(The characters in this story are not mine. They are the property of New World Entertainment. Well, one of them is mine. I've been married to him for 35 years now. Notes: The M113 was the standard armored personnel Carrier throughout Vietnam until it was replaced by the Bradley Fighting Vehicle. The ACAV, Armored Cavalry Assault Vehicle was a modified 113 with additional weapons.)
"Zeke," the woman spoke softly. "It's time."
"I know it is," replied Command Sergeant Major (Retired) Zeke Anderson. He smiled at his wife and touched her cheek. "I've been putting this off for far too long."
"Yes you have," she replied, with the forthrightness she always displayed. She covered his hand in her own and squeezed for a second. "Now then, you go on. I'll take the children and we'll wander around here for a while. It's not like there's nothing to do and see here."
Zeke took off his coat and handed it to her. She took it and passed him back a tote bag. He hesitated for a moment. "Jennifer, are you sure that you don't want to come too? After all, its part of your history too."
"Not like yours. Most of my memories are of meeting you and the two of us together. You need some time there by yourself."
He nodded and took a deep breath. He crossed the road and headed down into the shelter of the trees.
And then it was there. First the statue. He circled it, looking at the faces of the three bronze men; at their uniforms and weapons. He could feel their tiredness and also their determination to keep going, to watch out for each other. Just as the men of Easy Company in the miniseries the trio was a "Band of Brothers". He looked at them once more and then walked the last few feet to his final destination.
He set the tote bag down and looked up and down at the long panels of black granite. Bending over, he unzipped the bag and took out a faded fatigue shirt. On the left shoulder was the MACV patch; on the right was the insignia of the 196th Light Infantry Brigade. He had a choice. He could have worn the unit insignia from either of his first two tours. But this one had seemed the best choice. He slipped it on, the Sergeant First Class stripes showing above the rolled-up sleeves and the Combat Infantryman's Badge sewn on the chest.
He walked slowly to the left side of monument and began his search. He had already looked up the panels he needed to visit but somehow he felt he needed to start from the very beginning of the wall. His steps took him from the very first name.
He stopped for the first time. As had so many others, his fingers reached out to touch the cool stone, to trace the outline of the names that meant so much to him. He could see them in his mind; they were so real he could almost touch them as well as their incised names. He could see the A Shau valley, LZ-Albany and the march from there towards LZ-X-Ray. He could feel the heat, taste the fear, smell bright coppery scent of blood, hear the screams and the crashing of helos.
But most important, he could see the faces. Most of them were young although there was a grizzled older face intermingled with them. He spoke to them in his mind, reminding them of what they had shared together.
He moved on. Here were the names from his second tour. He could see M113's and ACAV's snorting through the brush. Then it was RPG's and landmines that took the greatest toll. He acknowledged his friends and moved on one more time.
Here were the men he had known from the 196th. Thoughts of the firebase and deep patrols, swift heliborne extractions and the claustrophobia of the tunnels. One more time he ran his fingers over those who hadn't come back. Tears that he had held back up till now began to flow.
He became aware of a man standing one panel down and looked over at him. The man had a brown paper bag at his feet. He too was wearing an old jungle fatigue shirt, stained with sweat and memories that would never come out. Like Zeke, the other man wore a CIB. Buck sergeant stripes were on the sleeves. His shoulder patches were both the "Horse Blanket" of the 1st Cavalry Division, the unit Zeke had served in during his first tour.
The man was a few years younger than Zeke. He was probably a young 19 year old or so back when he had fought with the First Team. His hair was still cut short, black but showing touches of gray, as was the full mustache the other vet was wearing.
Like Zeke, the man stood with his eyes riveted on the Wall. His hand was pressed against the carved black stone, rubbing gently over the names. His shoulders were heaving but no sound was apparent as the once young buck sergeant fought to control himself.
Zeke reached over and placed his hand on the other man's shoulder. The man turned and took in Zeke, reading the other man's story in the patches he wore. Not a word was said. The two men threw their arms around each other and held like that until the tears stopped. Not tears for themselves, because when they broke apart they both saw the pride in each other's eyes, but tears for those they had left behind, but could never, would never, forget.
"Welcome home," whispered Zeke.
"Welcome home," the other man replied.
They both turned away, taking deep breaths. Jennifer stood waiting with their children. Near her another patient woman, surrounded by several children of her own, waited for the other vet. The men nodded to each other one more time and went to rejoin their families.
(Postscript. Even though Jennifer Seymour gave Zeke back his ring at the end of "Lonely At the Top" episode I have no doubt that she loved him dearly and waited for him to resolve his personal demons and come back to her "When the War is over". Special thanks to the "ToD Advisor's Notebook" website for its well thought out time-line of Zeke's service in Vietnam and the units he probably served with. And for all you Vets of this or any other war, on Memorial Day "Welcome Home!".)