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Tales of Nam
United States of America flag Combat Action Ribbon Vietnam Service Ribbon Republic of Vietnam Gallantry Cross with Palm Ribbon Republic of Vietnam  Civic Action with Palm Ribbon Vietnam Campaign Ribbon


Visitors to the Vietnam Wall - Years ago I gathered myself for a trip I knew I must take and had too long avoided. I flew into BWI in the late Spring of '02 and took a shuttle into the heart of the District where I had booked a hotel room hard by the convention center. The next day I started walking and passed by the restoration of Ford's Theater Ford's Theater (where our greatest President was cut down). Lincoln at Antietam

Making my way to the Navy Memorial, there I looked at pictures and histories of the ships that I had sailed in, (most of which had long since been made into razor blades). Navy Memorial I crossed over to the National Archives where I looked again upon my Constitution and my Declaration of Independence. The building was packed with school-kids and tourists, all of whom seemed to sense that they were in a cathedral and behaved with unusual decorum, speaking in hushed tones. US Constitution Manuscript - Preamble and Article I

From the Archives I made my way to the National Gallery to visit my Monets. They were still there, and every bit as beautiful as I remembered. Monet's Waterlilies painting I was able to see but a fraction of the treasures housed in that building. I regretted not being able to even set foot in any part of the Smithsonian, but I will return and revisit it some day(s). I started up the Mall to the monuments. Capitol Mall
The Washington Obelisk was in its final stage of renovation so the scaffolding had been removed, but they were still working on the interior and no one was allowed inside. Washington Monument I walked around to the right of the Reflecting Pool and took my time to summon some strength.

The Vietnam Memorial Wall The Wall was bigger and longer than I had imagined, but it looked just like the pictures and replicas. At the ends were the names of the last to die in that unnecessary war, but I was headed for the point where the two wings come together. This is not a symbolic "V" for victory. Make no mistake; this war was a mistake, and there was no victory here commemorated. At the juncture of the two wings I knew that I would find Panel Number 1, and the names of the first victims. It seems odd that of the more than Fifty Eight Thousand names on that Wall the only one I knew personally was one of the first naval officers to die in Vietnam. I did not know him that well. We were shipmates at Navy OCS in 1960, and he was chosen as an interim Company Officer. I have only the memory that he was a stand-up guy and a good officer, which is a sufficient epitaph for any man, I suppose. I ran my fingers lightly over his name and cried a bit for him, and for me.

Panel 1 (1959 on) Vietnam Wall

His name is Harold D. Meyerkord, but everyone at Officer Candidate School called him Dale. For reasons that now escape me, I kept the little Class 48 Seachest book that the Navy puts together for every crop of 112-day wonders that graduates from its OCS at Newport, Rhode Island. The entry for Ensign Meyerkord is a page after mine (he was in Alfa-3 and I was in Alfa-2). It looks like this: Dale Meyerkord as shown in Seachest Class 48 Book
One generally doesn't keep in touch with OCS classmates after graduation and commissioning. While close bonds form during the intense sixteen week Newport experience, when it ends the survivors scatter to the winds. Some go to flight training or other specialized schools, but most of the newly-minted ensigns go to the fleet. My first set of orders sent me as far away as the Navy could, to the smallest commissioned ship in the fleet. I was assigned as the engineer in a coastal minesweeper homeported in Sasebo, Japan. I had asked for small ship duty and an overseas tour; they had given me a 360 ton, 144'- 6" vessel, in as remote a location as could be found. In any event, I promptly lost track of my OCS shipmates.

USS Meyerkord (FF-1058) underway off Hawaii
It was more than a decade later and long after I had completed my own 'in country' Vietnam tour that I again came accross the name Meyerkord. I don't know how I learned that there was a ship with that name, but I did. It was one of the Knox Class frigates, a newer ship than any I had sailed in, and my first thought was that it might be named after a relative or ancestor of my former classmate. The Navy, as you probably know, does not pass out the names of its ships like party favors. If you are not a former president or a state, city, county, or famous battle, you generally have to be a hero to have a ship bear your name. Upon delving deeper into the matter I learned the circumstances surrounding this particular vessel. The details are many, but have been neatly summed up by another writer as follows:

Harold Dale Meyerkord was born 9 October 1937 at St. Louis, Mo. He graduated from Navy Officer Candidate School at Newport, R.I. on 14 June 1960 and was assigned to the heavy cruiser Los Angeles (CA-135). He reported to the U.S. Military Assistance Command, Vietnam 13 July 1964. He was Senior Naval Adviser to the South Vietnamese 23d River Assault Group, responsible for suppressing Vietcong terror in South Vietnam's "rice bowl"; the group probed the Delta waterways, engaging Vietcong guerrillas in operations in which Lieutenant Meyerkord distinguished himself for coolness, resourcefulness, and concern for his men. LT Dale Meyerkord at work   The Navy Cross  Air Medal   While leading his assault group into Vietcong-held territory 16 March 1965, Lieutenant Meyerkord's patrol was ambushed. Though wounded, he steadfastly returned the enemy's fire until hit again, this time mortally. Lieutenant Meyerkord's heroism was recognized by posthumous award of the Navy Cross. He was also awarded the Air Medal for completing 20 low-level aerial reconnaissance missions under enemy fire.

Bill Gonyo

As I considered the very different lives of the two long ago OCS shipmates who for a few months had shared the same barracks, marched on the same grinder, cleaned the same heads, and eaten the same Navy chow, it made no sense to me that I was touching his name on that wall instead of him putting fingertips to mine. Why had I gone on to finish my Navy career and have several more? Did I deserve five children, and some grandkids to boot, and he none? Surely not. It was hard not to look back at all the sunrises and sunsets that I had observed from March 16, 1965, to June 8, 2002, and not see them as a gift and a blessing.


Lincoln Memorial exterior
I left the Vietnam Memorial so filled with grief and loss that not even a visit to Mr. Lincoln's Temple could cheer me up. Then, as I sat on the steps leading back down to the water I remembered a friend's words from a few months earlier when I mentioned to him that I would soon go to Washington. He had described his favorite spot, so I headed in that direction, as I had never been there. Sure enough, right across the street from the Vietnam Memorial, just where my friend said it would be, was the headquarters of the National Academy of Science. In front, in a spot shaded by some trees was a larger than life statue of Einstein.

Einstein  Statue at National Academy of Science Grounds

He looked quite approachable, as he is said to have been in life if you were a child. Feeling a trifle childlike as one is wont to do in that presence, I went and sat at his feet and found myself very small indeed. A while later, I got up feeling much better and went on.

Will's Whimsical Words:

Like the soldier in Band of Brothers I tell my grandchildren that I am not a hero, but, once, it was my honor to serve in the company of heros.

Black Beret of the Gamewardens of the Mekong Delta

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Last updated on October 18, 2011