Add a New Wall to Vietnam Veterans Memorial

I am blessed to have been raised by my late father, Chief Master Sergeant Robert Meinhold. Chief Meinhold had eight stripes down his sleeves and was a no-nonsense decorated World War II combat veteran.  He was listed during March of 1945 as "Missing in Action" when his B-24 bomber was shot down over Hungary.  He miraculously survived that war and served for 28 years. The words "I can't do it," were not part of his vocabulary.

Like so many these days, I have been laid off from work.  But this time has allowed me to spend many hours of research on a little-known injustice of names of heroes left off of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial (The Wall) in Washington, D.C.
How would you feel if your son, brother, father or husband had been deployed to the Vietnam War and then tragically died, but his name is not honored on the Wall?

The Pentagon says your loved one's name is left off of the Wall because he had died outside of an arbitrarily designated "combat zone.''

There is a growing movement of veterans who lost a military brother and families who lost a relative from two different disasters during the Vietnam War demanding action.  Action to get a total of 167 sailors' and soldiers' names who died in these disasters onto the Wall.

Two Senate bills:  S.849, "The USS Frank E. Evans Act" and S.1891, "Flying Tigers Flight 739 Act" would approve their names to be on the Wall. 
And this is likely just the tip of an iceberg.  Tim Tetz, a spokesman for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund (VVMF), the nonprofit group that built the Wall said:  “The last DOD estimate I heard of mentioned approximately 500 individuals were in somewhat similar circumstances..."

On June 3, 1969 the USS Frank E. Evans was participating in a 40-ship armada "show of force" war exercise meant to intimidate the North Vietnamese.  The Evans was struck broadside by an Australian aircraft carrier ripping the destroyer in half and drowning 74 sailors.

The destroyer had earlier served in several naval bombardment missions to support ground troops in Vietnam. The "Lost 74" names are not on the Wall because the tragedy happened about 100 miles outside of the combat zone.  This disaster is layered in tragedies.  There were three brothers -- the Sage brothers (Gary, Kelly, and Gregory) from Nebraska -- who were all serving together on the Evans and all of them perished.

There was a father and son who were serving together.  Master Chief Gunner's Mate Lawrence Reilly, Sr., who was also a World War II veteran, lost his son in this disaster. 

Chief Reilly spent years fighting to try to get his sons' and shipmates' names onto the Wall.  Reilly passed away a few years ago.

On March 15, 1962, there were 93 hand-picked Army soldiers deployed on a classified mission to Vietnam. En route to Saigon, their plane, Flying Tigers Flight 739, disappeared between Guam and the Philippines. The official cause of the disaster is "unknown." and the Pentagon had sealed the records  A few families who lost a loved one were able to connect via the Internet. One daughter said her family "disintegrated" after losing their father.

The VVMF built the Wall by raising $8 million in private donations.

Robert Doubek, a Vietnam veteran and a founder of the VVMF, "was tasked with identifying all of the names to be included on the Wall."

There is no official listing of casualties from the Vietnam War, but Doubek "tried to make the best call he could when adding names to the list."  Doubek determined a multitude of deserving men had died outside the combat zone and added their names to the Wall.

This included deaths from an Air Force bomber from Guam exploding over the Pacific; deaths from the SS Mayaguez incident in Cambodia; and deaths that occurred in Thailand and Laos

The DOD was later given the authority to determine any new names to be added to the Wall.

The names of 375 have been added to the Wall since it was dedicated in 1982. 

Included in these names were more men who died outside the combat zone, such as 59 Marines who were killed in a 1965 plane crash in Hong Kong while on "'R&R"  leave from the Vietnam War.

The National Park Service (NPS) that maintains the Wall claims there is now not enough room for a large group of names to be added.  A representative for NPS testified to Congress saying a "wholesale replacement." of the Wall would be needed.

Maya Lin, the designer of the Wall, said: "The names are the memorial.  No edifice or structure can bring people to mind as powerfully as their names."
Lin wanted the structure of the Wall to look like a "cut in the earth"  that would eventually "heal."

A new wall could be placed in front and parallel to the existing wall -- like a mirror image.  It would be smaller version of the existing wall.

An aerial view would look like two stripes that would be symbolic of the stripes worn by the enlisted ranks of the armed services.  The enlisted ranks were the vast majority of those killed in the war.

This design would still be a cut in the earth, just more pronounced. This additional wall would also allow space for more names to be added in perpetuity.

According to a 2017 financial statement, the VVMF that would fund a new wall had more than $40 million in total assets.

Will the VVMF be willing to approve and fund a new wall at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial that will help heal many open wounds of veterans and family members?

The names are the memorial.

The writer is an Air Force veteran.

Image credit: Pixabay public domain