Arlington. Fort Belvoir. Reston. Alexandria. Front Royal. Culpeper . . . .
The towns, the cities, the counties march down the pages. One after the other. Column after column. Here's a Fairfax. There's Arlington again. It is easy to read them because the government printout is so tidy and no-nonsense.
I read carefully because I do not want to make a mistake and miss one -- though why I should be culling only the Northern Virginia entries troubles me. Somehow, it seems as if all of them should go into the paper. But then, there were 1,260 in Virginia and 55,000 or so of them altogether, weren't there, and where would we find the room?
It has been almost 10 years now since the Vietnam War officially ended for America. By a lot of people's standards, that's a long time. After all, kids well into elementary school were born after it had become history, and hardly anyone talks about it with passion anymore.
But from time to time, there are reminders. Like looking up from your newspaper on the Metro and seeing the face of a Southeast Asian refugee. Or a replay on TV of "Green Beret," starring John Wayne. Or the obituary of a retired officer that notes service in Vietnam. And then, once a year, of course, there is Veterans Day.
I am reading through an official list of Virginia's Vietnam War dead, picking out those who, on some day that must have seemed inconsequential to them, filled out an official form and gave a home address in Northern Virginia. I put a little check next to the names of those who I can verify on a map are from there, assuring that they will appear in this issue of The Virginia Weekly.
Winchester: check. Woodstock -- I hesitate, then pass on. A tad too far. Sadly, it is an arbitrary process at best. Where does Northern Virginia end and the rest of the state begin?
The printout I am reading is entitled "U.S. Casualties in Southeast Asia." On the line beneath appear "name," "rate," "service," "date of birth," "date of casualty," "city," "state," "panel," "line." The last two catagories puzzle me, so I ask someone and learn that they refer to where the person's name appears on the new Vietnam War Memorial, but I am also told they will not appear in the paper.
Altogether, there are 24 pages, and I count 55 names on each page. Virginia's entries begin a third of the way down the first page -- right after that of "YOUNG, ROBERT FRANCIS, CWO, AR, 27 JUN 48, 15 MAR 70, HOOPER, UT, 12W, 002." He is the last Utah entry.
It is not a task I enjoy. What am I to do with entries like that of Army Pfc. Robert Bedker? There is no home town given. No birthdate, either. I give him the benefit of the doubt and put a check after his name.
As I move on, it seems that a plurality of the Northern Virginia dead I find come from Alexandria. Arlington seems next. There are a few Herndons, a few Woodbridges. Then, when I get to the end, it strikes me: no Warrentons. Surely, Warrenton did not escape. I check again. Nothing. I do some quick arithmetic: 55,000 dead, 220 million alive today. That's one dead for every 4,000. I look up Warrenton's population and find it had 3,864 souls in the 1980 census.
They just might have made it.
As I go back over the list, I spot a town without a check next to it that rings a bell: Wolftown. Wolftown. I pick up the map and find that it is in Madison County, two hours away. A village, for sure, and set deep in an emerald county -- how many young men went to Vietnam from Wolftown? I put a mark against it.
When I am finished I realize that I have not seen the name of a young man who had been one of my best friends in high school. True, we had gone to school outside the state. Yet I know he had lived in Northern Virginia for many years and considered it his home. His mother still lives here.
The memories come back: Mike was a good athlete. Senior class president. A sharp wit. West Point graduate, just like his father and, I believe, grandfather. And, just like his dad, he ended up in the Air Force. When his plane crashed in Vietnam, he was about to become a father, I think.
For a few moments I toy with the idea of penciling in his name, then discard it. Partly it is because I am afraid that, despite my best efforts, I have missed the names of other Northern Virginians who do appear on the list. And it is also possible that the list itself is incomplete.
No, I finally decide. Seeing Mike's name in print is not as important as is remembering him.
And that, after all, is the point.