By J.D. LeipoldNovember 10, 2012
WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Nov. 10, 2012) -- Slowly, steadily, the names of the 58,282 Soldiers, Marines, Sailors and Airmen inscribed in the polished black granite's mirror-like walls of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial came alive again spoken perfectly by the elderly, middle-aged and young who read them.
Most of the 2,000 readers were wives, sons, daughters and parents; others were classmates and battle buddies who carry on with life and hold dear the memory of their loved ones lost in what became known as the 10,000-day war.
For 65 hours, over the course of four days and ending on the Nov. 12 observance of Veterans Day, each volunteer will read 25 to 30 names beginning with the first service member to lose his life in Southeast Asia -- Special Forces adviser Capt. Harry Griffith Cramer, who was killed on Oct. 21, 1957 -- to the last combat casualty, Lt. Col. William B. Nold who died Jan. 27, 1973, just 11 hours before the Paris Peace Accords were signed officially ending the war.
For Stephen E. Barger, reading his dad's name brought back memories of the worst day of his life. An Army lieutenant colonel and Silver Star recipient for gallantry in Korea, Ferdinand O. Barger Jr. was killed Sept. 4, 1968, when he was hit by small-arms fire.
"I think my mother was mentally prepared because she, like many Vietnam widows, had the dream and knew he wasn't coming back," Barger recalled. "I was eight and remember it like it was yesterday" -- the two men in green climbing out of the Army green sedan.
"I thought, daddy's home," he said. "I really didn't understand Vietnam. We watched TV; we watched the news, but my father had gone to the fields 1,000 times before and always came home, but this time he didn't."
Barger went on to follow in his father's footsteps, joining the Army and making it a career as an airborne Ranger and retiring at his dad's rank. The memory of his father absolutely made him the best Soldier he could be, he says.
"I spent my whole life trying to live up to what I thought he would be proud of since all I ever wanted to be was an infantryman," he said. "He gave me focus; gave me purpose and drive to be a Soldier my whole life."
Veteran Edward Times was a two-year draftee with only nine months left on his enlistment when he was ordered to Fort Benning, Ga., to ready for deployment to Vietnam with the 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry.
In 1965, Times found himself fighting for his life in the Battle of Ia Drang Valley, which was later depicted in the 2002 movie, "We Were Soldiers Once And Young" and considered the first major battle of the Vietnam War.
Times, a pastor from Baton Rouge, La., said he comes to Washington, D.C., every year and places divisional wreaths at the World War II Memorial, the Korean War Veterans Memorial as well as at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Still, he says he'll never get closure.
"This was the first time I've read, but men have died so I can be here, so I always come up and put the wreaths out and honor them for serving," he said. "If someone hadn't died out in front of me, I'd probably have been the next one to have died considering the situation we were in. War is tough; I'll never get over this but I feel it's an honor to be here remembering those I served with."
The 2012 tribute marks the fifth time the names of those inscribed on The Wall have been read since the memorial was completed 30 years ago on Nov. 13, 1982. The Reading of the Names was first conducted then at Washington National Cathedral, then again at The Wall on the 10th anniversary of its dedication in 1992, then during the 20th and 25th anniversaries. This year also marks the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War.