Release Date: October 25, 2021
More than three million men —and 11,000 women —served in the Vietnam War, and the 58,000 who died there are forever memorialized on The Wall in Washington DC. But how many came home, only to die later as a result of their service? And how do we honor these unsung heroes, whose war wounds took decades to become fatal?
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(JAMES): [00:00:16] It makes me so happy to be married to my very best friend.
(HOST): [00:00:21] Oh, the voice you’re hearing belongs to James Carroll. He’s reading a birthday card written by Shirley, his wife of 47 years at a party celebrating his seventy-second birthday. The year is 2017.
(JAMES): [00:00:39] And support me more to me than you will ever know. Oh, special day that celebrates your life. I realize even more how blessed I am to be spending mine with you.
(CARROLL’S FAMILY): [00:00:53] Oh oh, oh, oh, oh, thank you, ma’am. So sweet right there now.
(HOST): [00:01:11] The following year, James, who had always been healthy and strong and fighting fit, began complaining of back pain, leading to a series of doctor visits that in the end revealed a shocking and devastating diagnosis. In a matter of months, he was gone. The victim of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma caused by his exposure to Agent Orange in Vietnam 50 years earlier. More than three million men and 11000 women served in the Vietnam War and the 58000 who died there are forever memorialized on The Wall in Washington, DC. But how many, like James would come home in one piece, only to die later as a result of their service? And how do we honor these unsung heroes whose war wounds took decades to become fatal? In this episode, we’ll bring you the story of one family’s tenacious journey from the Dallas suburbs to the nation’s capital, where they would join hundreds of other families on a mission to honor, remember and begin to heal. From the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, founders of the Wall. This is Echoes of the Vietnam War. I’m your host, Michael Croan, bringing you stories of service, sacrifice and healing from people who still feel the impact of that conflict. Nearly 50 years later. This is Episode 16, Song for the Unsung. James Cleotha Carroll called “Cle” by his family, was born in Corsicana, Texas, in 1945, the seventh of eight children and the eldest boy. He had tight relationships with all of his siblings, but particularly with his sister, Frances, who was close to him in age. She remembers what he was like growing up.
(FRANCES): [00:03:23] Oh, he was so gentle, so kind, and I can remember we called him “Cle” being so very studious, so smart. He was all about just learning. He just wanted to learn. And we were very poor because my father died when we were all very young.
(HOST): [00:03:52] And so your mother raised eight children. Mm-hmm. Wow.
(FRANCES): [00:03:56] Absolutely. And out of the eight five are college graduates.
(HOST): [00:04:03] James excelled in school and showed a particular gift for mathematics, but without money, he didn’t have the option to go straight to college after graduation. So in 1963, to further his education and put his ambitions within reach, he enlisted in the Navy. Five years later, in 1968, the Navy sent him to Vietnam. James would go on to spend 22 years in the Navy, retiring in 1985 as a Senior Chief Petty Officer. He loved the Navy and talked proudly about his service, with one exception. He rarely spoke of his year in Vietnam, and when he did, he could be pretty evasive. Here’s his daughter, Natasha.
(NATASHA): [00:04:45] All I know is he went to Vietnam. That’s all he would say. We would always get different answers of what he did there. A radio operator, he was a mail clerk. He was this or that he’d tell my sister one thing and my mom and another, me another. And so we were like, “Well, what exactly did you do?” The Navy itself, he was very proud to talk about it where he was stationed and any ships he was on, you know, he loved his Navy time as Vietnam. That is just like a mystery to us that one year he never would talk about
(HOST): [00:05:20] His wife, Shirley.
(SHIRLEY): [00:05:21] When I try to ask him about certain things, he wouldn’t talk about it, just he just wouldn’t talk. He kept it all to himself.
(HOST): [00:05:33] After James died, Natasha found a sealed box of service records in her parent’s attic. It didn’t reveal much. James had two duty stations in Vietnam, one in Danang and the other in Chu Lai, where he received a letter of commendation for outstanding service in combat support of U.S. and free world forces in southern I Corps. Natasha does recall getting a tiny glimpse into her father’s Vietnam experience during the family’s last vacation with James to Hawaii in 2018.
(NATASHA): [00:06:03] We stayed at Alcoa, which is a military resort there at our luau they lit a candle and told any veterans who lost someone in battle to stand and light it for them, and he stood and I assumed it was his friend, Autry Green was his name, his childhood friend, and I said, you know, I asked him, is that for Autry Green? And his only response was yes, for him and also the twenty-four other men that we lost that night when we were out there and I tried to kind of probe and, you know, for him to answer a little bit more. But that’s all I got out of him and nothing else was said.
(HOST): [00:06:44] We’ll never have a complete picture of what happened to James in Vietnam or who those 24 men were or what he meant by that night that we were out there. We know that he never wore a combat ribbon, so it’s unlikely that he ever engaged the enemy. But we do know one thing James has a nephew named Phil, a retired marine. Phil is the son of James’s eldest sister, and that age gap was wide enough that James was only a few years older than his nephew. James and Phil were very close, especially later in life, and their military service was one of the things that bound them together once and only once. James shared a detailed account of what might have been that night.
(PHIL): [00:07:29] I was astonished that he would actually even go down that road, and he told me the story about he was in the supply department and volunteered to go deliver some supplies that were urgent to a Hot LZ, about 20 clicks away from where his ship was docked. And they said they didn’t give me any weapons. I think there was a bag of P-38s with him.
(HOST): [00:07:56] What exactly is a P-38?
(PHIL): [00:07:58] There is the can opener for the C rations. The C-rations come in a crate of about, what was it 24 per carton? Twenty-four individual meals. They only put like ten P-38s in there. You look at any picture of a person in Vietnam with their dog tags in addition to their dog tags around their necks, you’re going to see that P-38 attached to them. It was gold, and every now and then they would not put the P-38s in those cartons. You’d have to have a whole bag separate, and that’s what he had to give to those marines in the event that took up a carton of C-rations and there was no P-38 in there. He’s like, What is they going to do if the enemy started attacking me when he was going down that narrow river. He says several times they had to cut the engine because the river was so narrow and the vegetation was so thick as it was, it was dark. And even though it was daytime, he said this, I picked that vegetation well, and he said he could hear in a fog decent, you know, bombs being blown. You could hear helicopters flying, he could a small arms fire and all that kind of stuff for the first time in his life at that time, he really felt afraid and said once they got to the HOT LZ, a bunch of marines came out. They said he had blood on their uniform. He said it just made him sick because he knew these guys were in the thick of things. So even to that day that day, he told me that he still could smell those smells. It stays in your memory bank.
(HOST): [00:09:39] Kind, gentle, studious James Carroll volunteers to sail into the brown water. Armed only with a bag of government issue can openers to a HOT LZ where marines are fighting and probably dying. Because that’s where he was needed. It was as close as he ever came to combat, but it was enough to change him in more ways than one. Do you remember when he came home from Vietnam?
(FRANCES): [00:10:04] Actually, I do.
(HOST): [00:10:07] His sister, Frances.
(FRANCES): [00:10:09] At first, he was very. Well he didn’t talk a lot about it.
(FRANCES): [00:10:17] It was just kind of different when he got back. He wasn’t as open, if you will.
(HOST): [00:10:25] Did he move through life kind of differently when he came home? I mean, aside from not talking about what happened, did you notice a change in the way he just kind of navigated his world?
(FRANCES): [00:10:34] It seemed like he was more driven, like, I’ve experienced all this war and I’ve experienced all these horrible things. So now I’ve got to prove something. I am going to college. I am going to prove something. And he was like destined to do it. He was destined. And he did.
(HOST): [00:10:54] James stayed in the Navy after Vietnam and soon met and married Shirley. They had two daughters, Nicole and Natasha. And in 1985, he retired from military service and moved the family to Arlington, Texas. The math whiz went to work as an auditor for a major defense contractor and eventually moved to the Defense Contract Audit Agency and spent 22 years there before retiring a second time. Along the way, he earned his degree in accounting from the University of Texas at Arlington. Here’s Francis again.
(FRANCES): [00:11:25] You know, he was kind of well off. I mean, he had his living maid. He had his retirement from the Navy. And then this job that he worked on paid him so much for his knowledge. So he was kind of proud. Yeah, he was very proud. Thinking about a little boy growing up in Corsicana, hard times. I’ll just put it that way and just look at me now. So his attitude was, if you were determined, you can do what you want to do if you have the determination to become somebody and do something worthwhile in your life. Leave an impact.
(HOST): [00:12:11] James left a mark on every life he touched. His drive for perfection made his colleagues perform better. His neighbors still talk about how much they miss him. And his family, of course, still lives the way he lived in immaculate homes with manicured lawns and spotless cars. He attended to every detail in his life with an expectation of excellence, and it rubbed off on people. After his second retirement, he couldn’t sit still and started working as a substitute, teaching junior high math in the Arlington School District, the same district where Natasha still works as a teacher and her daughters, Nadia and Sasha are both star students.
(NATASHA): [00:12:47] A lot of the teachers they would call him because they were like our kids. My kids are requesting you. They said, We want Mr. Carroll, we want Mr. Carroll. So he was like, the sub for a certain school and he would go up there. Yeah, there were certain days he wouldn’t want to sub, but if someone really needed them and they’re like, Please, Mr. Carroll, you’re the only one that these kids act good for. So he’s like, OK, I’ll go ahead and come in. He didn’t really like going in on Mondays, but if they needed him, he would. So…
(HOST): [00:13:18] Was he tall?
(NATASHA): [00:13:19] Yes.
(HOST): [00:13:20] How tall?
(NATASHA): [00:13:21] Six. Two.
(HOST): [00:13:23] Yeah.
(NATASHA): [00:13:23] Mm hmm.
(HOST): [00:13:24] I imagine that when he walked into a classroom, it was his classroom.
(NATASHA): [00:13:27] Yes, it was. And they absolutely loved him.
(HOST): [00:13:32] The second way that Vietnam changed, James Carroll was unseen, dormant for 50 years. James had always been the picture of health and fitness, passing to physicals every year with flying colors. And then in 2018, after coming home from that family vacation to Hawaii, he began complaining of back pain. Natasha and Shirley talked me through the whirlwind that followed.
(NATASHA): [00:13:58] And remember, we went to the fair October. He could hardly walk and this was October of 2018. And it just got to the point where it was just unbearable, his pain in his back. So about two weeks later, he had surgery, back surgery, and I remember you guys saying he had like a lump around the upper back, lower and neck area. Mm hmm. And I said, Well, what is that? I wasn’t sure if it was cancerous or not. I was wondering if they did a biopsy. They really, I guess, didn’t. And when he was cut open for the back surgery, it’s like all hell broke loose after that. So by December, so about two weeks or sorry, two months later, we started seeing this real defined like, I guess, mass on his right jaw. And then January, because that was y’all’s anniversary, January 2019. He was in the er, just unbearable pain there the back. He started getting to where he was immobile with his arms and his hands couldn’t hold anything had to be fed type thing. It literally is like things were happening overnight. So then he was in the hospital in January of 2019 and just kind of unbearable pain still at that time. He couldn’t keep anything down and they finally they did a biopsy and it was staged four non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. So we went to a perfectly healthy man, having back issues within two to three months, having back surgery and then stage four cancer.
(SHIRLEY): [00:15:46] And it just went down to nothing.
(HOST): [00:15:48] Yeah, I mean, stage four is, you know…
(SHIRLEY): [00:15:51] That’s it.
(HOST): [00:15:52] That must have come out so quickly.
(SHIRLEY): [00:15:54] It did. They say he had a pinched nerve at first. Yeah, there was a pinched nerve, you know, but he was in so much. But he never complained, never complained. And then the jaw got so big that the tumor started going to the throat, almost so they had to end up putting a trach in his neck.
(NATASHA): [00:16:15] They called it a grapefruit size mass, and it was.
(HOST): [00:16:21] A poor guy
(SHIRLEY): [00:16:23] And it would bleed. You know, sometimes it just like water, just come out.
(NATASHA): [00:16:26] Just start coming out. And then no matter what we did, I, she couldn’t really handle it. So the towels, the gauze, whatever I would put in, it just wouldn’t soak soaked it within seconds. And so I just remember he’d always apologize. I’m sorry here he was in pain and worried about me having to clean him up and stuff just how he was never complained, even as much pain as I know he was in.
(HOST): [00:16:57] Was he bedridden at this time?
(NATASHA): [00:16:59] Yes, yes. Uh-huh. So there was just really nothing else they could do for him. We’d go out to the VA. We were doing a lot of stuff out there. He was just so weak he went through radiation chemotherapy because they said that that was the curable kind, if you will. He had hope because they were telling
(SHIRLEY): [00:17:21] Us that he was going to.
(NATASHA): [00:17:23] The radiation obviously didn’t help the six rounds of chemo didn’t.
(SHIRLEY): [00:17:27] But then they told us one day the chemo did what it’s supposed to, that there was no more.
(NATASHA): [00:17:35] Oh, they said he was in remission July right July of 2019. They said he was in remission.
(HOST): [00:17:42] He died four months later. Yes, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma has been on the VA’s list of 17 Agent Orange presumptive diseases since 1991. We can’t know for sure how James was exposed to dioxin, but his voluntary trip upriver seems like a real possibility. Here’s Phil,
(PHIL): [00:18:03] I think that’s where you get it, because that was a HOT LZ, meaning that those marines were actually engaged with the enemy. So he was in close play and he kept telling me that all the smells that he smelled, so if the wind was blowing in your direction I thought he’d take some whiffs. And you right in the thick of that stuff. So I’m thinking, that’s probably where, but I went to visit him two days before he passed. And when he’s in the hospital and he was talking just as normal as if I’m talking to you now. But he had this big growth on the side of his face. The thing was big than a softball. I just couldn’t believe that growth was so big and so they couldn’t do anything about it that it was a part of that Agent Orange stuff.
(HOST): [00:18:54] James Carroll passed away on October 25th, 2019. He was 74 years old. And if you had seen a picture of him just a year earlier, you never would have believed it. The In Memory program was created in 1993 by Friends of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial as a way to honor the sacrifices of those who served in Vietnam and later died from causes related to their service, primarily illnesses resulting from Agent Orange exposure and suicides brought on by PTSD and depression. VVMF began managing the program in 1999 and hosting an annual ceremony to induct honorees who had passed in the previous years. So far, we have inducted more than 5000 honorees. When Natasha learned about the In Memory program, she submitted an application to honor her father, James Carroll, was accepted and scheduled for induction in 2020. The ceremony usually takes place on Father’s Day weekend every year, but the COVID 19 pandemic forced us to postpone the 2020 ceremony to 2021. Then the 2021 ceremony was postponed again from June to October. So Natasha and her family and all of the other 2020 In Memory families had to wait an extra 16 months to attend their ceremony at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
(NATASHA): [00:20:33] I’m really looking forward to this because this, these last almost two years have pretty much been only word I can think of is unbearable. They have been, and I wanted just to do any and everything to honor my father, the sacrifices he made and what he did ultimately for our country. We were talking about this, our last D.C. trip. We went in 2014. It was my dad, my mom, myself and my two girls, and we spent almost two weeks there and we stayed at Fort Meade in Maryland. That was my mom and dad’s first duty station as a married couple, and we stayed out there. We went, we just we had the time of our lives. We did the DC tour downtown. We went to Virginia, to Busch Gardens, we went to Hershey Park, Pennsylvania, and just made it a wonderful trip. So that’s the last time we’ve been. So I know it’s going to be emotional for me to go because the only other times I’ve been have been with my dad, so this will be my first time even actually traveling without him.
(HOST): [00:21:43] Getting there would be a real project and logistics, something James had always taken care of for his family in his absence. Somebody had to step up and there was one obvious candidate to fill his shoes. Everybody in the family says that Natasha resembles her father in every way she has his looks, his aptitude for numbers and scholarship. His warmth and kindness, which I can vouch for personally. And his careful attention to details. A total of eight family members would make the trip, attend the ceremony and tour museums and parks from D.C. to Pennsylvania and back. Natasha had orchestrated a precise itinerary for herself, her husband Jason, daughters Nadia and Sasha. Natasha’s sister Nicole. And their mother, Shirley James’s sister Frances and her daughter Connie. Flights, hotels, ceremony. Rental cars, park tickets. Check, check, check, check. Check. I’d flown to Dallas to interview the family on a Wednesday, the day before they left for D.C. Thursday was supposed to be a travel day for all of us, arriving in time for the In Memory reception on Thursday night and the ceremony at the memorial on Friday morning. We were all booked on the same flight out of Dallas at 7:30 a.m. on Thursday. I’d heard some talk of storms in the Dallas area, possibly leading to flight delays or even cancellations.
(HOST): [00:23:01] So before climbing into bed on Wednesday night, I set my alarm for 4:30 a.m. early enough to check the status of the flight and, if necessary, get a jump on changing my itinerary. But I never heard that alarm. I never heard it because my phone rang half an hour earlier at four o’clock. It was Natasha. You’ve got to get up pretty early to be ahead of Natasha. I really thought 4:30 would do it. Anyway, she was beside herself. Our flight had been cancelled. It wasn’t the weather. All kinds of flights were leaving Dallas. Many of them headed to the DC area, just not ours. American had rebooked me for a flight later that afternoon, but Natasha’s party of eight had been rebooked for the same flight the next morning, which would land at Reagan just as they’re In Memory ceremony was wrapping up. Natasha, who had never booked her own flight or made a hotel reservation in her life, had planned this huge trip for eight people to honor her father’s service and sacrifice. And on the morning they were supposed to leave, theirs was the only flight canceled out of DFW.
(NATASHA): [00:24:13] Yeah, we were just desperate, I was like, I am not going to miss this. We’ve waited this long, you know? And then here we are the day of and you cancel our flight. I was like, Nope, that’s not going to happen. That’s not going to be the reason why I miss.
(HOST): [00:24:32] After the break, how fast can you calculate the probability of every conceivable transportation option from Dallas to DC, where the arrival time remains constant? Pretty fast! A few days ago, we lost Colin Powell to complications from COVID 19. A four star general, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, national security adviser, and secretary of state. His death has invited tributes and commentary from everybody with a keyboard or a microphone. But I just want to acknowledge and honor one important part of his legacy here. What became known as the Powell Doctrine, because it’s the shared legacy, I think of every Vietnam veteran who came home and changed things for future generations of fighting men and women. The Powell Doctrine says that there are eight questions that must be answered affirmatively before the United States takes any military action. Number one is a vital national security interest threatened? Number two, do we have a clear, attainable objective? Number three, have the risks and costs been fully and frankly analyzed? Number four, have all other non-violent policy means been fully exhausted? Number five, is there a plausible exit strategy to avoid endless entanglement? Number six, have the consequences of our action been fully considered? Number seven, is the action supported by the American people? And number eight, do we have genuine, broad international support? When I read that list of questions, it seems clear to me that they were written by someone who had learned something from the Vietnam War. May he rest in peace. We know it isn’t easy for everybody to visit the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., so VVMF created The Wall That Heals an exact replica of the wall at three quarter scale. That travels to communities all across America, The Wall That Heals and the Mobile Education Center that travels with it will be in Pinetop-Lakeside, Arizona, October 28 through 31 and in Sulphur Springs, Texas, November 4 through 7.
(HOST): [00:27:25] To learn how you can bring The Wall That Heals to your town, visit VVMF.org. Do you have loved ones who served in Vietnam and later died as a result? Would you like to honor them at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial? We’re currently accepting applications for the 2020 to honor roll. The deadline for applications is March 29. Oh, and we also have an In Memory Facebook group with nearly 12000 members. So be sure to join that if you want to feel part of a community of people who’ve experienced a loss similar to yours. You’ll find the In Memory honor roll application and a link to the Facebook group by going to VVMF.org and clicking on In Memory. My 4:00 a.m. wake up call from Natasha was like a starter’s pistol. We all just started running. Nicole was on the phone to American Airlines. Natasha was frantically checking the app, looking for open seats on earlier flights, and I went to the airport hoping for better luck in person. When I got there, I ran into Francis and Connie. Like me, they had decided to show up in person and try to get stand by seats on an earlier flight. Together, the three of us spent most of the day Thursday running from gate to gate, hoping, running, hoping, running. At one point, Connie started to look at flights into Philadelphia, where she and Francis could catch a train to D.C. All the while we’re texting Natasha sending and receiving updates. Things didn’t look good. At home, Natasha made one final appeal, this time to a higher power.
(NATASHA): [00:29:21] I went into my room and just shut the door. I had to kind of decompress for a bit, and then I started praying and I was like, Lord, you didn’t bring us this far to leave us now. You’ve never done that, and I know you won’t do that now. I said we were doing this for my dad. All he went through, I was like, we’ve we’ve got to get there. I’m kidding you not within 30 minutes is when we found that flight.
(HOST): [00:29:48] Nicole, who had spent the entire day on the phone with the airline, had suddenly found seven available seats on a flight that would get into Reagan after the Thursday night reception, but in time for a good night’s sleep before the Friday morning ceremony. By then, the six of them were already on their way to DFW.
(NATASHA): [00:30:07] More like flying down the freeway, trying to get to DFW Airport and as soon as we were kind of entering, like where they’re starting to park, she pulled back up. Ok, we’ve got you all set. You’re on for the two thirty seven flight to D.C.
(HOST): [00:30:21] Since I was traveling alone, I’d been able to get a standby seat on an earlier flight and now six of Natasha’s eight were on their way. That left Francis and Connie, who had been at DFW playing stand by roulette since early that morning.
(NATASHA): [00:30:36] We didn’t think they were going to get a flight. I honestly didn’t think they were going to get a flight and I’m like, you know, they had planned and paid for the hotel. They had done everything else too and just really wanted to be here to support us. Her brother there, her uncle. And it just I was very, very worried.
(HOST): [00:30:54] We later found out that Francis had gotten a standby seat on the 04:15 flight, which meant that Connie was the last of our group who needed a seat. There were still two passengers who hadn’t boarded Francis’s flight and weren’t in the gate area as the gate agent was offering one of those seats to Connie. A woman came running up saying, Wait, those are our seats. My husband is just in the restroom. Poor, Connie, so close. Then the gate agent said, I’m sorry, we can’t wait any longer, and she gave the two seats to Connie and another standby passenger and close the door behind them. The James Carroll contingent for his In Memory honor roll induction would attend in full force.
(JULIANNA): [00:31:38] Good morning, everyone. We, we made it. I’m Julianna Blaylock. And on behalf of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund. Let me be the first to welcome you here today. Thank you for joining us for our long awaited 2020 In Memory day ceremony.
(HOST): [00:32:13] The In Memory honor roll class of 2020 comprised five hundred and ninety one soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines like James Carroll, they had come home from Vietnam and lived for decades and like James Carroll, each would have his name read aloud to ensure that his service and sacrifice were never forgotten.
(JULIANNA): [00:32:33] While it’s been more than 40 years since the war ended. The family members here with us today know all too well the impact of the Vietnam War on our nation’s service members. We lose more and more veterans every day to Vietnam related causes. It is my hope that you will walk away from today knowing that your loved ones, service and sacrifice will forever be honored here.
(HOST): [00:33:00] More than a thousand people attended the ceremony. They came from all over the country. Most were the widows, children and grandchildren of the honorees, but there were also nieces and nephews, friends and comrades. All of them had waited through two postponements for this moment. I asked a few of them about the men they were here to honor. Here’s the family of JB Meachum, a sailor from Texas who spent four years in Vietnam and passed away in April of 2020.
(MEACHUM FAMILY): [00:33:28] Yeah, there was never a doubt that our household was just full of love and his sense of humor was just off the charts. You know, he found humor in every situation, how he was blessed with that, but best laugh. Absolute. Best laugh. Yeah. Yeah. You get to hear it a lot. Oh yeah. He used it a lot. Yes.
(HOST): [00:33:51] Bob Barr from Columbus, Indiana, served in the Air Force. He died in December of 2019 and is remembered here by his daughter, Jennifer.
(JENNIFER): [00:34:00] He was fairly quiet. He didn’t like to talk about Vietnam a whole lot, so we don’t know a whole lot about it. And he was affected by the Agent Orange, so he got multiple. Myeloma was his original diagnosis, and then later lung cancer went along with it until he passed away. So but he was a hard worker and he took great care of us.
(HOST): [00:34:24] Angela Maloney is the daughter of Frank Ramirez, Army, who passed away in August of 2020.
(FRANCES): [00:34:32] Growing up, he would always make me go to straight. You know, you see the old veteran in the hat, walk into the grocery store and he’d be like Mi-ha, go over there and shake their hand, look them in the eye and say, Welcome home. That was his thing. Always the welcome home. And as a kid, you do it because it’s cute when you’re little. But then as a teenager, you’re like, I’m not doing this. This is so stupid. Dad don’t make me do it. I think I do it more now that he’s gone because of that welcome home that he never got.
(HOST): [00:34:58] The ceremony gets underway with the national anthem, the Pledge of Allegiance, an Invocation and some opening remarks, and then VVMF’s President and CEO Jim Knotts delivers the keynote address to the crowd
Speaker8: [00:35:12] Today in the shadow of the Wall, we honor the service and sacrifice of the men and women who served in the Vietnam War and have since died. The Vietnam War became unpopular at home. Yet nearly three million Americans served in country during this time. They served for lots of reasons, you know, maybe a legal obligation because they were drafted. A sense of duty to their country when they were called upon. Or even so that others did not have to serve. Thankfully, most returned home, however, for many, coming home from Vietnam was just the beginning of a whole new fight. Many never fully recovered, either physically or emotionally from their experiences. That’s why the In Memory program exists because only of a fraction of the casualties actually occurred on the battlefield. Many more carry their wounds back home and suffered long after the actual fighting ended as these service members pass our duty and our solemn promise is to welcome them home to this place that our country has set aside to honor its Vietnam veterans. While they may not meet the Department of Defense criteria for addition to the Wall, they certainly are worthy of joining their brothers and sisters in this place of honor and remembrance. For many of their family members, you all hear and watching online. This ceremony is a bit bittersweet for many of you. Your loss is very recent, and while that pain lingers, I know that you’re still proud of your Vietnam veterans and you’re happy to see them finally receive the recognition that they deserve.
(HOST): [00:37:09] And then at long last, the reading of the names begins. Honorees whose families could not attend in person have their names read by volunteers, but most of the names are read by the widows and children of the deceased. Row by row, like communion, they file up to the stage, most of them are quiet and composed in line. But when they take the stage and begin to speak, it gets emotional. As each of the 591 names is read aloud, the audience remains seated in quiet. They show the same respect and reverence for the last name read as they did for the first. They’re bound together by a shared experience. It’s a terrible thing to have in common, but many of them are comforted by the realization that they’re not alone. Not long into the ceremony, Natasha takes the stage with her aunt Frances.
(CARROLL’S FAMILY): [00:38:04] In memory of my father, my brother, Senior Chief Petty Officer James C. Carroll. Retired United States Navy.
(HOST): [00:38:15] And just like that, after a lifetime of service and sacrifice and agonizing illness and untimely death, two postponements and all of the other challenges his family faced in getting to this moment. James Carroll is memorialized as a veteran of the Vietnam War. After Jim Knotts reads the final name, the entire audience stands as an army bugler brings the ceremony to a close. For James Carroll’s family, of course, this was just the first event in a long weekend of celebrating his life. Over the next three days, they would revisit many of the places he had taken them and no doubt they’d feel his presence even in his absence. For Natasha standing in front of that Wall and reading her father’s name into the In Memory honor roll is something she’ll never forget.
(NATASHA): [00:40:08] I can’t even compare it to any feeling I’ve had before. It was. It was amazing. And like I was saying, it went above our expectations from the singing of the Glee Club, the emotional songs just when they were saying when your service members song plays, you can stand. Anchors Away was the first one, started sobbing. So and then when we ended with Taps from the first note, I lost it. I hadn’t heard that song since it played at his funeral.
(HOST): [00:40:40] Yeah. And so, you know, unfortunately, I wasn’t able to watch you and Frances go up on stage because I was reading for families who couldn’t be here. And when the two of you got up to go up there together, how was she?
(NATASHA): [00:40:52] She was fine. She did good. I could see the emotion coming on her because my dad and her, they were really close. They were very close, she said, when we sat down, thank you again for asking me to go stand with you. That was the biggest honor of my life.
(CHUCK PRICE): [00:41:15] It’s time to sing the song for the unsung hero. Let’s all stand up tall and sing it loud. Let’s all sing a song for the unsung heroes. And when we’re through, there will be no doubt. Sing it for the ones that didn’t make it. Sing it for the ones who live to tell.
(HOST): [00:41:55] This is Chuck Price and his song Unsung Heroes, which he used to perform live at every In Memory ceremony since his passing, we’ve been playing this recording instead, but live or member acts, there’s not a dry eye in the house either way. Thanks, Chuck. And thank you for checking out the official podcast from the people who founded The Wall. If you like it, do us a favor, tell two friends who might like it as well.
(CHUCK PRICE): [00:42:23] Let’s make sure that we all remember. Because the price they paid is too much to forget. Let’s all sing a song for the unsung hero. Let’s all stand up tall and sing it loud. Let’s all sing a song for the unsung. And when we’re through there will be no doubt. Let’s all sing a song for the unsung hero. Let’s all stand up tall and sing it loud. Let’s all sing a song for the unsung hero and when we’re through there will be no doubt. And when we’re through there will be no doubt. Let’s all sing a song for the unsung hero. Let’s all stand the tall and sing it loud. Let’s all sing a song for the unsung hero. Let’s all stand up tall and sing it loud. Let’s all sing a sing for the unsung hero…
(HOST): [00:44:19] We’ll see you in two weeks.
No video interviews are available for this episode.
- VVMF In Memory Program – vvmf.org/in-memory-program
- VVMF The Wall That Heals – vvmf.org/the-wall-that-heals
- VVMF Honor Roll: James C Carroll – https://www.vvmf.org/Honor-Roll/500152/James-C-Carroll/
- VVMF Wall of Faces: Autry Green – https://www.vvmf.org/Wall-of-Faces/19736/AUTRY-GREEN/
- VVMF In Memory: John Meachum – https://www.vvmf.org/Honor-Roll/500958/JB-Meachum/
- VVMF In Memory: Robert Barr – https://www.vvmf.org/Honor-Roll/500221/Robert-F-Barr/
- VVMF In Memory: Florencio Ramirez – https://www.vvmf.org/Honor-Roll/500890/Florencio-“Frank”-Ramirez/
- YouTube Echoes of the Vietnam War Interview playlist – https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLK63b6Cn53unMMj-yZYEch0RuYy1YN1zl