- 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
(where our greatest President was cut down).
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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. 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.
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.
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:
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