Emotions run high for Veterans Day on the National Mall
WASHINGTON – Daniel W. Roberts sat shivering in a tiger cage on Thursday morning on the National Mall, starting his Veterans Day by trying to raise awareness about troops still missing from the Vietnam War.
Roberts, who served in Vietnam with the Marines from 1969 to 1970, said children these days have no idea about this issue, claiming they think “POW-MIA” is the name of an Indian reservation. A lot of people who came to see him Thursday didn’t know what a tiger cage is.
He braved the morning chill to make a point: That he believes the Vietnamese are still holding U.S. troops listed as Missing in Action.
“I don’t care if it’s snowing, I’d be out here,” he said. “These are my brothers that are lost – 1,700 of them are still over there.”
Hundreds of veterans were on the National Mall Thursday, including Wilson Hoerichs, who hit Utah Beach on D-Day, fought at the Hurtgen Forest and later the Battle of the Bulge. What sticks with him most was liberating the Nordhausen concentration camp at the end of the war.
“I understood – whether it’s a fact or not – that they had to build the crematorium because of the fact that they had so many prisoners that were underfed and starved to death, that they had to get some way to get rid of them,” he said. “Believe me, when my eyes saw the volumes of ash that was left there, it was unbelievable.”
On Thursday, he paid a visit to the Korean War Veterans Memorial. When asked what he sees when he looks at the monument, he said, “A world that can’t learn what has been taught by history.”
Korean War veteran Tom Munizzo was also at the memorial, which has 19 statues of troops marching, covered in blankets to give them some protection against the intense cold.
“I do have a picture of me with the same blankets as these statues have got, and I was marching down there with snow all over me, I’ll never forget that, and I always said that if I ever got back home, I’d never again beef about hot weather, and I never have,” he said.
Munizzo’s eyes welled up and he fought to control his breaking voice as he talked about what he felt looking at the memorial. He lost a lot of friends in Korea.
“What an emotional feeling to go through this – I’m not sure whether I could do it again,” he said.
Bud Moore of Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., has visited the Vietnam Veterans Memorial almost every year since its completion in 1982. He vowed to keep coming until he can’t walk anymore.
The names on the memorial are listed in order of their deaths. Moore explained how that shows just how bloody Vietnam was.
“An amazing fact is that the dates of death between Bill Long and my driver, [Gary Allen] Corrie, were roughly a little over two days [apart], and they're separated by three panels,” he said. "That's quite amazing, when it comes to the magnitude of the names on this wall, of the men who served, and women, that are no longer here.”
Air Vice Marshal Kym Osley, of the Australian military, spoke at the annual Veterans Day ceremony at the Vietnam memorial. For Americans, Vietnam was a world away, but it’s right in Australia’s back yard, he said.
“Thank you to all the Vietnam veterans for making democracy the rule of the day in our part of the world,” he said.
Gilberto Cruz, a former Army medic who was injured in Iraq, was at the memorial before the ceremony. His voice started to break when he was asked what he would like the eventual memorial for the Iraq war to look like.
“If I describe it, it’s going to be hard to bear, because as a medic, I’d seen so many guys just go down, and it’s really hard when you hear those choppers down and trying to give that guy support so he can hold on.
“The only thing I can think of is the guys out in the desert and the Black Hawks behind them, because that’s the only thing that was out there – guys just walking out in the desert and Blackhawks right behind them, that’s all. Air support. Didn’t have nothing else.”
Stars and Stripes Web editor Joe Gromelski contributed to this story.