Famous orator, Daniel Webster, once said about veterans, “Although no sculptured marble should rise to their memory, nor engraved stone bear record of their deeds, yet will their remembrance be as lasting as the land they honored.”
I thought of this quote as I emotionally stumbled through hundreds of my Vietnam letters that were saved by my then-fiancée and now wife, Rosemary. Daniel Webster would be amazed, I think, at the hundreds of memorials our nation has created to honor those who have served. The Vietnam Memorial and many like it all over the country are a testimony to our nation’s deep appreciation of all those, past and present, who have stepped forward when their service was needed.
What follows is one small glimpse into one soldier’s life many years ago.
May 17, 1970
The best thing that I could have gotten for my up-coming birthday was the box of popcorn that came the other day. I was the instant hit of my squad and the rest of the company because when we started popping it, people drifted in from everywhere. Guys that hated me yesterday, suddenly became my friends.
I am still left behind because of being on sick call for almost two weeks. I feel badly about this; but the infection in my leg got too far out of control. I guess I should have called attention to it earlier. Then, I realized that the wedding is only three months away and that I had better be able to dance, at least. So, I went, pulled down my pants, and I was run off to the infirmary at Battalion headquarters. There were all kinds of wounds, diseases and infections going on there. I was one of the lucky ones because I could still walk around. Everybody wants to know why everyone else is there. I guess that this is the way it is in hospitals. One guy, with a smile on his face, who was in danger of losing his arm, said that my leg looked worse than his arm. I told him that his eyesight was bad, too. When I left, the docs were still undecided about his arm. He shook my hand with his good hand and wished me well. I did the same for him.
I have been back for two days. The leg is much better. Everyone was glad to see me when I got back, and they all said that they were still coming to the wedding. I told them that they at least had to take a bath before they came. I’m not sure that I can count on all of them to do this. A bath tub seems like a dream to most of us. One guy’s girlfriend sent him some bubble bath a month or so ago. He hasn’t had the nerve to write her back to tell her what a goofy idea this was. He tried to get it to work in the barrel we use for showers; but the bubbles never happened. It simply caused everyone to comment on how funny the water smelled.
My squad ran into a problem while I was away, and I feel badly about this; but I try to keep my eyes on the fact that I only have three months to go. They finally agreed to give me a job in the rear for the rest of my time. That was great news. I think they must have gotten some direction from the medical guys about my leg and the risk involved if they sent me back out with my leg still bandaged. I might even be able to take a shower every day. I have to go see a medic twice a week until the end of the month.
Zeke remembered that my birthday is on Memorial Day, and he was teasing me about being the ‘old man’ of the group. Think of that, an ‘old man’ at 24. I hope the rest of my life is a lot better with you than what I have experienced here. I’m sure it will be.
All my love,
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While I was absent from my unit, members of my squad were shot down on May 9, 1970. Some survived, and some did not. Michael Monroe Ussery of Brook Park, Ohio flew into battle in my place on that day. My hope has always been that God was with him and the others on that flight. Michael’s heroism is commemorated on Panel 10W, line 008, of the Vietnam Memorial. Daniel Webster would be proud that sculptured marble has risen to Michael’s memory.
Lee Fisher is a Miami graduate (1968) and is married to Rosemary (1969). The Fishers reside in Oxford.