By Fritz Polt
Sports Editor of The North Platte Telegraph

Panel 46E - Line 10.
     Between George F. Proffer and Charles W. Porterfield stands the name Erwin A. Polt. A 26-year-old Marine from Pierce, who after his finished tour of duty, would have been ordained a Catholic Priest. The ninth child of 11. An uncle I never got to meet. Erv was killed on March 24, 1968. I wasn't born until 1970. Yesterday was the second time that I was able to see his name on the traveling Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall. In some fashion it was another chance to bond with a faceless relative that I have only heard about in stories.

     I saw the traveling Wall for the first time in the mid-90s, but it was in the summer of 1987 that I was able to see his name on The Vietnam Veterans Wall in Washington D.C. I'm not too afraid to admit it, but as a 17-year-old I cried uncontrollably when I made the rubbing of this unknown uncle's name. Of those 58,220 names on the Wall, I know four. Two are family, one I learned of during my journey in life. The fourth is part of Nebraska history.

     There's Erv, Marvin Pospisil (my mother's cousin from Osmond) and that of the last man killed in Vietnam, Darwin L. Judge. I came to know about him during my time in Marshalltown, Iowa, where Judge was from. Judge's name is not the last name on the list, but it is confirmed that he was the last American soldier killed in Vietnam. Knowing that my uncle died doing what he thought was best, when enlisted, and as I looked at the names, my thoughts raced and I began to wonder how many Nebraskans gave their lives in Vietnam defending our country. With some help from an internet website:, I was able to pull up all those Nebraskans that died during the Vietnam War. All 395. From Ponca to Gordon. Plattsmouth to Red Cloud. Norfolk to Benkelman, and all points in between. Individuals that families, friends and brothers-in-arms lost across the Pacific.

     I counted up the towns and cities that lost loved ones. There are 146. Omaha leads that unfortunate list with 96 causalities, Lincoln is second with 41 and our own hometown of North Platte third with 11. Ogallala tied with Fremont as sixth on this grim list with six killed. While that may not seem like a lot, keep in mind that Ogallala isn't as big as North Platte or Omaha, and six is a pretty sizable number of young people to lose. That's six families that never got to see their loved one return or themselves got to see another Nebraska sunrise.

     There is another reason to come and see The Wall. The first name on The Wall, and this is our history lesson, is a Nebraskan. Dale R. Buis (Panel 01E - Line 1), a native son of Pender, was killed on July 8, 1959. After The Wall was built it was confirmed that Buis was not the first to be killed in Vietnam, but rather Harry G. Cramer of Johnston, Penn., died two years before Buis on Oct. 21, 1957 (his name appears on Panel 01E - Line 78). Regardless of who has the less-than dubious honor of being first, we need to look inside ourselves and understand what The Wall means. It's a symbol. Whether you have a reason to look for a name or not, the opportunity is there to do just that. Seize it. Make a connection with someone you don't know. Maybe you can provide an ear for someone who needs to let it out.

     History is here. Share it with your family and friends. We need not let this opportunity pass us by to see something that means so much to so many. The Wall carries a heavy burden in its painful memories, but also provides a solace for those that need healing. The time that the ones who were directly affected spend there can afford an opportunity to find comfort and maybe even find an inner peace.
I found mine on Panel 46E - Line 10.

Fritz Polt     ©2003

Editor's Note: This column first appeared in the North Platte Telegraph on August 8, 2003.

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