Memorial Day-why I went to  Angel Fire to see a brick

The United States celebrates Memorial Day  on the last Monday of  May, a day set aside to remember people who died while serving  in the armed forces, although many families  use it to remember other deceased loved ones also.  Memorial Day 2014 was special and unique for me and my husband.

We had planned a trip to New Mexico, not realizing we would be there on Memorial Day. I was going to attend a medical conference and we also wanted to visit the Vietnam Veterans Memorial at Angel Fire. The previous year, I ordered a memorial brick ,engraved with his name, to be laid on the walkway there. Our schedule was such that the most convenient day to visit would be Memorial Day. We didn’t know that the Memorial has a special observance there every Memorial Day; but when we found out, we planned to attend. Here, in pictures,  is what we experienced that day .

on the memorial grounds, the chapel in the background

on the memorial grounds, the chapel in the background

In the background, I am kneeling to view Raymond's brick

In the background, I am kneeling to view Raymond’s brick

inside the chapel, which is never locked; it is open for anyone to enter at any time

inside the chapel, which is never locked; it is open for anyone to enter at any time

presenting a flag and plaque to the family of a fallen soldier

presenting a flag and plaque to the family of a fallen soldier

music by a local military reserve unit

music by a local military reserve unit

Vietnam Veterans Memorial at Angel Fire, New Mexico

Raymond Oglesby with his brick

Raymond Oglesby with his brick

Raymond with the late Dr. Westphal, who founded the memorial in honor of his son who died in Vietnam (an old photo)

Raymond with the late Dr. Westphall, who founded the memorial in honor of his son David who died in Vietnam
(an old photo)

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From bullets to blessings-one man’s journey to recovery from war

On April 30, 1975  the United States withdrew from VietNam after many years of involvement in that country’s war. That conflict remains a part of American history- and also a part of the personal history of the men and women and their families who served the military in any capacity during those years. Here is  a perspective on that history from my husband Raymond Oglesby.

in country, 1970

in country, 1970

take note: this contains some strong language you might find offensive; it is used to reflect what was thought at the time, not what is felt today .

Finding My Way Back

By Raymond Oglesby

I didn’t want to ever go to Vietnam again when I came home in 1972 after a one-year tour of duty with the United States Army. I was stationed with the Americal Division, 3/18 Field Artillery Battalion near Tra Bong, a major village located about 25 miles west of Chu Lai, the headquarters of the Americal Division, on “China Beach” at the South China Sea.

Tra Bong was an artillery base and housed two 8 inch and two 175 self-propelled howitzers. Each gun was capable of launching a 90 to 100 pound projectile 20 to 30 miles. The “fire base” was home to about 120 soldiers. Day and night, we fired the guns.

The US Army trained enlisted men to use weapons to destroy the enemy. Our mission was to route the NVA (North Vietnam Army) and VC (Viet Cong) from South Vietnam. I served as team leader of Fire Direction Control (FDC). We were responsible for working up fire missions and passing them to the gun crews via radio.

RAymond on duty at the firebase.

Killing the enemy, Vietnamese soldiers, didn’t bother me then because I did not see them as human. They would intercept our radio transmissions and curse us in English. We called them Charlie, VC and gooks. Without real names, they did not exist. Despite our superior air, sea and land capabilities the United States military lost the war, the first war our country has ever lost.

When I came home, I did not talk about my involvement in the Vietnam War for over fifteen years. I only told two or three people what really happened. I thought only  another Vietnam vet could understand.

After the Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial was erected in Washington D.C. (1982), I began reading and watching videos about that time in our nation’s history. In Vietnam, we heard nothing about the anti-war demonstrations back in the States. Now I realized that our country’s involvement there had been a misguided effort. The more I learned, the more I wanted to go back to Vietnam, not to feel sorry for myself but to help the country I tried to destroy.

a replica of the Vietnam Memorial Wall with an American flag and a wreath of red, white, and blue flowers

a replica of the Vietnam Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C. visits towns throughout the United States

For Christmas, my wife gave me A Missing Peace, a book written by a Vietnam veteran, Robert Seiple. From it, I learned I was not the only veteran haunted by his war experience. Others sought healing from their shame and anger.

And I discovered how much the Vietnamese people had suffered and still did. Unlike other wars, no restitution was made to rebuild the nation so Vietnam steadily declined economically. He described efforts to help rebuild Vietnam and said anyone can make a difference. He issued a call to “reconciliation”, both within ourselves and between the two countries.

I decided to contact Vets with a Mission (VWAM), one of the agencies listed in the book. VWAM is a non-profit, non-political organization that works to bring healing and reconciliation between our countries. Since 1988, VWAM has taken  teams of veterans and other volunteers into Vietnam. At their own expense they travel to Vietnam to build rural medical clinics, support orphanages, care for homeless children and work with hospitals.

I began planning a trip there myself, wondering what I would find and how I would feel. I did not understand why God was stirring my heart for the people of Vietnam. Was I a traitor for wanting to aid a former enemy? Some of my friends thought so, saying “Since you were dying to get out, why would you go back?”

In January 1994 I arrived in Vietnam for my first visit after twenty-two years. I was so excited I couldn’t sleep. I ran whenever we stopped to visit a site, especially if I had been there during the war. I empathized with the Vietnamese who were still living in poverty. I no longer saw them as enemies but as fellow humans. They treated us kindly and welcomed us wherever we went.

At Tra Bong a crowd of people followed us around, since few Americans have been there since the war. For me the highlight of the trip was a visit to the site of the old firebase.

After walking around the now deserted site, I felt I should kneel to pray for the village people around me. They did not understand what I was doing or saying. Right then, my heart was broken for the Vietnamese people.

As we left, children from the nearby school mobbed our van. My eyes misted with tears as I felt the Lord drawing me back. “You must reach these people for my Kingdom.” I knew then I would go back.

making friends with children during his trip back

making friends with children during his trip back

I have served on several Vets with a Mission teams, teaching computer applications in schools and hospitals. I have made Vietnamese friends. Some people think I am a traitor by giving aid to a former enemy. I’m not offended or resentful toward them. I only know that God has given me a burden and compassion for the people of Vietnam.

In 1970, I went on a mission of destruction, now I go on a mission of reconstruction. We failed to win the minds of the Vietnamese by bullets, but we are touching their hearts through the love of God.

Update November 2018

Raymond has written a detailed account of his service at Fire Support Base (FSB)/Landing Zone (LZ) Cindy near Tra Bong Vietnam. The firebase fought a major battle in September 1970. That battle and how it impacted the war in general and one soldier’s life specifically is the subject of his book.

We who served on LZ Cindy in 1969 and after when the unit left in 1971 did a job that had to be done to save more lives than were taken by the enemy. All of us were there because we were asked or drafted to serve this country and help the people of Vietnam survive.

Those of us who did the job on LZ Cindy did the best we could to survive and help those who served with us. It is unfortunate that some of those did not survive, but in war people die, and there is nothing we can do about it.

Find Battle for Tra Bong Vietnam on Amazon (affiliate link)

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                              Dr. Aletha