Monday, May 25, 2015

On Memorial Day, we always remember

Trey Prather: His LSU football bio photo; his and his parents' gravesite
     This is a day to remember. Memorial Day always is a day to remember.
     We remember Terry Cross. That will mean something to his friends from Oakdale, La., and Louisiana Tech University.
     We remember Gene Youngblood. That will mean something to his friends from Fair Park High School in Shreveport, and all the friends he made afterward.
     We -- those of us from Woodlawn High School -- remember Glenn Ogburn, Edward Cox and Harold O'Neal ... and, of course, Henry Lee Prather III. Trey.
     All were military servicemen who died in action in the Vietnam War.
     Obviously, Memorial Day encompasses much more than those killed in Vietnam. It covers all those who died in the service of our country while in the military. As several Facebook friends have pointed out, this is not a day to honor all servicemen; that's Veterans' Day (Nov. 11).
     All wars are horrible, and we all suffer. And we can debate the merits, or non-merits, of U.S. involvement, which is what happened on my Facebook page this past weekend -- and I didn't ask for that.
     Every war stirs our passions. We know looking back that it was crucial for the Americans to help save the world in World Wars I and II. We're not so sure about the Iraq and Afghanistan involvements; those are being questioned, second-guessed even today.
     For people of my generation, Vietnam -- and those who died there -- is the one with which we most identify. And it remains a contentious topic even now.
     We know that the American government -- led by the big man from Texas with the big personality and the big ears -- and the military leaders misled us, misguided our troops, and we question all those wasted lives, those young men with all their promise gone.
     More on this below. Here's what doesn't change: The permanence of those names on the Vietnam Wall; our memories of those young men; our grieving for them. I think of them most of all on Memorial Day.
     I have posted blog pieces over the past 3 1/2 years on Trey Prather and the other Woodlawn kids. Here are the links:
     Now about two other young men ...
USMC 2nd Lt. Terry Cross
     I did not know Herbert Terrell (Terry) Cross very well. He was from Oakdale and was on the track and field team at Louisiana Tech, a sprinter known for his explosive starts, according to a friend (and conference discus champion), Tim Hall.

     To be honest, he wasn't one of our front-line runners. He was just on the team. But he was an outstanding student. I remember him, in 1967, as a dormitory monitor on the floors where the athletes roomed -- a quiet guy, nice guy, seemingly always reading, always studying.
     He was at Tech an extra year working on a master's degree in mechanical engineering. He graduated in December 1967.
     I did not realize, or had forgotten, that he was in the ROTC program at Tech. So when he graduated, he joined the Marines, and quickly was a Second Lieutenant ... and was off to Vietnam.
     Four months after graduation -- April 8, 1968 -- he was killed in action. He was 24. Here is the link to his page on the Vietnam Virtual Wall:
     I was a junior at Tech; I do remember getting the word that he had died. He was the second person (and athlete) killed in Vietnam that I had written about; it made an impact because he died three months after Trey Prather.
     I don't think Tech did much, or anything, to honor Terry. But two years ago, some of his former teammates, the Tech track and field program, and people from Oakdale put together a Terry Cross memorial service prior to the annual Jim Mize Invitational meet at Tech. 
     From a story in the Oakdale newspaper: His family was presented a service portrait painting of him and a copy was given to the Louisiana Tech Alumni Center. The Jim Mize Invitational's first running event, the 4x100 relay, was named the Terry Cross Memorial race.
     Great touch. Long overdue.
Army Sgt. Gene Youngblood
     I did not know Gene Youngblood at all. I wasn't even aware of him until a couple of years ago. 
     But his younger brother, Tommy Youngblood, was a star athlete at Fair Park High, a Class AAA All-State defensive end the same year Trey Prather was the All-State quarterback. Like Trey, Tommy signed a football scholarship at LSU and he was Trey's teammate -- and a friend -- for two years.
     After I wrote a couple of articles on Trey, Tommy -- who lives in Highland Park (Dallas suburb) -- contacted me and wanted to meet. He had known several Woodlawn kids, dated a few Woodlawn girls, and wanted to talk about Trey and LSU. 
     We've become friends, and Tommy told me that not only did Trey's leaving LSU and joining the Marines and his subsequent death hit him hard, his older brother died in Vietnam only a month after Trey.
     "He was always an ROTC guy, a military-type guy," Tommy recalled. "Fair Park had a really good rifle-drill marching team."
     When Gene got out of school, knowing he was about to be drafted, he enlisted in the Army and went to Officer Candidate School (OCS). But that didn't take, so he wound up in basic training in 1966, served at Fort Polk and Fort Benning, earned a sergeant rank, and  went to Vietnam in 1967.
     Charles Eugene Youngblood -- Gene to his family and friends -- was one of 10 men in his platoon killed in a Tet offensive battle in the province of Hua Nghia on Feb. 12, 1968. The cause of death listed: multiple fragmentation wounds. He was 23. A page link:
     "He was a fun guy, an interesting guy, a good guy," Tommy remembers. "He knew people from everywhere -- Fair Park, Woodlawn, Marshall (Texas). He had girlfriends from everywhere."
     On my Facebook home page, Sylvia Pesek of Haynesville, La. -- the hometown of Trey Prather's mother and maternal grandparents -- posted a few paragraphs from one of my previous blogs (this was from a story written 20 years ago by someone else).
     Here is a portion of a remark made in response by a person whose name I am not going to publish here:
     "Maybe we should forget their names and tear down their monuments and quit memorializing their acts of war, whether they be 'voluntary' or 'conscripted.' The whole idea has to end somewhere, and as long as we keep making heroes of the victims, it will never end."
     There's more, but you get the idea. And there might be people who agree. But I don't, and others don't.
     Tom Dixon's reply to this person (and I don't know Tom): "Memorializing the person who gave their life in military service is NOT memorializing the cause. Any man who dies or risks death to protect or save the life of his fellows (and here, I primarily mean his brothers in arms) is a true hero. The 17-, 18-, and 19-year-olds who served with me in Nam didn't start, understand nor promulgate that (bleeping) war. They 'served' as best they knew how."
     And here was Sylvia's reply: "You do not forget the names of friends or family. You do NOT. ... And they were ALL somebody's friends and family."
     Yes, they were. Prather, Cox, Ogburn, O'Neal, Terry Cross, Gene Youngblood, thousands and thousands of others. They gave their service; they gave their lives.
     Bless them all. Honor them all. We always remember.


  1. From Frank Bright: You are right, Terry Cross was a first-class guy. Such a shame. Thanks for doing the piece.

  2. From Maxie Hays: In tears. I damn sure disagree with that idiot regarding honoring those that gave their lives to protect us. The ultimate sacrifice. What a stupid statement, in my opinion. God bless our heroes and our veterans.
    Thanks for remembering Terry Cross. He and Trey both were wonderful men.

  3. From Tim Hall: I also remember Terry Cross' death very well. I was scheduled to compete in the National Track and Field Federation Championship Meet in Albuquerque, N.M., on the day of his funeral. I had wanted to back out and go to the funeral, but Coach [Jim] Mize convinced me to go. Years later I did find Terry's name on the Vietnam memorial in Washington, D.C, a very humbling experience.

  4. From Casey Baker: What I know about my Dad and 17-,18-, 19-, 20-year-olds was that they saved our ass. If not for them we would all be speaking German or Japanese, and what we may think is a nasty world today would pale in comparison to what we would have if the "bad guys" had won.

  5. From John W. Marshall III: I really enjoyed this -- good job, as always. I followed the link to the virtual wall, and also looked at Gene Youngblood's entry. Sad to go back and read those.
    I like the way you remember and honor those people you knew or know about who gave their lives. As you know, I love stuff like that.

  6. From Nancy Evans: Thank you. Will always wonder what kind of life experiences Trey could or would have had. A childhood friend forevermore.

  7. From Betty Jennings: [Trey Prather] is the fallen veteran I always remember. I can remember the exact moment I heard the tragic news. God needed him more.

  8. From Roy Fletcher: Thanks so much for writing and posting. I knew Tommy Youngblood's grandmother. She and my Mom were close friends.
    Harold [O'Neal] was a wonderful guy. A real Knight.
    The Vietnam war came home to us all the day we heard about Trey's death.
    Thanks so much to all of them.

  9. From Roy May: Great post. I will never forget the day Coach Williams came in the dressing room at Woodlawn and told us about Trey.

  10. From Becky Cook Mason Just left the Vietnam memorial in D.C. and took this [an etching of Trey Prather's name].

  11. From Robert Steckel: I didn't know any of them, but thanks for remembering. That's what's most important. And well said.

  12. From Doug Ireland: Powerful, poignant -- thanks for telling these stories and especially this one on this day.

  13. From Colin Kimball: Thank you. Your words bring peace to my heart, which is heavy this day.

  14. From Pam Fain: What an awesome friend [Trey Prather was]. God bless him. He is missed. ... God blessings to sweet 'Pou' [Trey's sister]. We will never forget all of the fun times with this family.

  15. From William Powell: Trey and I sat by each other graduation night, then we were in Vietnam at the same time ... Our units in Vietnam were very close. Trey was definitely a Knight in Shining Armor and an excellent, awesome U.S. Marine who all of us fellow Knights will never ever forget.

  16. From Fraya Saucier: I will remember you [Trey Prather] always.

  17. From Pat Flenniken: Thank you for remembering these young men who died too young.

  18. From Lynn Chance: Very good memorial to Trey and the others, who I didn't know. Yes, we need to remember them and honor their sacrifice.

  19. From Karen Ann Bryant Dye: Beautifully written. Read it with tears in my eyes.

  20. From Joel Walton: I can't get through Memorial Day each year without remembering Trey and his family.

  21. From Charlie Tyler: Never knew Trey, but feel like I did from words from you and my cousin, Tommy Spinks, who was another Knight great.