A Salute from the Heart. The writer’s cherished memories of her father’s heroism in Vietnam by Patricia Wilson

I was 9 at the time and still remember the car ride to the Norfolk airport in 1968 when my dad left Virginia for Vietnam. And I still remember the fateful knock on our front door in 1969, when an Army chaplain informed our mother he was never coming home again.

The government mailed a widow’s check to my 29-year-old mother, Margot, who was faced with raising four young children alone. We buried our father with military honors in his hometown cemetery near the park where he had played as a young boy. The Army sent medals he had earned, including the Silver Star and a letter from President Nixon, and gave our mom the flag that draped his coffin. The Army sent no psychologists to help our family. There were no support groups, no Internet help sources and no Facebook groups connecting us with other survivors. The anti-Vietnam sentiment was at its height in 1969 America. No one in our family dared talk about it.

That was until November 1982, when our family was invited to the dedication of the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C. I was unable to attend, as I had just begun working at NBC in California, following my graduation from Virginia Tech (which I afforded thanks to the War Orphans Education Assistance Act).

Both my sisters, Carroll and Angie, attended the ceremony, along with their husbands. Carroll called me afterward with an excitement in her voice: “Pat, you wouldn’t have believed it!” she exclaimed. “Dad’s name is etched on the black granite wall, and there were men from his company who were looking for his name, just like we were.” Our father, SFC Marshall E. Robertson, who had given his life for his country in the Vietnam conflict, had not been forgotten after all. But rather, he had been memorialized in the most meaningful way on The Wall, in our nation’s capital.

The Wall changed everything.

Carroll and I went to work searching for our father. We had lost 13 years and had no understanding of his death, and we were not going to lose one more day.

I flew home from California to Virginia for Christmas that year, and we began the search for our dad. Our mother, in her grief, in her youth, in her attempt at survival, had stored all our dad’s memories in a single cedar chest. She closed the chest and moved on with her life. There was no other choice back then. Now it was time to open the chest.

There he was: his letters home from Vietnam, his voice on tape, the flag, the medals, photos of us as a family before Vietnam intervened. My sisters and I put the letters in chronological order, from the first one in October 1968 to his last letter in August 1969. Almost 300 letters.

We spent days reading them, searching for understanding, feeling his love for our mother and for us. It was heart-wrenching. The smells of the letters, his handwriting, his devotion to his family, his growing disillusion for the war, his despair over mounting casualties, his concern for his young soldiers—it was all there. “How are the kiddies?” he asked in each letter. The kiddies were Carroll, 10; Patricia, 9; Angela, 7; Erhard, 6. Three girls and one boy. When we got to the last letter, we sat in silence. There it was, in his own words, in his own handwriting: the reason he died in Vietnam.

SFC Marshall Robertson, 33, had led his boys for months, but his tour was coming to an end. He was pulled out of the front lines in summer of 1969 to begin rotating out, preparing to go home. He was what he called “short” in many of his final letters, counting down the days until he would be home with his family. But then word came to base camp that the platoon leader, an experienced lieutenant, had been evacuated on a medical helicopter out. A green lieutenant would be taking over the platoon and leading them into a hell called Que Son Valley. SFC Robertson felt he had no choice but to hop the chopper back to battle to lead his men, mostly 19- and 20-year-old boys. But first he wrote his wife to explain why he was rejoining his men.

My dear darling,
Sometimes a man has to do what he must. Please forgive me for this but my men have a brand new officer. The casualties have been high and I feel I need to go out there and help them. I know you will not understand but try to see my side of it. My love, if I should die over here, it will not be for my country or this country, it will be for my boys….
Tell the kiddies that I love them and if this is my last letter, please remember me.

When I returned to L.A., I received a letter from someone in my dad’s division. It informed me of a book, Death Valley by Keith William Nolan, that told of our father’s heroism during the summer offensive of 1969. I spoke to Mr. Nolan via phone, and he provided the names of men from my father’s platoon. I phoned the “green” lieutenant whom my father had gone to help, and I wasn’t sure he would remember my dad. “I’m SFC Marshall Robertson’s daughter,” I said to the stranger on the phone. There was silence and then sobs. For years he had carried guilt about the sergeant who died helping him carry out his first mission. I assured him the family doesn’t blame the survivors.

“Your father was a true professional and the platoon followed orders because they respected him. Everyone just liked the hell out of him,” the lieutenant told me.

I also connected with Stan Cantrelle, the experienced lieutenant who had been in battle with my dad for 10 months before being evacuated. Stan and I have become friends, and he has shared with me some treasured photos of my dad in country.

Stan’s first email to me, May 25, 2010:
Your dad and I slept side by side each night that I was in the field and shared many conversations about our families. He adored his family and could not wait to get back to all of you. Your dad was one who cared about his men and desperately wanted to get all of them home to their families, along with himself.

Two decades after our father’s death, we finally had some answers and began our healing process. I don’t blame anyone for the silence that surrounded the families after the Vietnam War. But I also don’t apologize to anyone who thinks silence should continue. We should have a deep devotion to their memories.

Our father was a brave soldier who served his country with honor. The qualities that made him a great father at home were taken with him to Vietnam and extended to the sons of other families.

Memorial Day is a day to recognize and give gratitude to all those who sacrificed so much.

 

Thoughts on Memorial Day from a Gold Star Wife

Memorial Day, noun:
1. a day, May 30, set aside in most states of the U.S. for observances in memory of dead members of the armed forces of all wars: now officially observed on the last Monday in May.
2. any of several days, as April 26, May 10, or June 3, similarly observed in various Southern states.

With that definition, this day is not about the men and women who have served and then returned home to their families. It is about the men and women who have given their lives for our Freedom – the ones that did NOT return. They died so that we could live our American life. So that we could enjoy BBQs, picnics, be able to drink a cold beer in the warm sun with family and friends. To have the luxury of getting this day off from work and being able to spend it with the ones who you love so deeply.

I am the wife of US Marine Corps Lance Corporal (LCPL) James Stack who gave his life for us on November 10, 2010, in Afghanistan. He left behind me and my daughter who was 10 months old at the time. Every day is Memorial Day for my family. However, the official Memorial Day is a day of REMEMBRANCE. It’s about the families who struggle each and every day because their hero was taken from them so suddenly.

On Memorial Day, we honor not only my husband, James, but also every man and woman who have given their lives for our Freedom.

This day is not a happy day for my family. It’s not about all the coupons & the sales. It is about those who served and sacrificed, who gave all – for us.

Each year, I will do my to express the REAL meaning of this day. My eight-year-old daughter knows her daddy is in heaven, and every time she sees that American flag flying high in the sky, she remembers him and knows the sacrifices that he has made.

This is what Memorial Day means to my family. My one request is to teach your children the true meaning of this day. Tell them to take some time and honor all of our Fallen Heroes & their families.

Thank you to all for the wonderful support you have shown us these past eight years.

Gold Star Wife & Daughter
Katie & Mikayla Stack

The Visit

Standing there
Seeing past my reflection
In that black granite wall

Past the names
Etched in a roll call
Of those gone from us
But not forgotten

Seeing into the past
And into their faces
This black shiny monument
Is a mirror into my soul

I can take strength
Acknowledge my losses
My angers, my sadness

I can go forward
Knowing I owe my life
Both today and tomorrow
To my brothers and sisters
On this Wall

By Penni Evans (Red Cross Donut Dollie)
in peace

Memorial Day 2018

There was a time when stores were closed and every community had a parade or Memorial Service to honor those who had died in service to the nation. Today Memorial Day is for sales and picnics.

So many times we are confused about the meaning of Memorial Day. It is not a day for the living but rather a day to honor those who have died in service to their nation. The link below provides an unbiased and easy to review history and meaning of Memorial Day.

Take a few minutes to review and then share with others so that for this 2018 Memorial Day we will know it is more than the beginning of summer or a sale.

Memorial Day – a history

 

“My Life Since 1968” ~ Bill Cornish

Berean Academy–Class of 1968
Monday, March 19, 2018

I have been enjoying reading the stories from the classmates that have written in. It’s a reminder that through all the good times, as well as the bad, God is ever-present. I found this out in a very personal way, in the fall of 1971.

By this time I had made a total mess of my life. In less than three years, I had lost the most wonderful Christian (and pretty) girl that God had placed in my life. I had lost both my parents, my health and my Faith. It’s hard to imagine, looking back, but it was drugs, alcohol, and fear. I was having major anxiety attacks and depression. Every morning, my first thought was ‘is this going to be the day’. I was to the point where it was too much to handle.

I was spending a lot of time in and out of the hospital. While in Vietnam, I had developed a severe kidney disease from agent orange. (I was later operated on for cancer).

I didn’t realize that I was going to write all of this. The good news is though, one evening I walked into a small white church in Colorado Springs. I have absolutely no recollection of the service. What I will never forget, however, is walking out of that little church totally free. I felt clean and washed. The fear was gone! Looking back, I realize that it was spiritual darkness. It was real, but the power of God is greater!

My discharge date was delayed because I was still in the hospital at that time. I had no idea where I would go when I got out. One day someone came by and said I had a letter. Lennie and I hadn’t communicated in over a year and a half. I held her letter for a long time, afraid to open it. I guess I thought it was a wedding announcement or something. Anyway, I was discharged December the 15th. We were married two weeks later on Christmas Eve.

God has been very good. We have a son and two daughters, and good crop of grandkids.
God is good and His mercy is forever.
~Bill

CALLUSES ON OUR SOULS

We built calluses
On our souls

Each event
Each experience

Adding a new layer
A toughening

Which allowed
Us to survive

Practice
Made us perfect

We no longer
Felt much of anything

The pain
Became nonexistent

But it is still deep
Within our souls

As time goes on
The calluses soften

No longer used
Out of practice

Then the pain
Begins

Outside our
Realm of consciousness

The pain
Begins to build

As the tissues
Peel away

Until
The rawness

Is all
That remains

by Penni Evans
Vietnam Donut Dollie

The Vietnam Warriors Lament

The Vietnam Warrior’s Lament

Was it a war or was it not, a time of flux for some of us
A tumultuous time, a time to pray, a time of conflict, all tucked away
At times we share a look inside, a soul too numb, too vilified
We keep inside those horrid thoughts, we brand ourselves a deadman’s walk
In combat once, civilian now, a troubled soul yet to resolve
To we who know, a brotherhood, to others though, misunderstood
Address us now, the emptiness, the fragile man such hopelessness
Regard us then how ere you must, so quick to judge, with vile repress
Come back again and tell us now, how brave we were, a hero child
Once driven by uncertainty, a thing so wrong a travesty
As images steal our minds it seems, those wretched things we can’t redeem
Until they leave we lose control, we live again each dreadful role
Let’s lift our arms up to the sky and offer thanks, no withered cry
To us I say hold fast to that, forgive your heart, unbind your mind, left fear depart
And in the end, when time is done, look at the light where God is from
And at your end when you go home, the words will be, Come….Welcome Home

Written by; Gene Giunta

Vietnam, 1968-1969

Naval Mobile Construction Battalion Three