Vietnam vets wall moves York countians
The Moving Wall provide a moving moment for many during its recent stay in Fawn Grove.
The half-size replica of the Washington, D.C., Vietnam Veterans Memorial reminded visitors of the 101 York countians who went but did not return. About 11,500 York countians who served during the war in Southeast Asia.
Perhaps the most poignant glimpse at York countians’ sacrifice came in “Life” magazine’s June 1969 roll call of those killed in the Vietnam War in one week. Thomas R. Bliss of York was one of those pictured. So was Jeffrey A. Richardson of Red Lion… .
In a guest column published in the York Sunday News last year, Red Lion resident Flo Snyder Neff remembered Jeffrey Richardson. It’s appropriate to re-publish it, in connection with the memorial’s visit here:
His name was Jeffrey but everyone called him “Jeff.”
I first met Jeff Richardson on Parents Day in elementary school when he and my older son, “Dan,” were students in Miss Miller’s third-grade class. When I arrived at the classroom, there were four other parents sitting on chairs in the back of the room. The class was participating in a geography lesson, but my attention was immediately drawn to Jeff because of his behavior. He alternated between making noises and talking aloud while moving his hands and tapping his feet. One of the other parents seemed to be amused by Jeff’s behavior; the others looked annoyed.
Miss Miller, a well-respected and popular teacher, was not amused with Jeffrey’s behavior. Standing quietly a little away, she quickly moved herself until she was standing beside Jeff’s desk. She leaned down and whispered in his ear. He was slouched in his seat, but when Miss Miller whispered in his ear, he immediately sat straight and was quiet. Periodically through the years, when I remembered that day, I wondered what Miss Miller whispered in his ear?
Barry, our neighbor boy and Dan’s friend was also Jeff’s friend — not just from school but from attending the same church, and their parents were friends, too. When they entered high school, Barry and Dan entered the local high school while Jeff entered the new county technical high school. However, the graduates at that time graduated from their local high school and Jeff graduated with Dan. The Vietnam War was in progress when Jeff and Dan graduated from high school. Barry had graduated the year before. Dan was attending college, and had married his high school sweetheart. Barry became a kitchen designer and Jeff, working in a service job, was drafted into the Army. He was 20 years old.
Jeff first reported to Fort Dix, N.J., then was sent to Fort Eustis, Va., for helicopter rescue training. There he was trained to become a medical crew chief on a medical evacuation helicopter. When his training was finished, Jeff came home for a short leave before being sent to Vietnam — a far cry from high school, driving cars, girls, McDonald’s, friends, sleeping in on Saturday mornings in your own bed, baseball, basketball and football games, movies, picnics, church, family, home cooking, hugs from family.
While Jeff was growing up, he was fun-loving and a bit of a prankster who didn’t take life seriously. But when he came home on leave before going to Vietnam, he was a more serious, mature young man.
Before he reported back to Fort Eustis, Jeff and Barry came to our house so Jeff could say goodbye. Dan and our younger son, Steve, were there. We all talked. Jeff did not talk as much as the rest of us. There was a strange fear of the unknown possessing us all. The reports of the war were mixed. One week it looked more promising for our side. The next week the reports were less promising, more grim. Washington’s decision makers and President Johnson were having problems with the American people, especially students on college campuses. They heartily disapproved of the war with demonstrations and violence. There was apprehension, dissension and division in the country. Anything can happen during a questionable war that is not going well, and its costs in human life and money were escalating.
Jeff hadn’t been a soldier for long, and he was only 20 going on 21 with a full life as a promise. But he was going to war in Vietnam.
As he was saying goodbye to us, we, his friends, wished him luck and we all hugged him and wished him a safe return. We all prayed for his safe return.
Jeff told us he was not coming back from the war.
“Are you planning to live somewhere else when you come back.”
Jeff replied, “No, I’m not coming back from Vietnam.”
We were stunned into silence for a moment by Jeff’s remark.
“Why do you say that, Jeff? Sure, you’re coming back!”
“I just know I’m not coming back.”
What could we say? Did he have a premonition? I hugged him again and he left us. He was gone to war.
Five weeks later I was on my knees planting flowers in a flowerbed near my front porch. It was Memorial Day weekend in 1969. I looked up when I heard someone walking in the grass behind me. It was Dan and Barry. I could tell something was wrong by the look on their faces. They came to give me some bad news. Jeff had been killed in Vietnam eight days earlier, May 22, 1969. He would have been 21 on June 30, 1969. He had served in Vietnam just five weeks.
I have been in touch with his father, Stuart, several times while writing about Jeff, who was his only child. He told me Jeff was killed by a sniper while his helicopter was flying under heavy fire to rescue wounded men. The fire caused the helicopter to crash, and the crew was killed.
Jeff was right. He didn’t come home alive from Vietnam. His body was sent to Dover, Del., where many East Coast soldiers come on their way back home. They gave him a full military funeral. His body is buried in a York County cemetery. He had come home.
He was his father’s only child. In a conversation with Jeff’s father, he told me he needed to check the facts he’d given me about Jeff so he went to the attic to check some things in Jeff’s footlocker. He hadn’t looked in it for years. Is the pain too great? He found the Silver Star, the Purple Heart and the Air Medal that Jeff earned. He found his dog tags and other things. He looked at them and held them a little while and he thought of Jeff. He felt that Jeff was there with him. Then he closed the footlocker and left the attic.
Stuart told me that he is a World War II Navy veteran. He served in the Atlantic/European Theater of War, also as a medic whose ship was at Omaha Beach in Normandy. Five thousand of our troops were killed in one day. He said his ship served as a recovery ship to recover serving men and those men who were killed in the battle. He also told me that the young sculptor who sculpted the four men raising the flag at Iwo Jima served in his battalion early in the war.
I was 17, a high school senior, when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and President Roosevelt declared war on Japan. Not long after that, we went to war with Germany. I have lived through the Korean and Vietnam wars, the first Gulf War, and now Gulf War II. When will we be able to solve our global differences without wars? Wars are as old as Bible times, so the prognosis is poor.
Presently, we are in a global war with Islamic extremists who have carefully entrenched themselves in countries throughout the world. We are engaged in a religious war, a holy war in the Middle East. The Muslim entrenchment has been years in the making, perhaps decades, a hundred years, several hundred years, centuries. Could it have begun during the crusades? Some say the hate started then.
Meanwhile, in cemeteries throughout the world and in this country, young men like Jeff and young women are lying silently through eternity, their dreams forever unrequited due to wars that spilled their blood over all the earth.