In Honor of Men Who Lead

By Angela Wittman

I received the most touching letter last year concerning the Vietnam Veteran's Memorial commonly known as "The Wall." This story comes straight from the heart of one of my favorite leading men. I am truly grateful that I have been given the privilege to know this man who has beautifully expressed the unique bond of brotherhood shared by men who have risked their lives and spilled their blood during war for our freedom.

Due to the recent casualties of the Iraq War, I feel compelled to share this story with you in honor of all our fighting men and in recognition of Memorial Day. May the good LORD bless them all for the selflessness they have displayed.Please read this heartfelt account written by Bill Kuenkler of Granite City, Illinois, and then please join me as I give thanks to the LORD for blessing our nation with patriotic men who lead by example while displaying the same courage and honor as our forefathers.

Friends,

This was a day to remember for me. Since the first time I took up the task of getting donations for the construction of the Vietnam Veteran's Memorial, "The Wall", in Washington, DC, I finally pulled myself together long enough to see the Traveling Wall today. The Wall was being shown at Lake View Memorial Gardens Cemetery and Funeral Home in Fairview Heights, Illinois.

Driving through this cemetery, with its huge reflecting lake and fountains, I passed the graves of many relatives and friends. Signs pointing the way to The Wall parking areas and of course the small shuttle carts to take those who couldn't walk a great distance. American flags neatly planted along the route and so many cars looking for a place to park. Every so often the passing of a motorcycle with American flags flying proudly the handle bars or affixed to a staff at the back end would pass. But it was the drivers of these bikes that caught my attention more. Guys my age, riders from so many clubs and mostly Veterans Groups. We looked in each others eyes and they, with that look that only said, welcome home Brother, they are waiting for you up the road. I drove through the winding roads filled on one side with cars and then saw where up the hill everyone was walking. Then a parking space made itself available near the entrance. I said, "That was lucky," then I thought of how lucky I was to able to be just here, this day, to say my respects to Brothers names on that wall and to my dear friend David that never made it home. This was the part that I knew inside would rip at very fabric and soul.


We walked up the hill past informational booths, not asking for directions or for where to find a name or two, but drawn by the sight ahead of me. There, although much smaller in size to the real Wall, was the blackened replica of the Wall. As I drew closer, it seemed to grow bigger. There were thousands of people there. In the center was the Rolling Thunder group and all of their bikes glistening in the sun, ( Fellow Veterans that make this run in tribute to our fallen brethren.) As I walked to the left of the Wall to read, in no order or design, my heart started aching. I felt a sadness that I hadn't felt since the days of my tour in Vietnam and the loss of so many. My chest tightened to a point I knew I wouldn't be able to breathe soon and I wasn't a quarter of the way in yet.


Then the emotions hit, the tears flew and I cried like a baby for our fallen Brothers. Overwhelmed by the names: the volumes of names, I got to the point I felt like I needed to walk away for a minute to gather myself, and I did. I went to the far end where the sign in book was and a young lady with the directory of the names on the Wall and what panels and lines they could be found in. As I signed the book and got David's name location, a man of about my age put his arm around me and said "Welcome Bro.", I didn't know him, yet I did. Related by the brotherhood of war and in our case, by our units with the First Infantry. He was a sniper with my Division but left Nam after two tours just before I got there.We talked about Nam and places and then the Wall. I started feeling better as looked at the names of the buddies he lost there. Then a young man of about 25 years of age, stepped up and said, "Welcome home and thank you," to me. Don (that was the Vets name) said "This is my Son." I was happy that this Vet had such fine young son to show this respect such as this and then a bit of pride swelled and replaced that tightness was in my chest. We shook hands and parted for now, but someday, maybe, to run into each other again. The wife and I walked now to the panel, 22 W, Line 61 and my fingers ran down the long list of names. There it was, "David Earl Weiss", I then cried again but for what seemed different reasons than before. I looked back to the wife who was then herself in tears. I could only say, "Thank you for coming with me. I needed this after all of these years, I really needed this." I took the paper and pencil and made a rubbing of David's name and placed it in the pamphlet of the services this weekend. It seemed then that more and more people had showed up and now more were asking me about my tee-shirt, the saying and where they could get one and always followed by a thank you for serving or a welcome home.

Welcome home, as short as that phrase is, it really never held a meaning of this magnitude before. It really did mean something to me now. It gave me a sense that my Brothers on that Wall are home too. Never too far away and as close in this life as going to another, where one day we all will meet up again.

Bill Kuenkler
July 13th, 2002


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Originally published in 2003.

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