“I served in the USAF Bein Hoa, Vietnam, 1964-65. I was one of the lucky ones, I made it home safely. For so many years I tried to forget about it and just live life. It is at times like Memorial Day, seeing the Vietnam wall, that I just have some unshed tears that must come out.”
Cecil O. Harris
Old Hickory, TN
MEANING & HISTORY
American involvement in the Vietnam War ended in 1973. Thirty years later, on our 2003 “National Memorial Day Concert”, we paid tribute to all the Americans whose lives were especially scarred during that War – the soldiers, the veterans and the “Gold Star Mothers” who lost their children to war.
In the summer of 2002, Vietnam Veteran Robert Lauver, who earned a Silver Star and two Purple Hearts for his valor fighting some of the war’s most ferocious battles, returned to Vietnam. He accompanied four “Gold Star Mothers” as they visited the sites where their sons had died.
In 2003, actor Joe Mantegna and actresses Marion Ross and Gena Rowlands shared the recollections of the profound and moving journey made by Sergeant Lauver and mothers Ann Herd and Georgianna Carter Krell. The mothers wrote their recollections in the form of letters to their deceased sons.
A VETERAN AND TWO GOLD STAR MOTHERS RETURN TO VIETNAM
(As portrayed by Joe Mantegna, Marion Ross and Gena Rowlands)
GENA ROWLANDS (as Ann Herd) Dear Ronnie,
My thoughts go back to the day you were born, my first and only son. I prayed that God would bless you with good health, and that when you grew up, you’d have a home and a beautiful family of your very own. I knew the possibilities when you went to Vietnam, Ronnie – but I thought you’d be home soon. You were, but not the way we hoped.
MARION ROSS (As Georgianna Carter Krell)
You were 17 when you went off to war. You weren’t scared. Boys that age think they’re invincible. I didn’t let myself think about the dangers, because then I would have been a basket case. I couldn’t bring myself to go to the cemetery, because I just knew it was an empty box. As far as I was concerned, you were still somewhere in Vietnam. I’d wake up at night, thinking to myself, "I can’t leave this house ‘cause what if Bruce came home and couldn’t find me? He’ll never find his way home."
JOE MANTEGNA (As Robert Lauver) I'd been in Vietnam almost a year. I turned 21 in a fox hole; but I was ok. Then came the morning of January 31, 1968. It was Tet – the lunar New Year. And what some guys thought were a lot of firecrackers going off turned out to be much more than that. We were sent to help out some Marines in Hue city. We didn’t know then that all hell was going to break loose. When I went back to Vietnam with the Gold Star Mothers, our hotel in Hue looked right over that bridge I’d been on 30 years ago. The memories of war and death came flooding back; the sheer terror of knowing we were going to die that day.
What we saw was so horrible. I told Georgie about all the marines I’d seen killed. And I told her about my best friend, Jim, who was killed in an ambush. I thought about my buddy’s future, unfulfilled. I knew that there but for the grace of God go I …
GEORGIANNA CARTER KRELL I sat up all that night with Bob, and I listened to him tell his story of what he’d been through on that bridge. He poured his heart out. He needed to tell somebody about all the dead marines. I listened and I held him and I cried with him all night. Then it was my turn, my dear son. We drove to a clearing at the base of a hill. I felt my stomach drop, like an elevator that goes clunk. This is where your blood was shed, where you died protecting your buddies. I felt your spirit there. You were right there with me; I was sharing your space. I was finally able to say goodbye to you. I know you were proud of me for coming. You would have said, "Well done, my old faithful mother.” As we were putting our Gold Star Mom flags in the ground, we noticed how quiet it was. The traffic on the road had stopped out of respect.
ROBERT LAUVER Ann’s son Ron died in friendly fire, way off in the bush. Ann was 79, but she hiked several miles with us through rice paddies and watermelon patches and cattle fields, until we got close to where Ron was killed.
ANN HERD I was remembering the pictures you sent home to me, Ronnie – the scenery looked the same; I felt like calling out to you. As we walked into the thick brush, the guys assured me that you were there on August 5, 1970, the day you were killed. You seemed so close to me. I felt as if I looked real hard I might be able to see you. Ronnie, I thanked God for the joy of having you with us for the 22 years of your life. I thanked God for Bob and the other vets who brought us to Vietnam. And Ronnie, I thanked you for being such a wonderful son. You never gave us one heartache. When I walked away from that place where you died, I walked into peace.
ROBERT LAUVER We went to Vietnam as a group. We came back as a family.
GEORGIANNA CARTER KRELL I wanted you to survive, my son, but even so many of your buddies who came back alive from the war have suffered so much. We all volunteer – either at the VA hospital, or a homeless shelter for vets. We just want to hold these boys and comfort them. So often their families have let them slip away. Every hug I give is a hug for you, too. We all pray to God to keep us from having to lose any more young men.
ANN HERD Tonight, I think of all the other mothers who’ve lost their sons to war. What can I say to them? Take care of your family, treasure everything that you have. Do what you can for other people.
When you see all those names on the wall, know that each one had a mother. They are our sons. We’ll never forget them.