Saturday, May 19, 2018
Military News

An aging soldier's somber visit to Vietnam memorial

How would life have ever been the same if this wall had carved in it, one less name?

— From the song The Big Parade by 10,000 Maniacs.

The dignitaries were long gone, and the midday crowd had disappeared with them.

Coachman Park was mostly silent now, just the gentle sound of a nearby fountain and the reserved murmur of the curious passing through. If anyone noticed the man in the cap and sleeveless black jacket, they politely pretended otherwise.

As he traced a finger across the names of panel E14, Michael Weeks dropped to one knee. Head bowed, shoulders shaking, he surrendered to a familiar sorrow.

This is the way he wanted it. Far from the speeches and away from the crowds. When he read a traveling replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial was arriving in Clearwater, Weeks told his wife he wanted to come alone. He had to come alone.

He didn't want to trade war stories, and he wasn't feeling patriotic. He just wanted to see the names and try to recall the faces of boyhood friends and battlefield comrades from long ago.

"To be 67 now and to have these guys that I used to hang around with when I was a kid — drinking beer on a Friday night and playing ball in school — and knowing they will always be 19, 20, 21, it just seems wrong,'' Weeks said, oblivious to his falling tears.

"I feel like they got cheated, you know what I mean? And I feel ashamed that I was able to come back and have a pretty good life. A life they never had.''

This is the understated beauty of the Wall. It offers so little, and suggests so much. The names are carved, one after another, with neither embellishment nor insignificance.

Left unsaid is the story behind every name, and the lives impacted along the way.

In his hands, David Patterson holds the names of a half-dozen men he served with in 1967-68. The lieutenant who was the first man he saw killed. The friend who correctly predicted his own death. The sergeant who had been a father figure and was counting the days until he could retire and open a pub in New Hampshire.

"There's over 58,000 of them on that wall. All young men whose lives ended so quickly,'' Patterson said. "The sad thing is, all these years later, we get caught up in our lives, our own families, our own affairs. And there's so many of them I've forgotten.

"That's why it was important to come here. Just a sign of respect for the guys I stopped by to see, and all the other guys I can't even remember.''

The traveling memorial will remain in Coachman Park through this afternoon, with a closing ceremony scheduled for 5 p.m.

This replica of the Wall is a little more than half the size of the original in Washington, D.C., but still includes all the original inscriptions.

Each name is accorded the same respect as any other. Neither rank nor wealth apply. It begins with the first casualty of 1959 and continues until the war's final death in 1975.

To put the number in perspective, the death toll in Vietnam was more than eight times the number of casualties suffered by U.S. military forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.

That doesn't change the significance of a war, or the preciousness of a life. It is simply an indication of the enormous toll Vietnam took on an entire generation across America.

"This was such a great generation, it really was. We were at the apex of something new. The hippie thing, the free love thing, the new electronics, it was all coming to pass,'' Weeks said. "There could have been a couple of presidents on that wall. Senators, governors, scientists, teachers, artists. Way too young.

"Just one name on that wall could have affected a whole generation.''

Comments
Trump announces he will nominate acting VA Secretary Robert Wilkie to become department’s permanent leader

Trump announces he will nominate acting VA Secretary Robert Wilkie to become department’s permanent leader

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump announced Friday that he plans to nominate Department of Veterans Affairs Acting Secretary Robert Wilkie to become the department’s permanent leader, noting that the decision may come as a surprise to Wilkie."I’ll ...
Published: 05/18/18
McDonald’s giving away free food to military members today

McDonald’s giving away free food to military members today

TAMPA— All current and former military service members in central Florida can stop by their local McDonald’s and grab a free burger today.In celebration of Military Appreciation Month, McDonald’s is giving away a "Taste of Thanks." All veterans and c...
Published: 05/17/18
Howard Altman: MacDill chosen to sell new Army-like Air Force uniforms

Howard Altman: MacDill chosen to sell new Army-like Air Force uniforms

Home to headquarters including U.S. Central Command and U.S. Special Operations Command, MacDill Air Force Base is at the forefront of a lot of important military action.Now it is taking on a new role — as a prime Air Force clothier.The flying branch...
Published: 05/16/18
Updated: 05/17/18
MacDill reviewing transportation plans after crowds jam roads for AirFest 2018

MacDill reviewing transportation plans after crowds jam roads for AirFest 2018

TAMPA — Tampa Bay AirFest 2018 pulled in a whopping 150,000 people and more over three days last week, including practice on Friday.But that proved to be more people than the transportation plan could handle, delaying arrival by hours for some and pr...
Published: 05/17/18
Vital military training falls short, New Port Richey veteran says: How to re-enter civilian life

Vital military training falls short, New Port Richey veteran says: How to re-enter civilian life

When Green Beret Brian Anderson got ready to leave the Army in 2011, after eight years fighting in places like Afghanistan and Iraq, he followed the path taken by tens of thousands of service members each year.Anderson, now 36 and living in New Port ...
Published: 05/14/18
Clouds can’t dampen crowd’s enthusiasm at packed MacDill Airfest

Clouds can’t dampen crowd’s enthusiasm at packed MacDill Airfest

TAMPA — With his 4-year-old son Tyler on his shoulders, Ryan Wick watched the Navy’s Blue Angels aerial demonstration team scream over the MacDill Air Force Base flight line at about 400 miles an hour.An hour or so earlier, the two struck a similar p...
Published: 05/12/18
US jets intercept pair of Russian bombers off Alaskan coast

US jets intercept pair of Russian bombers off Alaskan coast

Two Russian long-range bombers were intercepted off the coast of Alaska by a pair of F-22 Raptor fighter jets on Friday, the military said.The Tu-95 bombers were flying in the Air Defense Identification Zone in the Bering Sea north of the Aleutian Is...
Published: 05/12/18
Agencies are told to step up use of special powers to hire military spouses

Agencies are told to step up use of special powers to hire military spouses

WASHINGTON - President Donald Trump has issued an order aimed at boosting hiring by federal agencies of spouses of military personnel, who often face career difficulties as a result of being relocated frequently.Military service "often impairs the sp...
Published: 05/12/18
WWII planes, their wings overlapping, take to the air at MacDill festival this weekend

WWII planes, their wings overlapping, take to the air at MacDill festival this weekend

TAMPA — As a formation of World War II trainers cruised 1,000 feet over Tampa Bay, a 60-year-pilot flew one of the single-engine propeller planes so close to another that their wings overlapped by three feet.The tight maneuver is old hat to Steve Sal...
Published: 05/10/18
Updated: 05/11/18
Watch: Times photographer takes a wild ride in MacDill Airfest plane

Watch: Times photographer takes a wild ride in MacDill Airfest plane

RIVERVIEW — Tampa Bay Times photographer Luis Santana helped take the controls of an Extra 300L aircraft that will be part of this weekend’s Tampa Bay AirFest 2018 at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa. With Santana on board, pilot John Kla...
Published: 05/10/18