ENGLEWOOD — Each of the 60,000-plus names on the Vietnam Traveling Memorial Wall tells a story of patriotism, heroism and loss.
But the names inscribed there tell only part of the story.
Those who came to pay their respects to the dead and missing this week in Englewood talked about friends and lost loved ones who never came home from an unpopular war that still haunts us decades later.
The memorial wall, a three-fifths replica of the national monument in Washington, D.C., is on display in Pioneer Park in Englewood through Monday. Here are some voices from the wall:
Richard Glasgow, Englewood
Richard Glasgow served in the Vietnam War as a combat medic and says he felt guilty for the lives he couldn’t save. “I thought I could do more, but sometimes you just can’t,” he said. “It was very tough. A lot of the times I didn’t know if they made it or not. Sometimes it was pretty obvious they weren’t going to.” Although he arrived in Vietnam as an infantryman, Glasgow later underwent medic training.
“I had one week of medic training at Fort Sam Houston (Texas) and then I was there for a couple of weeks in a triage unit,” he said. “That was my first exposure to constant wounded. Then I was sent into the field.”
In previous wars, a red cross guaranteed safe passage through a combat zone, Glasgow said. Not so in Vietnam, especially if you were a medic.
“We were targets,” he said.
Embracing inevitable death was the only way the men knew how to survive, he said.
“We all knew there was just no way we were coming out of this. It’s almost like you’re avenging your own death — get the one that’s going to get you one day,” Glasgow said.
War, he said, had profound effect on him.
“That kind of experience kind of takes away a lot of your humanity,” he said. “I never hated so much.”
Bob Wood, Venice
Bob Wood doesn’t say much, and his friends affectionately call him “Grumpy.” But his stern exterior softens just a bit when he recalls his days in Vietnam as a door gunner on a Marine Corps. Transport helicopter.
Like everyone, he says, he did whatever he had to do to survive and make it home. As part of a chopper crew he flew men into harm’s way and carried the wounded away. Sometimes, he said, he did both within hours.
“I would drop them off for a strike in the morning and go back, and there would be a guy you just flew in covered in blood or peppered in shrapnel,” he said.
Paul Mann, Englewood
Paul Mann visited the memorial Friday.
“There’s a lot of names,” he said. “(Coming here) was the right thing to do. It felt right reading a name from each panel.” Mann is a veteran, but did not serve in the Vietnam War. “I got in right around the time of Grenada and got out before the wars in the Middle East,” Mann said. “I was born right before the Vietnam War.”
Nancy and Patrick Gentile, Venice
Nancy Gentile and her son, Patrick, stood at a corner of the wall Friday. She said she brought her son because “Later generations have to understand the cost of war.” Nancy has visited the Vietnam national monument in Washington, D.C.
“This is just as emotional,” she said. Patrick said he found the Vietnam Traveling Memorial Wall overwhelming. “When you look at it from afar, it looks like glass with white in the middle,” he said. “You look at the white and realize it’s names and it really hits (home).”
Duane Dugan, Englewood
Duane Dugan, whose family served in the military, was against the Vietnam War but came to see the wall Friday and show respect for the troops and grieving families.
“I came because I went to the Washington, D.C. memorial,” Dugan said. “I’m moved that the traveling wall is here. I didn’t lose anyone I know in the war. I was against the war but not the veterans. It was a political nightmare.”
Dugan said he knew a lot of veterans who talked about their experiences.
Dugan’s mother and father are interred at Arlington National Cemetery and his brother served in Thailand and Vietnam.
“I think about the collateral damage families had to endure and suffering experienced by the relatives,” Dugan said. “When I come here, I think about 9/11 and I guess I have survivor’s guilt because my business was at the World Trade Center and I was supposed to be there when it happened.”
John Swencki, Osprey
John Swencki served in the Navy during the Vietnam War.
“It’s a great tribute for the men and women who served,” Swencki said of the Vietnam Traveling Wall. “The memorial is solemn for everybody.”
Swencki said he came because he knew a couple of guys from high school who served and passed. “Everybody should see it,” Swencki said. “It’s a reminder of what the country stands for and what we sacrificed. I can’t say too much for the volunteers who do this. When we came back (from the war), it was much different (how we were treated) compared to now.”
Gary Martinez, North Port
Gary Martinez is a member of the Patriot Warriors, a motorcycle club whose main mission is to help struggling veterans with their problems.
“I’m part of the class of 1966 at Carlton High School in Carlton, Mich.,” Martinez said. “I wanted to look up some of my colleagues. There are maybe three to five I’m looking for on the wall.”
Marian Brumley, Rotonda
Marian Brumley, a VFW member, said she is a former Washington, D.C. resident and familiar with the Vietnam national monument there. She had two brothers and a husband who served in Vietnam.
“It is unbelievable,” Brumley said. “It’s very moving.”
Daniel Lukaschewski, Rotonda
Despite spending a year in Vietnam and dealing with the consequences every day thereafter, Daniel Lukaschewski says he still doesn’t understand the war.
“Our leaders were liars. Whether it was government or big business, whoever, we didn’t know why we were there and we still don’t know why we were there,” he said.
Regardless of the why, he said, the men had only one goal: “take care of each other and come home,” he said.
That, of course, wasn’t always possible,
“The way it works in war, we could be side by side, right here, and only one of us is coming home. It’s very random,” he said. “There’s a lot of survivor’s guilt.”
What he doesn’t feel, he said, is ill will toward his former enemy.
“That was just another man trying to do what he had to do for his country and get home. When we were in the bush, it was our job to kill them, but the fact of the matter is he was a formidable opponent — very wily, very knowledgeable and meaner than a snake.
“There was a lot of respect you had to show them guys,” Lukaschewski said.
Sal Giuffrida, Osprey
Sal Giuffrida was stationed in Germany during the Vietnam War. He came to see the wall in Englewood because he didn’t get a chance to see it at Washington, D.C.
“It’s pretty sad,” Giuffrida said. “I lost a few friends. The memorial is very moving.”
David Ecklund, Rotonda
David Ecklund served in the Navy during the Vietnam War. On Friday, he was looking for familiar names from school to see if they’re on the wall.
“There are a lot of names up there,” Ecklund said. “I did one tour there, submarine warfare with the original Hornet. I wanted to see it. It’s an honor to be here.”
Seeing the names of those with whom they served on the memorial not only brings grief to the men who made it home, but there’s also the feeling of how easily circumstances could have been different.
“We can all pick a spot where our names probably should be, or could have been,” said an Englewood resident who identified himself only as T.K.
There’s a place on the wall that could have been inscribed with his name were it not for a twist of fate, T.K. said. When a fire broke out on his ship, instead of reporting to his damage-control party, he got locked in a boiler room.
“I was supposed to be the first guy there. Instead, the next guy died. There’s a name on the wall that I keep thinking should be me,” he said.
The fire eventually took the lives of 45 sailors. Their names make up a little cluster on the memorial.
“In my mind, it should be me,” T.K. said.
Dan Blair, Nokomis
Walking with a cane, Dan Blair took a rubbing from the memorial of his friend James Dickerson, killed at age 18 a week into his deployment after stepping on a land mine in Vietnam.
“I was in high school when James died,” Blair said. “I didn’t serve but lost good friends. Whether or not you served, you felt it.”
Coming from a military family, Blair said life was difficult in the Vietnam War era, given the political climate.
“We honor their sacrifice today,” Blair said. “All these people never had a chance to enjoy what we are enjoying now and they did their duty. It means a lot for the memorial to travel around. People were shown little compassion when they came back (from the Vietnam War). There was so much opposition to the war and no respect before. It’s different now.”
Russ Alderman, Osprey
Russ Alderman is blunt about his time in Vietnam.
“I killed people. I was in a Marine Corps Infantry unit. Our job was search and destroy, and we did it very well,” he said.
The hardest obstacle to overcome, he said, was exhaustion from long deployments.
“They would send us out for two, three, four weeks at a time. It wasn’t a question of if we’d make contact. It was a question of when,” he said. “I just always hoped I could hear the first shot.”
After his discharge from the military, Alderman became a police officer. But eventually his time in Vietnam caught up with him.
“I’m completely disabled. I don’t think I have a problem, but they say I have PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) from killing all those people,” he said. “They say I don’t play well with others.”
Like so many other veterans of the war in Vietnam, Alderman was hurt by the way he and others were treated when they returned home. He says it wasn’t right.
“We were honorable young men. Our intentions were honorable,” he said.