Like many Americans who lived through the Vietnam War Years (1965-1975), I was affected by this war. I was most affected by the service of a former high school classmate—David O’Connor. And so when the mobile Vietnam Memorial Wall came to Shawnee, Oklahoma, I went to stand in line to honor Dave’s memory. With a sheet of paper and pencil, I obtained his name from that wall to save and treasure.
David O’Connor was never one of my best of friends. I remembered him mostly from our senior English class when we both got in trouble for talking about our plans after high school. Just moments before we were to cross the stage and receive our diplomas, Dave expressed his excitement about having joined the Army. For me, I wanted to go on to college to obtain at least a Master’s degree before becoming a warrior. Besides, why was America involved in a war in Southeast Asia anyway? Didn’t the French get booted out less than twenty years before? Without hesitation, Dave stated that the nation had called young men into service to defend the country against the threat of Communism.
Dave recalled how the Communists took over China, North Korea and Cuba in less than 10 years. He also mentioned Communist activity was moving into newly independent African nations and were active in South America. He went on to further state that if his service would help slow down or stop these threats then his service was worth it. Though he tried to convince me to join right after high school, I re-stated my goal—a college education. Until then, I told him he could serve for the both of us. He agreed to wait for that day. With high school diplomas in hand, we parted ways forever!
I remembered what he said about service to the nation. I enrolled in and became a member of the Armed Service through the Army ROTC program receiving a commission remaining for nearly 37 years.
I never knew what happened to Dave until another classmate told me that he had died during a combat mission in Vietnam. He was reported to have been a brave, giving and model soldier to those who served with him. The story of Dave’s sacrifice made me recall what I had said to him on graduation day as well as re-think the Vietnam War. Though I did not make the ultimate sacrifice, the story of Dave’s service made me conclude the worthless of war. Wars are worthless expressions of human aggression. However, the men and women who serve, fight and defend their nation are not. Every service member I ever met are/were selfless, brave and willing to risk death, in this instance, for the United States for the liberties and freedom we all currently enjoy.
So, on behalf of David O’Connor and all who died in service as well as those who are serving and have served—THANK YOU! And so on this and future Memorial Days I ask the reader not to look at any particular battle or war but to honor the men and women who died for their country, families and people known and unknown to them. For these died for you and me that we might be and remain free.
Read more articles by Stephen A. Peterson or search for articles on the same topic or others.