) Wall, it's hard. The first time I visited I was in D.C., I knew I couldn't do it with anyone and my wife was with me, so I simply walked on and left her behind as I quickly looked it over.

    1. From Raleigh Whitehead: My goodness. The first time that I visited the Wall was probably in 2003. A friend of mine from Louisiana Tech, Jim Fondren, had retired after 28 years in the Air Force and he was my guide. The first name that I looked up was Trey. The second was Mike Varnado from Ferriday, La. I remember getting somewhat choked up after looking at that Wall. Jim gave me the space to look up those two.
      One of these days, I'm going to take Sue there to see the Wall. She and Mike had briefly dated at one time.

    2. From Larry Powell: I'm glad you followed up with this. It's important that people remember the challenges of that era and remember that many people rose above the awfulness. Geez, what a mixed-up time that was ...

    3. From Frank "Skip" Lytle (USCG, Vietnam 1969): First time I went to the Wall I looked up Trey and other lost friends, I could not hold the tears back. Every time I have been there -- same tears, even to this day. I played football with Trey at Oak Terrace, left Shreveport and went to high school in Houston. Never saw Trey again, but I remember him like it was yesterday.

    4. From David Worthington: As a Vietnam veteran, thank you for sharing this piece. It moved me and I understand this soldier's dilemma. It is hard to be around the Wall when you have friends and acquaintances whose names are on there. Even so, I am grateful for "The Wall" and what it stands for. When I have been to
      Washington, D.C., I have seen all the memorials, except for the World War II memorial, which was opened just a few years ago.
      Here in Monroe, I am a volunteer with the Chennault Aviation and Military Museum. We have hosted a "traveling version" of the the Vietnam Memorial Wall three times: 2010, 2012, 2014. We have done it the week before Veterans' Day each time, and it was always an amazing week. Each time, we had around 10,000 visitors come see the Wall in the course of each week. The stories I heard and the people I met made the experience worthwhile. It reinforced for me the value of "honoring our fallen soldiers" and working hard to "never forget them."
      The ground around the museum is just a field of grass, but when that Wall is on it, that field becomes sacred ground as we honor the names and memories of 58,000-plus soldiers. My role has been to enlist counselors
      willing to volunteer to work at "The Wall" while it is officially here. We do that 24/7 for eight days. Helping a family member, or some veteran find the name of their friend or loved one on the Wall is a special privilege.
      Helping them "etch that name" on some paper for a keepsake is also a special privilege.
      I still have a Vietnam friend that I played baseball with at Northeast [Louisiana University] who cannot bring himself to go to "The Wall." He was in the 101st Air Calvary (infantry) and lost a lot of friends. He told me that he is able to sleep at night, and doesn't have any deep stress disorders, but he knows that people have to handle their post-war trauma in different ways. He goes to 10-year reunions with his old outfit, and they have times for sharing, which is therapeutic, but he won't visit "The Wall." Each soldier handles it differently.
      I have a piece of paper in my desk here at home, on which I etched Trey Prather's name, back in 2012, from the Traveling Memorial Wall here in Monroe. There were other Shreveport names that I found and bowed my head and thanked God for their service to their country as they tried to defend freedom for another small nation that was being oppressed.
      Our world is a crazy place and why is there this "spirit of conquest" that various people groups of the world, seem to be afflicted with? To many, my answer might sound too simplistic or absurd, but I believe in my deepest self that all wars are rooted in the evil desire of selfishness, which manifests itself in the desire to rule and control and dominate others, all the while attempting to amass as much wealth for one's self as is possible. The "wealth" might be symbolized by the possession of gold, land, large flocks and herds, possession of numerous stocks, powerful armies, oil, and countless other status symbols from the materialistic
      perspectives of fame and fortune.
      The Bible certainly speaks a lot about "peace," both the Old Testament and New, and I suspect the "holy writ" of Hinduism, Islam, Buddhism even mentions it a lot, but why is it so "elusive?" Again, I point to the "selfishness" of mankind. In spite of all the good that is done in the world and in spite of all the generosity we see, there seems to be a constant war with evil: drug cartels, drug traffickers, sex traffickers, unscrupulous businessmen, and those who want to oppress others. I don't think it will ever end until God decides to pull
      the curtain down on human history.

    5. From John Marshall: Interesting and well-written piece by Nick.

    6. From Nancy Evans: I was a childhood friend of Trey's and knew his grandparents. It is Haynesville thing. Still think of him often after all this time. Just wished the same thing for Trey. (To Nick) thank you for your service and sharing your story. I was Class of '64 Haynesville.

    7. From Mary Lou Thomas: Thank you for all the remembrances of our dear friend Trey. I visited the Vietnam memorial in 1985 especially to find Trey's name. We lost a very special person. I was so lucky to grow up with him.

    8. From Michele Shellye Abington-Cooper: My first time to see it was also in D.C. about 1990. It was on a night tour with 4-H professional from all over the country. I was looking for both Trey's and Mark Cline's names and standing next to a guy from Indiana with whom I had become buddies. He did not serve -- did not ask why because I knew what my reaction would be if he said he "dodged" -- but I could see he was visibly upset. We started talking about friends lost and he said something I will never forget: "You know, Michele, those of us who did not go for whatever reason, are haunted by these names. It is a little like survivors' guilt."
      I have thought about that a lot.

    9. From David Oliver: The first picture I saw of the Wall was on the cover of "Time" magazine. Of all the sections they could have shown, they chose the area with Trey's name on it -- Henry Lee Prather III.

    10. From Shelia Jones: He was very special to all of us. That Wall has added significance for me. We moved to New Orleans. My senior class had 634 people and 150 were KIA or are still MIA. Rex Clinkscale from Woodlawn was one of them.

    11. From Marcia Landers Wiseman: Larry never wanted to see the Wall, too emotional.

    12. From Shelia Jones: I do understand that. I cried when I saw it.

    13. From Jan Prothro: Wonderful memories of my buddy Trey, as well as his sister (Pou).

    14. From Kathy Driver Green: My husband and I went to the Wall and I saw Trey's name; it brought tears to my eyes. My husband is a Vietnam veteran and it was hard for him, too. Right now he is suffering from cancer; the second time from Agent Orange.

    15. From Ronny Walker: Humbly I say thank you for restoring/recalling our memories of “good times and good people.” My son who does movies had a tagline in one he did called “Judges." It said, “THERE IS NO PEACE…ONLY GOOD AND EVIL…KNOW WHICH SIDE YOU’RE ON.” Some of the comments on your blog make me think that’s where we are today.

    16. From Nancy Megas: I've never seen the Wall in person and not sure I want to. So sad to lose Trey Prather. I did not know him personally -- only from a distance, but I admired and respected him. Once while walking through the cemetery looking for my parents' grave I found a marker with his name on it. Through tears I sent him a thank you by prayer. I felt his presence and his love for his country and his fellow man.

  4. Thanks Nico. Great, great memories and I think you should write the book. Have a great one.

  5. From Judy Kegerreis: Thank you for sharing this story. I will always remember Trey from our days at Woodlawn. I have been to the Vietnam Wall in Washington D.C., several times and I always go to the section with Trey's name. It is so moving you cannot help but get emotional.

  6. From Mary Greer Norquist: Thank you for sharing this again. The Vietnam War and the loss of our high school hero was a terrible dark time. Each time I've been to the Vietnam Wall I'm so overcome with sadness that I just can never go another time.