- Gary L. Washburn, a Chatsworth Realtor, served in the Army during Vietnam,
Christmas, 1968 was going to be a time of reunion for me, an Army Lieutenant in Atlanta and my kid brother, a Marine Lance Corporal Bob Washburn serving in combat in Vietnam.
Bob would also be meeting my new wife Judy for the first time. Judy and I met in Atlanta where I served at the Atlanta Army Depot. We were excited about Bob's safe return.
And then the Notification Team called on Mom and Dad to tell them Bob had been killed in combat--a tragedy repeated many times in 1968, the worst year of the war for American troops.
Instead of a Christmas reunion, I flew to Treasurer Island, San Francisco and escorted him home to be buried on his 21st birthday in September, 1968.
Judy and I went to Vietnam one year ago to visit the site where my brother and so many kids died in a war that Americans grew to hate--and their hatred was directed at us in uniform.
It was December, 2112 when our Dragon Airlines flight from Hong Kong landed in Hanoi and we slowly made our way into the airport. When I saw the Airport guards in their green uniforms and hats with the red head bands, memories of the war returned--these were the enemy.
Surprisingly, the Vietnamese were cordial during our visit.
We had three tour guides and private tours while in 'Nam. North: Hanoi, Central: Hue and Dong Ha (site of the 3rd Marine headquarters and near the Marine mountain battle sites) and South, Ho Chi Minh City, Saigon.
It was eye opening and a nice trip overall. But we never drank tap water! Our tour guides gave us bottled water every time we got in the car.
My brother served with the 3rd Division, 3rd Battalion Marines in the mountains of central Vietnam. He was a Lance Corporal on a mortar crew. Camp Carroll, the site where he died was at the top of a hill surrounded by villages. The Marines had 26 heavy artillery weapons in Bob's camp. Ironically, my brother and two buddies were killed by North Vietnamese Army artillery located miles away north of the DMZ August 27, 1968. Their names are on Panel 46 west, Line 46 of the Vietnam Memorial.
Nearly 400 Americans were killed in the week between August, 23 and August 30,1968--their names fill the panel on which my brother's name is located. Our military escort officers filled America's airports with a black armband and their precious cargo...a Hero going home to be remembered.
As our car reached Camp Carroll, I imagined what it must have been like the hot August afternoon that Bob died so far from home. There is one large monument at the site dedicated to the "Brave Troops of North Vietnam.."
Our tour guide asked if Bob smoked. I said yes. So he lit a cigarette, in honor of my brother, and placed it in incense at the monument -- he said that is how the deceased are honored in Vietnam. He reminded me that he served in the Army of South Vietnam and they suffered massive losses.
Christmas, 1968, was a sad time for our family. It was a time of remembrance rather than celebration. Vietnam is a war that defined my life because it is how I met my wife and lost a brother.
We annually visit the Vietnam Memorial in Washington DC to remember the most unlikely Marine of all -- my kid brother!
As we celebrate Christmas and the holidays, remember that we still have troops deployed and honor them when you see them! It means so much to those in uniform.