George, I remember you
Millions of people across the country have seen the Moving Wall honoring the more than 58,000 Americans who died during the Vietnam War.
What they haven’t seen is this name:
George, a kid from Hillsdale, N.J., was killed only three months after arriving in Vietnam and his name appears on Panel 22E, line 51 of the wall of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.
But it was not on the Moving Wall that came to Amherst recently. I looked. George wasn’t there.
I looked three times, twice by myself, once with the helpful man who had found George’s name and panel for me. The third time I came to him in the visitors’ tent, he showed me on his laptop George’s name on the panel on the Washington Wall, and then he walked across the Souhegan High School field with me to see for himself.
George wasn’t there.
My other friend, John Kapeluck, was there — Panel 29E, line 51.
But not George.
It was bad enough that this kid went to war for his country, died for his country in a war the powers that were knew we couldn’t win, but now, when there came a chance for millions across the country to see his name among those 58,000, forgetting him seemed to be acceptable.
Not to me.
And it’s odd, too, because George and I were never really friends. Hillsdale was too far from Tenafly for us to run around together and we saw each other only when my parents and his got together to drink into the night. His family had an above-ground swimming pool, so I preferred to go there, but sometimes they came to our house. But it all was sporadic, and I didn’t even know George had died in Vietnam until I saw his mother at my grandmother’s 80th birthday party. That’s when Ann, his mom, told me George was gone and she started crying.
I don’t think George was even 20 when he was killed. Too many kids were barely 20 when they died in Vietnam while people like Donald Trump and Dick Cheney got five deferrments each so that they wouldn’t have to take any risks serving their country. They didn’t even have the guts to protest the war. They just avoided it. In his song “Anthem,” Leonard Cohen called people like Trump and Cheney “that lawless crowd …” and “killers in high places (who) say their prayers out loud.”
I’ve always had more respect for the kids who fled to Canada, or for Muhammad Ali who just said “No” than for shirkers like Trump and Cheney.
And, yes, I avoided the war, too, by joining the Navy in 1963, but it was early years in the war then and I didn’t think about ducking it when I joined up. I joined because the recruiter sold me on the Navy’s School of Journalism. But had it been later in the war, I’m pretty sure I would have ducked into the Navy anyway. I wasn’t a total shirker, but I wasn’t … well, I was going to say I wasn’t John Wayne, but he avoided World War II by “acting.” Great. Tell that to Ted Williams.
For a couple of days after I couldn’t find George’s name, I was sad, thinking about how Ann would have reacted had she had a chance to see the Moving Wall. I hope she got to Washington before she died, to see his name there, for all the good it would have done her.
But a few days after my visit to the Moving Wall in Amherst, I got angry. It stinks, George’s name not being there. And how many other kids’ names are missing?
Did they just forget George? Was it a computer error? Did nobody double check the names? Right, there are a lot of names, more than 58,000, to double check, it would take a lot of work, I get it.
But George Poor died for his country. The least you could do is make sure his name is on that traveling wall. Who did the checking? Trump and Cheney?
I really only remember one thing about George: He had a pea shooter. I forget how old we were but one afternoon one summer, he and his mom came to visit my mom, and George and I were on our front porch and he was playing around with his pea shooter, shooting peas around the yard when Richard Marshall came riding by on his bicycle.
Ah, George couldn’t resist. He loaded his mouth with peas and when Richard came into range, George let him have it. Mostly he hit Richard’s bike, not Richard, but Richard was furious and hollered a lot of nonsense and then rode off. George ignored the nonsense and loaded up for another barrage, but Richard never came back past the house, nor did anyone else. I’m pretty sure George was disappointed.
I have no idea how he’d feel about his name missing from the Moving Wall. Maybe he wouldn’t care. Maybe he’d figure that once you’re dead for your country, not much else matters.
But something makes me care in George’s stead. Maybe I feel bad about ducking into the Navy while George and John went off and got killed.
I do remember this, though: When I was on the USS America, floating around the Caribbean on our shakedown cruise, the word went out across the service that the Navy was looking for sailors to volunteer for Vietnam. I can’t recall why we were needed.
But I went to my boss, Lt. Cmdr. Francis J. Beebe, and told him I was thinking of volunteering. This would have been spring of 1965. Beebe said it was a waste of time, that no one was getting off the America because the Navy had no idea, nor did our captain, how the ship and the crew would handle until we’d done the shakedown and the Med cruise. The America needed every man, Beebe said.
Needed me? I put out the ship’s newspaper and did the news on our closed circuit TV station. Needed me?
Yes, he said, because I was on a general quarters fire fighting team and every man was needed at general quarters until the brass figured out what we had in the crew of the America.
I didn’t argue too hard. I’m not sure to this day if I really wanted to go, or what use I would have been. Looking back, I was probably relieved that Beebe wouldn’t even think of signing off on a transfer request, which would have killed the deal anyway.
All I can do now is be angry for John Kapeluck — I learned, when I visited the Moving Wall, that his middle name was Michael — because he died long before he should have in a place we gave up on a few years after his sacrifice, and for George Poor who died for his country and then got forgotten on the Moving Wall that came to Amherst. I don’t know who forgot him.
Maybe there are other incarnations of the Moving Wall that contain George’s name. I don’t know, but I doubt it.
Well, for what it’s worth, George, I remember you.