Each and every one of you touched my life in some small or great way on this journey. Thank you. A special thanks to Capt.. Hildebrand at Gulfport Mississippi, and all of the staff at Port Hueneme Museum.
I'll Meet You At the Wall…….
It took me 30 years to start searching for the answers, that I needed to fill in the gap in my mind and heart. I went to the Port Hueneme Museum, and went through the archives of records from the Vietnam War........…..I found their names on a news release. I had never thought about other men being there. That meant that I could find one of them…they had lived…they knew about that day… Six men had been injured. We didn't't know that other men had been injured in the same incident that killed our Dad. I started searching for them on the inter-net. I found 3 of them. Each man that I found remembered different things about that night. Each man was so surprised when I called. Each man wanted to help me in any way they could.
Peter Poillon and his wife and daughter came down and spent an afternoon with us and showed a lot of pictures of Landing Zone Nancy and Vietnam. He did not remember a lot about my dad, cause normally they had different jobs and slept in separate hooches. There was a special closeness knowing he had volunteered to help my father and was hurt in the same ammo explosion. He brought pictures of LZ Nancy, and Camp Haines. I got to see the kind of equipment that my father worked on. I sat at his feet as he told me stories about Vietnam. It was like I was 12 again and I imagined that my Dad had come home and was telling me stories about Vietnam.
James S. Benge was home when I called and he mentioned my father's name before I did. He slept in the same hooch and told me his memories of my dad, and the shower they had rigged. He told about the pictures my Dad had of us, and how he always used to talk about his oriental wife. He helped pack up my Dad's things to be sent to us after he died. He remembered things my father said and it was comforting to hear those things. He packed up my Dad's stuff to be sent to us.
Dutch Van Tassel was not home so I left a message on his machine. When he called I was amazed at what he told me. . I felt guilty for bringing up the pain the past had caused him. He sounded so nice…. I could tell he felt helpless cause he didn't't know what to do, and finally he opened his heart and his mind and told me the story of my father's death. He told of the dark, and the ammo smoldering on the ground, the explosion, the screaming, and the chaos. We were both crying when he finished. Then he said, "It should have been me…..It should have been me. It was my third tour….your Dad had only been there for a few weeks." I tried to comfort him the best that I could. We cried together and I knew that this was the missing link. He had kept the memorial from Vietnam and sent it to me with a Vietnam Era Seabee Newsletter that showed that he had paid my fathers dues. He told me that he goes to the wall on Memorial Day and Veterans Day, and he had a rubbing of my Dad's name. I don't know why but I had never even thought of anyone but our family mourning our Father. I made reservations for memorial Week –end that day. My mother and brother decided to go. I was very nervous waiting for that day to arrive. I wasn't't sure what I expected and started having doubts about what I had arranged. Was this too hard for him…? What would we say to each other? Finally the day arrived and I started my trip to....
The Wall was more than I ever could have imagined. It touched my soul….it broke my heart….it overwhelmed my mind….it started to heal the wound that Vietnam did to me when I was 12. thirty years ago. I was amazed at how big it was. I tried twice to walk down shortly after I arrived in D.C. It was about 6:30 in the morning and there were very few people there. I stopped about 30 feet from the beginning, and I felt a hand on my elbow…..It was some Vietnam Vets that had noticed I was having a hard time. They offered to walk me down when I was ready. I was afraid to go. They told me it was ok to be afraid and to take my time. We walked together and each step brought up feelings as I looked at mementos, and stories left at the Wall. When I finally cm to panel 20Wand found my Dad's name I sobbed uncontrollably and felt emotion that I thought you only felt at funerals. The Vietnam Vets were at my side….never leaving me alone. I will never forget them. When I turned around tears were streaming down their faces.
I went to the wall at midnight with my little brother that is close to the same age as my father was when he died. James is 35. The wall is so beautiful at night. The lights reflected off the Wall and the silence was amazing.
We met Dutch and his family on Memorial Day. We hugged and talked and made a trip to the Wall where he signed my Dad's Cruise Book. There were many signatures in it from many Vets, but the only one that knew my Dad was Dutch. I watched my Mother ask the only man that could tell her the answer to a question that has been haunting her for 30 years…. "Was he in any pain when he died?" My heart ached watching them walk together in front of me. It ached because I could see my mother's pain, and knew that she also was getting some closure that she never had.
I watched my brother talk to the man that was with my Dad when he died…watching them laugh, and knowing that my brother could hear the story first hand about what happened…I knew that these moments had been waiting for so long to happen… and I felt emotion that swelled my chest until I felt over whelmed with it, and then peace filled me.
The weekend opened my eyes to the pain and hurt that the men felt whose brother's names are on the Wall. I saw many men with tears rolling down their faces and emotions causing such pain that it changed their stature. Many people had tears in their eyes, but it was the Veterans that I will never forget. Their faces will stay with me for the rest of my life. I felt such a bond and knew that I shared something with them. It was good to know that I was not alone,
The Wall is a good thing… it Honors… it Remembers…The Wall shows Respect.
The Wall Heals…
Proud Daughter of one who gave all…..
CM1 Milford Marvin Tognazzini
KIA August 7, 1969
Meet my Dad ...