The Washington Post’s story on the items that have been left at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial drew e-mails from many veterans who spoke of their experiences during the conflict and of the power of the Wall.
All were moving, but two in particular struck us.
One was from a retired Marine, Roger D. Evans, 64, a hazardous-materials investigator from Moss Bluff, La., who served from 1969 to 1971. The other was from Don Beale, 68, a retired Labor Department economist from Arlington, who served as an Army intelligence analyst in Vietnam during the same time period.
Evans wrote that he was never in combat in Vietnam. Never set foot in the country. Never was in danger.
He spent his tour in Hawaii, where his duty was to process replacements, which turned out to have an anguish all its own.
“My job was to read casualty reports and find replacements for those missing, wounded or killed,” he wrote. “My job required that I search the Marine Corps world for the right person with the required military occupational specialty (MOS).”
“I simply pulled a name from a stack of IBM punch cards,” he wrote. “Those cards chosen were then fed into a card reader. Within 30 days, sometimes even sooner, the Marine that I selected would receive orders.”
There he was, he said, a 20-year-old lance corporal, playing God: “The captain I worked for used to tell me, ‘What is more fair than random.’ ”
“Throughout my life I have suffered survivor’s guilt as well as the guilt I suffered from my IBM punch card selection process,” he wrote.
The secret, yellow-colored casualty reports from the war would come in from a message center. The reading of the reports started every morning at 8 sharp.
“Out of respect, we would sit quietly without anything to eat or drink, no candy or gum, just sit there quietly and read the horrid news,” he wrote. “From the message board I would know what my workload was to be for the day. Some days it was out of control, other days it was a mere few casualties.”
“I handled those cards as though they were priceless merchandise,” he wrote. “I guess in my mind they were priceless. I really tried to perform the selection process at a certain time of the day because I would then only have to dread a small section out of my day.”
Once the replacements were selected, he tried not to look at their names a second time and tried to forget them. He couldn’t always do that.
“As fate would have it, one of my placements was [killed] less than 60 days following my selection,” he wrote. “He had been killed in an accident and not of a combat injury; however, it hit me the same as if he had died in hand-to-hand combat. A death was a death.”
“I am proud of my service to my country and was glad to have a role in the Vietnam War,” he wrote. “I have been reluctant to ever tell a fellow Marine that I may have been the reason he was called to serve in Vietnam.”
Beale was an Army draftee, who was taught Vietnamese during a 40-week Army course and worked as an interrogator/analyst. He was in his early 20s.
He wrote that he identified with the part of The Post’s story that recounted the experience and remorse of a soldier who had seized a photograph and other items from a dead North Vietnamese.
Beale said in an interview Wednesday night that his job was to try to glean intelligence from papers taken off the bodies of dead enemy soldiers.
“I saw more than my share of photos,” he wrote in his e-mail. “Most were from parents and girl friends and were accompanied by letters telling him how much he was loved and missed.”
“They too were Universal Soldiers doing what their country expected them to do,” he wrote.