Excuse me, did you know my father?

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It was a hot and humid July day in Washington, D.C. Equally hot, salty tears ran down my cheeks as I stared at the names I recognized on the panels of black marble erected as a memorial to those who died during the Vietnam War.

I wanted to yell, to scream aloud, to wail. I wanted to beat the wall with my fists! But the feeling quickly disappeared when I glanced to my left and saw a young woman looking at me with pity. Pity! I wanted or needed no pity. She had no right to pity me----What did she know?

I had known some of these men. I was with them when they died or was near them. She probably wasn't even born or was a baby when all this occurred; what the hell did she know?

I stood there gasping for breath and quietly sobbing, finally wiping at my tears. In my mind I could see their faces, their smiles. Hear their laughter, remember conversations we had, the days we spent together as a team, squad, platoon. What did she know?

Somehow I managed to make etchings of their names, promising myself that I would send them to their families. I still had their addresses in an old worn book I had written them in those many years ago.

Again looking to my left, I could see her watching me as if trying to decide whether to say something. I stared back with my "Don't even think about it" look. She glanced away, distracted by a young boy of about 8.

She approached me finally, my look had not worked. "My father's name is on the wall sir," she said. "I couldn't help but notice your grief. Did you lose a relative too?"

"No, I served with some of these men. I just came to pay my respects."

"Oh, perhaps you knew my father, Jonathan Myers. I mean Pfc. Jonathan Myers."

"No, I'm sorry, I didn't know him, but I'm sure he was a brave man and you should be very proud of him."

"Yes, I am."

Look, Jason, this is your grandfather's name right here," she said to the boy. "He was a brave soldier. I was just 2 years old when he was killed in the war. But, I remember his smile. You've seen the pictures of him holding me in his arms smiling at me at your grandmother's. I don't remember him too well, but looking at those pictures I can remember him holding me and smiling at me."

I didn't want to listen to her conversation. Of those I came to honor today, some had been married, some with children. Had their offspring come here too? Did this scene repeat itself over and over? Yes, it had to. The families would not let their memory die as they had. Now I understood what she knew.

Her stare was probably a look she had given to the others I had noticed crying unashamedly at the Wall that hot July day. "Did you know my father?" I heard her ask as I walked away.

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Frank Martinez served two tours in VietNam as an infantryman with the 1st Infantry Division 1966-67 and with a Special Ops group 1971-72.

"I continued my service which lasted 24 years. This happened in 1995 and was the start of a healing process I was in desperate need of."

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