With Dreams to Pursue: Remembering Two Young Men



With Dreams to Pursue: Remembering Two Young Men

by James Wright

MICHAEL P. LYDEN is honored on Panel 24W, Row 18 of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

WILLIAM STANLEY SMOYER is honored on Panel 50W, Row 28 of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

I grew up in a mining town, Galena, Ill.  With four friends, I joined the Marines in 1957 at the age of 17—to keep me out of the mines for at least a few years. When I returned in 1960, I decided to go to college—but I needed to work in the mines while in school.  My boss when I worked underground was Clarence Lyden. He was a good boss, a good man, who had received a Purple Heart while serving in the Army in World War II.  He encouraged me to become a powderman, setting dynamite charges, in order to earn 20 cents more an hour. I did take on this assignment and continued to study—and was a student teacher back in my old high school.  

One of my students in an English class was Clarence Lyden’s son, Michael. I remember him as an energetic, pleasant, hard-working young man. A few years later, he was drafted and went into the Army, where he became a sergeant in the 101st Airborne. Already holding a Purple Heart, Michael died on May 15, 1969 in Operation Apache Snow at a place we remember as Hamburger Hill.

The Wall records the sons—and daughters—of many miners, factory workers, farmers and so many others.  The Wall contains the names of 15 graduates of Dartmouth College. I did not know any of them.  But I came to know well the father, the sister, the brother, the classmates, the coach and teammates of one. 

Bill Smoyer grew up in comfortable circumstances in New Jersey. At Dartmouth, he was an All-Ivy soccer player and a star hockey player. He was by all accounts a gracious and generous young man, a gentleman. And he joined the Marines in order to go to Vietnam because he believed that wars should not be fought only by the sons of the miners, farmers and factory workers. He was in Vietnam for only two weeks on July 28, 1968 when his platoon was caught in an ambush while crossing a rice paddy at An Hoa.  2nd Lt. Smoyer and 18 other members of Kilo company, 3rd Battalion Seventh Marines were killed that Sunday.

Who knows what Billy Smoyer and Mike Lyden would have done with their lives?  Mike may have gone back to work at the Kraft Foods plant in Galena—he did not want to follow his dad into the mines. His old teacher here believes that whatever he did, he would have done well. Billy Smoyer was a history major who may have gone into business—but all attest that whatever he did, he would have tried to make a difference for others.

In the summer of 2009, my wife, Susan, and I visited Normandy, where we spent a lot of time walking through the American cemetery at Colleville. The white marble crosses and Stars of David filled the hillside with a sense of order and tranquility—and whispered of lives lost. We walked among the graves for some time, reading the names, observing where they were from and how old they were. We thought of lives cut short and of dreams unrealized and wanted to know more about them.

Casualties of war cry out to be known—as persons, not as abstractions called “casualties” nor as numbers entered into the books, and not only as names chiseled into marble or granite.  We have carried in our memories the stories of those recorded here, but memories fade, as do those who remember. We are graying. After all of us who knew them are gone, the names on The Wall will endure. 

It is essential that the Education Center planned for a site near The Wall sparkle with the human records of those whose sacrifice was forever. We need to ensure that here, in this place of memory, lives as well as names are recorded—lives with smiling human faces, remarkable accomplishments, engaging personalities and with dreams to pursue. We do this for them, for history and for those in the future who will send the young to war.