Thursday, April 28, 2016

Honoring those who served -- always a good thing

       The annual ceremony honoring the young men -- once students at Woodlawn High School in Shreveport -- who gave their lives in the service of our country will be this morning at the school.
     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
     "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
     It was brought to my attention by Joan Slay Martin (Woodlawn Class of '70), whose husband Mickey Martin (Class of '66) died last July 15 at age 67. Because there was evidence that his health problems, and death, were the effects of diseases caused by his exposure to Agent Orange while he was in Vietnam, she now receives benefits (a pension) from the Veterans' Administration.

    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
    "I met Mickey when I was 12," she remembers. "He thought I was older and we fell in love immediately. He asked me to marry him then; I told him I was pretty sure my Mom would not agree just yet.
    "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
an environmental services business for two decades, and he was an LSU and New Orleans Saints fan.

    "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:
Johnny Saffel
        "[He was]  a retired Captain with the Shreveport Fire Department. He was also a veteran of the U.S. Navy and served two tours of duty in the Vietnam Conflict. During his duty in Vietnam, he suffered exposure to Agent Orange which caused serious damage to his heart [and] ultimately led to his death. He gave his life for his country even though he did not die on the battlefield."
     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.)
    Other than the actual buildings and the beautiful quadrangle area -- site of the ceremony -- much is different, obviously, about Woodlawn than in the 1960s. In its sixth decade, it no longer, technically, is a high school; the name is "learning academy."
    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.


  1. Wonderful blog. I was a Senior at WHS and attended that first memorial. Our parents were also there and continued to attend for many, many years. No one appreciated the US veterans and those who gave their lives more.

  2. From Mickey Lowe: As usual great stuff. The memorial at Woodlawn is a very touching event. I went to it with both of my boys (four years apart) while they attended Woodlawn. I especially liked the last one about Mr. Cook (Mr. Woodlawn).
    I have been to the changing of the Guard at Arlington [National Cemetery] and touched Trey’s name on the [Vietnam] Wall. Those kids [at Woodlawn] do a great job in honoring our fallen brothers.
    Trey was killed one month before I went DaNang to run patrol boats. I have a boat crew member's name on the Wall just down from Trey's. That is a place every American needs to go because behind each name on the Wall there is a story.
    But the dying from that war is not over and will not be over until the last of us is gone. A lot of the guys do not know they have a problem until it is too late.
    I knew Johnny [Saffel] while we both worked for the city -- him for the Fire Department, me for the Police -- and I saw his obit in the paper.
    My [physical] problems hit me 10 years ago with prostate cancer (caught it early) and last year I had to have open-heart surgery. We will have to wait to see what’s next.
    Again thanks for not forgetting.

  3. From Jimmie Cox: Outstanding article as always. The Veterans' Administration has just recognized that Agent Orange spraying also took place along the Korean DMZ from 1968 to '71. I was in an Air Force Forward Air Control unit supporting the Army units along DMZ.
    I am in the LONG process to get a government disability for Agent Orange exposure and all of its side effects (diabetes, diabetic retinopathy, high blood pressure, and even my liver failure in 2011 that resulted in a liver transplant).
    There are still a lot of veterans out there with medical issues from that time frame. Don't forget our new Iraq and Afghan veterans and their pressing issues.

  4. From Colin Kimball: Well done. As a veteran I find it especially gratifying that a non-veteran such as yourself repeatedly takes the time to remember and honor those who served. It means a lot to everyone. You clearly understand that a "soldier is never dead until he is forgotten." Thank you for keeping their legacies alive.

  5. From Nancy Evans: It has been years since I went to [the ceremony at Woodlawn]. But I am amazed and so very pleased to know that they still honor those who gave their all. Remembering Trey!

  6. From Tommy Allen: Thank you. As always profound and well-written. God bless our veterans, both those here and those in heaven.

  7. From Lynn Chance: Thanks, you honor me greatly by posting my comment about Johnny Saffel (and others) who are still falling to the events of Vietnam. I don't deserve to be mentioned with those that sacrificed part or all of their lives in Vietnam or the Gulf conflicts.
    I had planned on going to the memorial service but ended up at the doctor's office due to allergies. My purpose in wanting to attend was to honor WHS Knights who gave their all for freedom!

  8. From Beverly Ann Tozier Harlan: For the first time, I was able to attend the memorial ceremony this morning. Woodlawn did a beautiful job honoring our graduates who made the ultimate sacrifice for our great country. They had a nice reception following the ceremony. It was great to see former classmates and meet some of the parents of the students participating in the ceremony. I thoroughly enjoyed visiting with Jerry and Kathy Humphries.

  9. From Jack Thigpen: What an awesome tradition. Wish other schools would do this. The students of today need to know about the sacrifices that were made by the ones that went before them to give us the freedoms we all enjoy. These brave men should never be forgotten. Thanks for sharing.

  10. From Bob Basinger: Good article. A reminder of how thankful we should be for those who serve to protect us. Thanks.

  11. From Jerry Humphries: Thanks for your notice; Kathy and I attended. It was a beautiful ceremony. Very sad, but also very heartwarming for their last measure of sacrifice. I still mourn for our brother(s).