This was our second "field trip" within the Pleiku Pals Group.
Nine of us
met in Little Rock in May 1996
. This was a wonderful experience, and a
couple of pictures from this gathering can be found in the
section of this Homepage.
This "field trip" came about when a member of the Pleiku Pals expressed a desire to drive his new car to Colorado during November. Well, as it developed, he could not make the trip, but we formed and held this gathering nonetheless.
Six members of the Pals were present in Alamosa, Colorado, over the weekend of 16-17 November 1996. All live in Colorado except Earl Day , who lives in Salt Point, New York. Earl flew from Newark, New Jersey, to Colorado Springs, Colorado, and then via auto to Alamosa.
The activities of the weekend started Friday evening at Doug and Brenda's home in Alamosa, in the San Luis Valley of southcentral Colorado. After dinner we gathered in a circle in the living room, some on chairs and some on the floor. Though most of us had not met until that time, it seemed as though we had known each other for a long time. Through our letters sent via email within the Pleiku Pals, we have come to know and understand each other very well. As I frequently tell people, letters written within the group are often "... straight from the gut and through our fingers onto the keyboard."
As will be read later, there may be (are) many myths about Vietnam Veterans (or veterans of all wars). For Vietnam Veterans, one myth may be that we all get drunk and tell "war stories." Wrong! Another myth may be that all veterans are "war mongers" and "killers." Wrong again!
The conversation that first evening, as we sat in our circle getting acquainted through our words, facial expressions, and body language, was intense and interesting. We quickly learned again that our Vietnam "experiences" are incredibly complex and usually hard to verbalize. Amazing and in-depth perceptions were offered by "us guys" and our wives, those who honor each of us by letting us be quiet when needed and talk when that feels okay.
Saturday we drove to Angel Fire, New Mexico, to visit the DAV National Vietnam Veterans Memorial. The chapel at this site was designed and built by Dr. Victor Westphal and his family after their son, David, was killed in an ambush near Con Thien on May 22, 1968. "Con Thien," coincidentally, in Vietnamese means "Land of Angels."
It was a blustery, wintery day in Angel Fire as we visited the DAV memorial, but this only seemed to heighten and focus our attention to its beauty and meaning.
Some of us have visited this memorial previously. Others in this group were to experience this tribute to all Vietnam Veterans for the first time. It should be noted, too, that this memorial is "the first Vietnam Veterans Memorial," a fact not readily known even within Veterans' circles.
We viewed the many displays throughout the museum, had the honor and pleasure to talk with Dr. Westphal, who spends much time at the memorial, and took many pictures. The atmosphere was reverence and awe, as we looked at the many pictures, plaques, and artifacts of "our war." Then, as a group, we gathered in the museum auditorium to watch the commemorative video about the background and history of the museum and chapel. Boxes of tissue were present, and these were used abundantly by all. I can feel the tears now even as I write this.
Next we walked a short distance to the chapel, the original part of the Memorial. This very simple structure honors those who gave their life in Vietnam. We spent quiet moments, each person in their own way, pondering the senselessness of this war as we viewed pictures of casualties, all too often "... just kids."
After returning from Angel Fire early that evening, some stayed and talked more about the day's events. Others departed for motel rooms for much needed rest. It had been a very tiring day, physically and mostly emotionally. By 10 p.m. the day was complete.
The weekend was extraordinary in its reality and implications for those of us fortunate enough to have participated. This "field trip" was as different from "Little Rock" as it was similar. Meeting folks you have never met, yet gaining a quick sense that you've known them for a long time, is a feeling hard to describe, but one I believe each of us who met this weekend will attest to.
One small tidbit about this weekend's "field trip" is a song heard from a CD Dave Rosen had brought along, "After the Wall." We listened to this song Saturday morning, as we sat eating bagels and cream cheese and drinking coffee and orange juice. The eating and drinking stopped suddenly, however, as we listened to this extremely moving and emotional song about the loss of a friend in Vietnam. And, in the middle of the song, we learned that these soldier friends were stationed around "Pleiku." The gasps and silence complemented and conflicted with each other.
Be rest assured each of us, individually and collectively, was thinking of all members of the Pleiku Pals and of all Vietnam Veterans everywhere. You were all in our hearts and thoughts and spoken in our words often.
I suppose the bottom line to this weekend is that I will cherish it forever. I have truly made lifelong friends as a result.
An email letter sent Sunday evening to family and friends:
"We're winding down from a wonderful weekend. We had people from Doug's e-mail Vietnam Vets group here. One guy came in from New York. One guy came from Pueblo. Two couples came from the Western Slope and one couple from here in Alamosa. I was somewhat apprehensive for them to come since (I thought) I have such a different outlook on military and wars and all that. But these people were amazing. We sat around our house until 11:30 Friday night having the most incredible discussion about nonviolence and the hypocrisy of war and such things. There were varying viewpoints, but such intelligent, thoughtful, informed people! We went to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial at Angel Fire, New Mexico, on Saturday and that was quite moving for everyone...particularly the men. Lots of tears! Then we went down to Taos for lunch and walked around. There we had a great time...much lighter. They came to church this morning and that caused other deep discussions. The whole weekend was a wonderful mix of challenge and fun, laughter and tears."
Brenda, Doug's wife
An email letter from a participant in the "field trip":
"As did others, I wondered if this was going to be a bunch of vets sitting around drinking and telling war stories, which was not the case by any means. I honestly have to admit that this was the best weekend that I have had in a long time.
There was a lot of getting to know each other and sharing our feelings about the past and present. I have always thought that people in the fire service were the closest group of people in the world, but this weekend proved that to be wrong.
From past experiences of being involved in places like the VFW and American Legion, where it seemed like all one usually did was sit around and drink and talk about war, I have learned that there is more to being a Vietnam Veteran than that. We certainly are the best and the brightest! I now truly understand why being a part of the Pleiku Pals is such an important part of my life.
All of us in this group feel that we know each other from our writing to one another, but once you meet a brother or sister of the group in person, the bond becomes evident and there is a feeling of pride and honor that no words cannot express!
Well I guess you all have heard enough of my bragging on our field trip! I strongly urge all members to take the opportunity to make any future field trip, it will be an experience you will never forget!"
An email letter from a participant in the "field trip":
"I had my fears that this was going to be a "... head to the nearest VFW club to drink beer and tell war stories." Now, I have been in a few VFW clubs (as a guest of WWII vets) and these guys can tell stories and drink. I was pleasantly surprised by the deep discussions we had on the war. The general consensus was that it is one hell of a poor way to try to settle something. I have WWII vets friends that have just the opposite opinion, and I have never expressed my true thoughts to them. Just felt odd that my experiences created just the opposite effect. I have never joined any of those vets' organizations or expressed my inner thoughts on this war thing, except to my wife. I did get the feeling after meeting Dave Rosen that I was not alone. It is very obvious that the men who I spent last weekend with have all done some serious introspection and all had traveled a long road to get here. The veterans from Vietnam are different from vets of other wars. I didn't used to believe that, but I do now. This was the first war that the protesters took out their fury on the warriors. Those were our sisters out there calling us names. I never saw this country split like it was over Vietnam. I came home and tried to forget it. I didn't say anything - the biggest protest that I made was by voting for McGovern in 1972. I never found bros to bounce my feelings off, until I found the PP's. I have finally found the "brothers" that I have been searching for.
And, we had all kinds of stuff in common. We talked about the present and with similar years of life's experiences, we did have a lot to say. By 9:00 P.M. on Sat night I was exhausted. This was the most intensive and satisfying 24 hrs I can remember. Of course, it doesn't help that I was so excited that I hardly slept the night before.
Like most things that my "mind" tells me that I shouldn't do, If I can get through the fear and do it - most likely it's good for me. Thank you for inviting me and being there."
From: Dave Rosen
Hi to all-
The trip to the Memorial at Angel Fire was a painful joyous wonderful
experience. George, I can see why you are so dedicated to it. It is as
powerful an experience as the memorial in D.C. I must not cry enough --
it took a lot out of me. I didn't cry between Viet Nam in 1967 and my
visit to The Wall in about 1989. It took a lot out of me then, too, but
finding out that I could still cry made me feel really good. (Does that
Hi to all-
The trip to the Memorial at Angel Fire was a painful joyous wonderful experience. George, I can see why you are so dedicated to it. It is as powerful an experience as the memorial in D.C. I must not cry enough -- it took a lot out of me. I didn't cry between Viet Nam in 1967 and my visit to The Wall in about 1989. It took a lot out of me then, too, but finding out that I could still cry made me feel really good. (Does that make sense?)