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Encounter at The Wall

David Epps's picture

It was a warm, sunny, Friday morning when I traveled to the Coweta County fairgrounds to see the half-size replica of the Vietnam Memorial Wall. I had been asked to give the invocation at the next day’s wreath-laying ceremony and I wanted to get familiar with the setting.

I had visited the real Wall in Washington, D.C., several years earlier so I didn’t expect the half-size version to have much of an impact. As I walked from the parking lot to the area where the Wall was located, I couldn’t help but notice all the school buses coming and going. I later discovered that between 1,200 and 1,500 students visited the Memorial on that Friday.

When the Wall came into view, I noticed a hush near the memorial where, outside the area, it had been quite noisy. And even though the Wall wasn’t full size, nearly 59,000 names on the Wall is still a sobering sight.

People were looking quietly for names of family, friends, or comrades and even the students, who couldn’t possibly have grasped the full meaning of the sacrifices represented, were respectful and silent. I glanced at the Wall as I drew closer, not looking for any names. Yet, out of the tens of thousands of names on the Wall, one jumped out at me: Kenneth P. Tanner.

I didn’t know Major Kenneth P. Tanner but I knew something about him. Major Tanner fought in the last major battle of the war between U.S. ground forces and the forces of North Vietnam.

The Battle of Fire Support Base Ripcord was a 23-day battle between the U.S. Army’s 101st Airborne Division and the North Vietnamese Army from July 1, 1970 until July 23, 1970. During the 23-day siege, 75 U. S. personnel were killed. The soldiers fought from four hilltops and were outnumbered by nearly 10 to one. Major Kenneth Tanner was killed on the last day of the battle. He was 31 years old.

I do not know what heroic actions Major Tanner performed but, whatever they were, they earned him the Silver Star, the third-highest combat military decoration that can be awarded to a member of any branch of the United States armed forces for valor in the face of the enemy. It is awarded for extreme heroism.

I didn’t know Kenneth P. Tanner. But I do know his son. It has been over a decade since I met Father Kenneth Tanner, who now serves as a priest in Michigan. Most of what I know about Father Ken’s dad I heard from his stepfather.

I knew that, after war’s end, Mrs. Tanner met and married a young minister named Randy Adler. Over time, Adler would become a priest, a bishop, and then an archbishop. Young Ken would be raised in a home that prepared him to become a writer, a theologian for his denomination, and a successful priest and pastor.

As often happens at the Wall, my throat grew tight and the tears began to fall from my eyes as I stared intently at the name of a man I never met. Finally, assuring myself that no one could overhear me, I began to speak to the man whose name was engraved in the ebony stone:

“I didn’t know you, Sir, but I want to thank you for what you did. I can only imagine what you went through during that long battle and what thoughts must have gone through your mind. I know that some of those thoughts were of your family. And, Major, I want to let you know that your boy turned out all right. You’d be proud of him, Sir. He, too, is a soldier — and a leader — but he serves in a different kind of army. He, too, is a courageous and honorable man. And you should know this — you have been remembered.”

Until that day, I thought my tears over those lost in Vietnam were over. More tears would be shed over the weekend as white-haired warriors sought peace at the black stone of the Wall. Hard, rough men wept openly as they, too, remembered.

And that’s the point. The wars are never really over, not for those who served and not for the families who lost their heroes. And that’s what the Wall is all about: remembering, healing, and carrying their legacy of freedom forward.

[David Epps is the pastor of the Cathedral of Christ the King, 4881 Hwy. 34 E., Sharpsburg, GA 30277. Services are held Sundays at 8:30 and 10 a.m. (www.ctkcec.org). He is the bishop of the Mid-South Diocese (www.midsouthdiocese.org) and is the mission pastor of Christ the King Fellowship in Champaign, IL. He may be contacted at frepps@ctkcec.org.]


Dr. Epps:

I have also been very moved by the Vietnam Wall Memorial in Washington.

But my emotion was one of sadness for the deaths of so many young Americans in a war that was unnecessary.

The lesson we must learn from The Wall is that America must never again send its young to suffer and die in a war that should never have been fought.

So as we honor the individual sacrifices from the Vietnam War and earlier wars, we must pledge never again to send our young to die because of the lies of foolish old men.


tgarlock's picture

First, the Vietnam War started as a noble cause to keep South Vietnam free in the face of Communist assault, and strategically an attempt to stop the spread of Communism in Southeast Asia. It is true the leadership screwed up the war to a fair thee well and lost it, and many of our casualties should not have happened.

Second, The Wall isn't about national strategy and whether any of us thought the war should or should not have been fought. The Wall is about remembering the ones who served their country in difficult times and lost their life. It should be a place devoid of politics.

I could make strong arguments about the politics of the wars we are currently fighting, but I would argue even stronger that we should soon build a memorial to those who died in Iraq, and one for those who died in Afghanistan, a place to remember, a place devoid of politics.

Terry Garlock, PTC

The Vietnam War was not a "noble cause" but a war built on a lie (the Tonkin Gulf incident) and our leaders faulty judgment about the spread of communism. Now forty years later Vietnam is a trading and tourist partner for the United States. I think it is fair to ask what that war was all about and to have an overwhelming sense of sadness over the deaths of so many Americans who served during the war.

There is no question many brave Americans served in that war and sacrificed their lives and in other ways. And we should honor them.

But many want to make the Vietnam War only about the experiences of those that served. I have no problem with honoring them, many of whom were my relatives and friends.

The lesson about that war for our children should be that wars are not just about honoring those that served but also always asking our leaders why our young are asked to die.

Maybe Veterans Day and our memorials are not the time to raise policy questions. But if not on those occasions, then when?

When will we honor the anti-Vietnam War movement for helping bring the war to an earlier end before more American lives were sacrificed?


suggarfoot's picture

"The lesson about that war for our children should be that wars are not just about honoring those that served but also always asking our leaders why our young are asked to die."

Sadly, the real reason our young are these days misguided into making the ultimate sacrifice, is not about home or hearth.

My son sat with his father today who was dying from his wounds from Viet Nam. My son cried, pulled the plug, and held his father's hand till it was over.

What a sacrifice for a child who always only wanted a father. He was robbed of that.

Losing someone is always so hard and you have my thoughts and prayers.

tgarlock's picture

I didn't know him, but he is my brother, and I hope your family finds peace.

Terry Garlock, PTC

we all mourn the loss of those who give their lives in our name. I believe in prayer - and embrace you and your family in continuous prayer for peace.

ginga1414's picture

My good thoughts and prayers will be with your son. I am so sorry for you both. It breaks my heart to think that your son will carry this experience with him for the rest of his life.

I watched as my nephew held his Dad's hand as he lay dying. Sam was also a Viet Nam Vet.

It seems that war, in one way or another, affects all of our lives and robs the heart and soul for many generations.

Please give your boy a hug for me.

Give yourself a hug, too. I know that you have had the job of being both Mom and Dad.

Take care, suggar. My thoughts are with you, too.

tgarlock's picture

. . . might even be able to find common ground on some of your points if we took the time, which we won't. But not on the protest movement.

In the aftermath of the 1968 Tet Offensive, the enemy's losses were so devastating that the Viet Cong were never again an effective fighting force, the North Vietnamese had to take a much more active role in the south. The enemy was on his knees and vacillating on whether to continue the fight, but re-invigorated by the American anti-war protests and anti-war tilt of the American news media. That's just one example of how the anti-war movement arguably prolonged the war, not shortened it as so many on the left like to claim. One enemy slogan was "We'll win this war on the streets of New York," and maybe they did just that.

But as I said we could argue forever and bore everyone else to tears.

Terry Garlock, PTC

kcchiefandy's picture

Isn't Vietnam still Communist? Isn't N. Korea still Communist? Isn't China still Communist? Isn't Cuba still Communist? Wasn't Russia supporting just about every Communist movement in the world during this period? I'll stop with these, as there's many pseudo-communist states & organizations sprinkled throughout the world. The only failure in Vietnam was the consistent, persistent meddling by US politicians NOT fighting the war (Tonkin is a good example of that!). Vietnam was drawing a line in the sand, and at the VERY least, we'd have a Korean peninsula situation there now, but most probably they'd be a free people. Nice shot at revisionist history, though.

Let's honor that 60's anti-war movement, though, as it did expose some serious issues and flaws in our political system, and - mostly - showed the world the power of freedom of speech. It did also bring drugs in to the limelight of our society, and heightened the PC cultural that, of late, allowed for 8 Muslim fanatics to live & train w/in our borders to murder almost 3,000 Americans. So, yes, war is bad and should be avoided at all cost, but then again sometimes one has to stand against wrong.

Please put your efforts toward lobbying Congress to establish a 'Peace & Love Day', because, yes, peace & love are good; in fact, maybe you can get the UN to manage a world-wide celebration of such. Me, I'll focus on maintaining peace by preparing for war, which has served this country, and quite a bit of the world, well for over 235 years. Good luck with getting the world to sing 'Kum-bai-ya'.

suggarfoot's picture

"When will we honor the anti-Vietnam War movement for helping bring the war to an earlier end before more American lives were sacrificed?"

When you say that...it is a wide paint brush and too many people with very different ideas.

I was against the Viet Nam War, but not for the same reasons as the anti war group, nor did I protest.

My reasons were that I was seeing our guys killed and maimed for the rest of their lives...for what? Nothing but an old man's war. I felt strongly the whole country of Viet Nam wasn't worth one hair on some of my friend's heads. I felt they were being used. I sat in front of the TV in disbelief when the news man said our 'officals' blamed the then current recession and unenployment on too many Vets comming back (alive)!

When you say the anti-Vietnam group..I have to say I think of the ones that protested the war by standing at the airports and spitting on guys as they came off the planes. Called them baby killers.

I also have to think of Jane Fonda sitting bra less on the front of a Viet cong tank espousing the goodness of the Viet Cong.

What people should do is value the lives of their child more. THINK about our national politics. Is our country involved in something overseas that our children would benifit from? Or, are we sending them off to fight for rich special interest(Oil?) that will only use our children and beat them out of money when they come back.(Wall Street?)

During the Civil War, two counties in Mississippi, Jones and Smith, seceded from the state and refused to fight. They coined a phrase that would fit very well today. "Rich man's war, poor man's fight"

That is something to think about.

known many of the wars we send our young people into are not fought for the altruistic reasons given but for oil or some other commodity that will make some rich. After many of these 'conflicts' we learn at least half-truths. I cringe everytime I see a young man or woman who is disfigured, lost one or more limbs, etc in this wretched mess we are involved in now---and for what? Does anyone honestly think that things will change once we have pulled out and left them to govern themselves? They have been fighting each other for thousands of years and will continue to do so. We need to concentrate on protecting ourselves at home and not stretching our military so thin. We have lost so much of our richest and most wonderful commodity--our young people. And, the sad part is that so many of them go willingly, because they feel they are defending their country--then they come home and in so many cases get terrible medical care, are accused of being liars and malingering. Those that aren't messed up physically are many times messed up emotionally--and again do not get the help they need. I feel that for any and every war that our politicans send us into they must send one of their children or grandchildren--not to a cushy post stateside but to the front and in battle--then we would really see how fast war or a 'conflict' would be established. And as for them being conflicts instead fo wars---dead is dead and maimed is maimed and no pretty terms will change that. Our service personnel should never be villified for doing their duty but those who send them into battle for the wrong reason should be held accountable and not with a slap on the wrist--or oops, sorry, we misread the info presented to us.
And, that is not even touching on the financial loss and waste and what that does to our country. Billions have been thrown after billions, much unaccounted for. And the money we are spending 'rebuilding'--what a farce. We tear it down and build it up bigger and better for them to use against us or to destroy once we leave--and slowly but surely our country is heading down a very slippery slope. Go figure.

Jane Fonda has certainly admitted she showed a lack of judgement. I wish someone would document more than the 1 time a soldier came home to being spit on and name calling. I am sure such a thing happened but it has become urban myth folklore that it occurred frequently. I sometime feel that it is a blanket guilt to My Lai. I never heard a Vet on campus say they were treated that way. Never heard a friend that served.

suggarfoot's picture

It was done to my ex and several others. For him it was in SFO.

It was bad enough that they were drafted into the war and had no choice, but the reception many came home to was unthinkable. Do not make heroes of the anti war people, they were no such thing.

Because of the hideous things said to many Vets, they felt they couldn't fit in and re enlisted. Sadly this sent them back and strait to their deaths.

Don't tell me the good of the anti war protesters. They didn't go after the people in Washington, they went after the soldiers who were drafted.

As I've said, I was against the war, but I couldn't have been more different from the protester than the sun and the moon. I was for our boys, the protesters were against them.

And Jane Fonda only tried to wiggle out of what she had done MANY years later when she realized the hatred for her and what she did wasn't going away. Many felt she should have been tried for treason. Jane Fonda wanted that same group of men to think her sexy and go see her movies..it didn't happen. She crossed a line she could never recross. I think from that point on she should have peddled her wares to the Viet Cong only.

Mike King's picture

It did happen and did so more frequently than you care to admit. Because of it the Army's policy during the seventies was not to travel in uniform. Perhaps you didn't listen to your veteran friends, or perhaps your timing is critical to your asking.

tgarlock's picture

Funny how the same lefty's who protested, the same lefty's who treated our troops badly, deny that spitting ever happened. It did, but there were many other ways that contempt was conveyed, and it went on for a long time.

One of my memories of being disappointed was my commanding officer telling me and other officers to instruct our men not to wear their uniform off the base, for their own personal safety, right here in the USA.

Terry Garlock, PTC

Randy Boyett's picture

Mr. Garlock

It is amazing how we as citizens seem to pick the wrong targets. Soldiers were doing their duty following legitimate orders of elected government.

So the target of the citizenry wrath was the soldier, not necessarily the elected government that was pulling the strings. How sad it was. I lost my best friend and another very good friend in that conflict. They felt they were doing their duty to defend the country. Their thanks on home side leaves was less than heart warming.

Randy Boyett

PTC Observer's picture

As an NCO, I had to deliver the same message from my officer to the grunts, right here in the USA.

One of the main reasons I left the service in 1970, was training on "flying V" formations to be used against our own citizens protesting the war. After four years, I realized that something was terribly wrong when the government was thinking of using returning combat Marines as weapons against it's own people.

There was no way for me to reconcile it. So, I got out.

suggarfoot's picture

"First, the Vietnam War started as a noble cause to keep South Vietnam free in the face of Communist assault"

Never...that is what was PR that was fed the US people so they would give up their children. We inherited it so to speak from the French.

The people of this country needs to wake up. Unless we are defending OURSELVES...not fighting a rich man's war for the rich to get richer...it is never a noble cause.

It is never a noble cause to do the dirty work and give up our kids to die for nothing...never.

kcchiefandy's picture

...I would agree, but with the globalization of the world, beginning in the Post-WWII world, defining 'ourselves' could come in several versions. 'We' - i.e. the USA - were attacked on 9/11/01, so this means you agree with the Afghanistan war, since many of the attackers trained & emanated from there, correct? Communists (or their countries) never attacked 'us', so that political system should have spread over all of Korea, the Caribbean, numerous Central & S. American countries, and Western Europe, correct? That result would have NO effect on 'us', correct?

I understand and appreciate your concern for those lost & maimed in our conflicts, it is a bitter cost and the common man bears the burden, but some things are worth the fight (of course, some not, too), so we - hopefully - elect leaders who will make the right decisions in committing our most precious resource - our children.

Not sure what you mean. 'Nam was a sad tragedy. To quote Ali, "I ain't got no quarrel with them Viet Cong ... They never called me nigger." and neither did the rest of the USA. Obviously it wasn't such a big line in the sand that the likes of Duby Bush, Chaneyman, David Stockman & a whole host of other War Mongers thought it enough to participate. If you read the 'Pentagon Papers' you'll see that the Viet-Minh was not originally a Commie movement but was a Nationalist one. Going back to showing up in top hat & tails before Woodrow Wilson in Pais, Uncle Ho just wanted the imperialist OUT. Communism is not really an agrarian movement, hence the shock when it took hold in Tsar Russia. TG and some veterans can't come to grips with this because of what they witnessed and sacrificed. I think far many more now in hindsight realize that it was for naught. You only have to look at Vietnam today and ask, "Is it such a terrible place?"
Move forward 40 years. The record is pretty clear that Duby Bush came to office w/ an agenda to reclaim his Daddy's Honor for not finishing the Desert Storm. Also, the Sadman tried to kill his ex-prez Daddy. 9/11 gave him and Chaneyman & Rummy an excuse to go off on their adventure. The reality is that the Sadman posed no threat. That the sanctions and the No-Fly were actually working. If the "Brain Trust" had concentrated on Afgani and put Boots on the Ground, instead of going off on "their" crusade for WMD, things would be quite different today. Especially for all the casualties. So what was the "thing" that made all this heartache worth it?

Keep hitting that nail on the head! NBF would be proud!

Falcons lose on bad play call in OT! Playoffs still within reach?

suggarfoot's picture

you are so right. Maybe those very words should be carved at the top of the wall.

suggarfoot's picture

These men from VN and the later wars left children. They fall through the cracks when it comes to college. Just Moms, or worse, nobody, helping.

The below groups give these kids help in going to college, not a full, but a leg up scholarships. There are just too many of them for a full...and they so badly need your help.

Folds of Honor

Freedom Alliance

Marine Corps Scholarship

No Greater Sacrifice

Pat Tillman Foundation

or you can start your own.. the red headed- buck tooth-big smile kid scholarship! There are so many kids and so little money.

Please help them.

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