It is a tradition that dates to 1969, and many of us have seen the ceremony and appreciate the meaning. We should.
It is a gripping ceremony -- poignant, sad. I have written about it previously and published a few stories/columns dealing with it (links below).
We know the first four names on the stone monument in the middle of the school quadrangle; don't have to look them up: Glenn Ogburn, Trey Prather, Harold O'Neal, Edward Cox Jr.
My point in this piece is that this ceremony has a deeper impact, or should have. It is not just about these kids who died far too soon in a faraway country we'd never heard of before the early 1960s.
It is about the young men who served there and came back, but because of the circumstances -- a woe-be-gone war and its effects -- were forever changed. In many cases, their health was damaged; their memories affected.
More on this in a moment.
(I know of at least five 1960s Woodlawn football players who served in Vietnam; there are likely others. All were my friends. One died last year; three others still are my friends.)
Even deeper, the ceremony is about all the once-Woodlawn kids who served in the U.S. military. We salute them, but especially the Vietnam veterans, many of whom were neglected and even treated with scorn after returning home.
We recognize that the military, in so many cases, had much more purpose than just helping to keep this country (and other countries) safe. It gave -- gives -- so many a direction in their lives. It is a stepping stone, or often provides a long career.
Here is what led me to this blog piece ...
As I was gathering information (still in the process) to write about the three other Woodlawn boys who died in Vietnam -- other than Trey, who I've written about often -- I was reminded about those who returned but suffered for years from exposure to Agent Orange and those who suffered from PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder).
About Agent Orange ... if you're not familiar (truth is, I had to go research as a reminder). From the website www.history.com:
"Agent Orange was a powerful mixture of chemical defoliants used by U.S. military forces during the Vietnam War to eliminate forest cover for North Vietnamese and Viet Cong troops, as well as crops that might be used to feed them. The U.S. program of defoliation, codenamed Operation Ranch Hand, sprayed more than 19 million gallons of herbicides over 4.5 million acres of land in Vietnam from 1961 to 1972. Agent Orange, which contained the chemical dioxin, was the most commonly used of the herbicide mixtures, and the most effective. It was later revealed to cause serious health issues–including tumors, birth defects, rashes, psychological symptoms and cancer–among returning U.S. servicemen and their families as well as among the Vietnamese population."
|A young couple in love:|
Joan and Mickey Martin
She feels that the Woodlawn ceremony and monument should reflect how Mickey and others died. Don't know who makes that call, but it led to this blog.
Mickey served four years in the Air Force (chief crew mechanic on F-4 jets) and was honored with medals and certificates. And in a way, he and Joan lived a charmed life.
|Mickey Martin, Air Force|
during the Vietnam era
"He asked me every year after that and my Mom said I could if I made sure I graduated [from high school] that last year. I was 17 then."
He came home on leave and they married in Shreveport in July 1969. He was sent to a base in North Carolina (Joan went with him); he went on a secret mission to North Korea (involving the infamous Pueblo incident), and she returned home to Shreveport to graduate from Woodlawn.
Two sons, two daughters, 10 grandkids, three great-grandkids, a full family. He worked in the trucking industry for years, was a pastor of several churches, he and Joan were houseparents to boys -- abused and neglected children -- in Texarkana, Ark.; he had
|Mickey enjoyed his winding-down time|
"He never met a stranger," Joan said. "He was the kind of guy everyone just loved and respected.
"We were married 46 years on July 12; he died four days later. I think he was trying to hold on for our anniversary."
Quite a life ... despite Agent Orange and the health problems.
Then last week we saw the obituary of Johnny Saffel (Class of '65, my class) -- a guy we knew and liked who played football for a while and whose older brother Lane was the first sprinter (a good one) in school history and a darned good football player, too.
Johnny was 69. His obit read, in part:
Some of the responses to a Facebook post about Johnny's death included:
Daniel Johnson: "Thanks for your service in the U.S. Navy. U.S. Army said that. Agent Orange has taken its toll on me also."
Marcia Landers Wiseman (widow of Larry Wiseman, Woodlawn defensive tackle, 1963-64, good guy, our longtime friend who died last fall, U.S. Navy in Vietnam): "Agent Orange took its toll on Larry."
And from Lynn Chance: "It's a tragedy that Vietnam is still taking our friends."
Then there is my friend -- a star football player at Woodlawn, a kid from our neighborhood part of our little group -- who was in the U.S. Army in 'Nam, a foot soldier affected for years and years by PTSD.
I've heard him tell about the nightmares, the shell-shock, jumping at loud popping sounds, feeling the fear all over again.
I'm proud of him, and so glad he's had a good life with a good family. In a way, he's been lucky. And so it was with those who did live into their late 60s. They were, I think, owed some luck.
Let's not forget their service and that they did pay a price. It wasn't the ultimate price -- the one paid by Ogburn, Prather, O'Neal and Cox. It was, though, a price we should remember and acknowledge.
(There are others from Woodlawn who served and were affected, and if you'll let me know, I will be happy to publish your comments and part of their story.)
The memorial service, for years, was on the first Friday in May and it began at sunrise, or even moments before.
Today it's Thursday in late April, and it's a 10 a.m. start. But the ceremony -- the tradition, for the 48th time -- carries on.
And we're grateful. We honor the young men whose names are on the monument, and we honor those who served and suffered, and all those who served -- Vietnam and elsewhere.
God bless them all.