Monday, May 30, 2016

Memorial Day, and why those kids in Vietnam mattered to us

      Explaining the why and how of my four blog posts of the past month, all related to Woodlawn High School in Shreveport and the Vietnam War:
     Writing about the annual memorial service for the 1960s Woodlawn students who died in the service of this country and then about three of those young men -- Edward Cox Jr., Harold O'Neal Jr. and Glenn Ogburn -- actually was timed to  lead into this Memorial Day piece.
     I wrote Memorial Day blogs in 2012, 2014 and 2015 (in 2013, I was in the middle of writing a series about our trip to The Netherlands), and those blogs were inspired by Trey Prather.
    That is no surprise to regular readers of this blog. And Trey also inspired the thought behind the blogs this May.  
    Trey inspired us as a superb athlete, as a fellow student and friend, as the subject of frequent blog pieces and e-mail/Facebook posts by me in recent years ... and, of course, as the most prominent of the four Woodlawn 1960s "kids" killed in Vietnam.
    I did not know the other three ... but I know a little more about them now. And hopefully those who read the blog pieces on them do, too. 
    After a January e-mail/Facebook post (actually a re-post) about Trey showing the painting of him in his Marines Corps uniform -- first provided to me by Colin Kimball of McKinney, Texas -- the response was significant, as it usually is when I post an item concerning Trey.
    The people who remember him from Woodlawn, and many other people, always appreciate it.
    But one of the responses -- from Sandra Thrasher Ourso, a one-time Woodlawn cheerleader who now lives in Baton Rouge and is a journalist and published author -- said (in effect): You are always writing about Trey. Why don't you write about the other three Woodlawn guys who died in Vietnam?
    My first reaction (not an unusual one for me): I don't like people telling me what to write.
    But the more I thought about it, the more I felt this might be a good idea, and certainly a challenge.
    As a fellow sports writer reminded me frequently many years ago, everyone has a story. We just have to find those stories.
    It has been almost 50 years. I didn't know much at all about Glenn Ogburn, Harold O'Neal and Eddie Cox, although I have mentioned them almost every time I have written about the memorial monument in the center of the Woodlawn quadrangle -- where their names (and Trey's) are posted.
    But I didn't know their background, their families, where they lived, why they joined the service, where they served, and -- unfortunately -- how they died. The only pictures I had were those on the Internet's Vietnam War web sites.
    I did not know if they had family still around to give me some insight.
    This was going to take some research ... and a lot of help.
    It worked. It took four months to develop and then to write, but it's done. Thank you, Sandy, and you're welcome. And thank you to those who helped me reach four of the five remaining siblings.
    Mostly, thank you to those siblings -- Dale Cox, Michael O'Neal, Farrelyn Ogburn Hemperley and June Ogburn Morgan. Each of them was cooperative and helpful. 
    Re-living the loss of their respective brothers, talking about them, no doubt was a bit painful. But they also were proud of their service and their sacrifice, and they always will be.
    I know that Marion "Pou" Prather, Trey's younger sister who lives in Bradenton, Fla., certainly feels that way.
    On Jan. 19, I sent out an e-mail and posted a Facebook message to the Woodlawn people on my lists telling them about this "project" and asking for any information about the three young men and their families.
    There was enough response for me to realize this might be a worthwhile effort. I received some clues that each of the three might have siblings in the Shreveport area.
    But I moved slowly as I worked on some other blog ideas.
    Internet research, on the Vietnam War/Wall sites, gave me background on their service and their deaths (and photos of Ogburn and Cox -- but not O'Neal -- in uniform). That was a start.
    Through Facebook connections, I first was able to reach Dale Cox and interview him. He led me to Tommy Craig, Eddie Cox's close friend who lives in Mansfield, La., joined the U.S. Army at the same time as Eddie and served in Vietnam at the same time.
    Several people told me that Michael O'Neal, Harold's younger brother, was still living in Shreveport. But no one could tell me exactly where or give me a phone number.
    I searched the Internet -- I call myself searching -- but kept coming up empty. Finally, Wally Hood gave me the number.
    When I called, Mike answered -- and was more than happy to talk about Harold and the O'Neal family. He also told me he was listed in the phone book.
    As it turned out, the "empty" was my research diligence.
    I had seen a number for Michael O'Neal in Shreveport among those on "White Pages" listings, but because it began with 221 (downtown), I didn't think that would be him ... and I didn't try it. I should have; he was right there available for me all along.
    I also talked to two of my old Sunset Acres friends -- they lived close to us and both were All-State football players -- and they were friends of Harold's. Also, two other Facebook friends provided photos of Harold during his high school years. 
    After I had written the Cox and O'Neal pieces, I still had only scant information on Ogburn. But several people told me that he had two sisters living near Shreveport -- Farrelyn in Stonewall and June, who was in my Class of 1965 at Woodlawn, in Keithville.
    Through a couple more Facebook connections, I got a phone number for Farrelyn and she did provided all the back story I needed, and then June and I traded Facebook messages and she made several family photos available. A couple of Woodlawn friends helped me lift Glenn's photos from school yearbooks.
    Like I said, lots of help, and we're grateful.
    The underlying thought I always have about Vietnam and these deaths: What a waste.
    I wrote about the everlasting Vietnam War debate last year, and I was reminded of it during my talk with Farrelyn and the exchanges with June on Facebook.
    Glenn, said June, "had such a loving heart, I often wonder, had he come home, what the war would have done to him."
    She added: "They saw things over there that I pray we never have to. When Glenn was in on leave, he wouldn't talk about it much, so we didn't pressure him. But he did say that he would see his little brothers in the faces of some of the children over there. And his heart would break for them.
    "He volunteered to go over there to keep that from coming here. For that reason I supported him being there. I just wish our government had better supported them there and when some came home."

    Farrelyn also talked about the family's support, but in the same vein, she said, "After Glenn died, I could understand why some people wanted to avoid it [military service and the war], why they went to Canada.
    "I didn't want to see other families have a loss like we had."
    There are 58,195 names on the Vietnam Wall (pulled that number from a Google search) and there is a story for every name. I've written about a half dozen -- Trey, segments on Gene Youngblood of Shreveport and Terry Cross of Oakdale, La., last year, and now these three.
    These are only a glimpse, though; there's more that could be written. Certainly there is much more I could write on Trey, and maybe that will happen.
    But now, as their family and friends always knew -- and I hope you'll agree -- Glenn Ogburn, Harold O'Neal and Eddie Cox are more than just names on the monument at Woodlawn.

    Links to the previous Woodlawn/Vietnam-related blogs:



  1. From Colin Kimball: God's Blessings to you. What you are doing is important. If every leader of every nation had a personal connection to the men they send into battle, perhaps there would be no war. We however are mere humans and as Plato said, "Only the dead have seen the end of war." Thank you for what you do!

  2. From Jimmie Cox: Thank you for your fine stories on these gentlemen, our hometown heroes.

  3. From Lynn Chance: This is an excellent way to end the series on Woodlawn's heroes. Thanks for the effort to keep the memories of these special Knights!

  4. From June Ogburn Morgan: Thank you for a wonderful finish to your articles honoring our brothers and keeping their memories alive for family and friends and now for the public as well.

  5. From Jane Lytle Gill: Thank you once again for doing the work and using your talent to keep us reminded of the young men WHS lost in Vietnam. Their families are much appreciated too.

  6. From Sandi Tison Atkinson: I lost a step-brother, Kenneth, to a sniper in Vietnam in 1968. It took a while to let the good memories overshadow the grief (and anger!) but each Memorial Day brings back the day the two men in uniform showed up at the door. That is the most awful sight in the world.
    My first husband also lost a brother, Doug, in the 1967 Arab-Israeli "Six Day War." He was onboard the USS Liberty that was inadvertently torpedoed by the Israelis. So, on Memorial Day, I think of Kenneth and Doug and Trey and all the families whose soldiers and sailors are being remembered today.

  7. From Don Birkelbach: Thanks. What a waste. Amen, brother!

  8. From Jimmy Russell: Well done. I lost two schoolmates that I know of in Vietnam. Going forward it is my intention to put flowers on their graves on Memorial Day. Our country treated this group of heroes awful.

  9. From Doug Bland: You being stubborn? I can't imagine that.
    You did the right thing for the right reason. It's just a shame that we still have way too many young people dying having to protect our way of life.

  10. From Ronny Walker: Thank you my friend for ALL the effort you and their families and friends shared. Brings their short-lived lives to life again. “Never to be forgotten”

  11. From Ruben Ruiz: That was a nice piece. I wish people would take more time to actually remember and appreciate the sacrifices these fine young people and their families made.
    I was at my nephew's high school graduation on Saturday night. The salutatorian asked that those students who were going away to military service or military academies and their families to please stand and be recognized.
    There was a long and warm ovation. Very, very moving.

  12. From Susan Updegraff: What a lovely tribute! I'll never understand the way we treated our Vietnam soldiers.