My Father’s Notebook: One Name on The Wall
Eau Claire recently welcomed the Moving Wall, a smaller scale version of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial—the Wall. Held in conjunction with a local organization’s Field of Honor, the Wall stood amongst trees next to a field of hundreds of flags each dedicated to the memory of soldiers who had died since 2001. Small dog tags attached to each flag bore the names of lost loved ones; three different flags bore the inscription “Glen Johnson, Army”—my Dad.
The day was beautiful, with plenty of sunshine and a light breeze fluttering the hundreds of flags dotting the field. We walked together as a family towards the large slabs of black, just as we had done nine years ago. Only this time we did so without Dad. And this time I knew one of those names etched in the stone.
Taking a rubbing of William H. Clevenger from the Moving Wall in September 2012. Sgt. Major Clevenger was one of Dad’s superiors, and as Dad said, “He was like a father to us.”
We first visited the Moving Wall when it last stopped in Eau Claire in 2003. I was so surprised that Dad agreed to go with us—my Mom tells me it took much encouraging. Dad avoided any discussion of Vietnam, avoided anything that could remind him of his time there. But somehow he was there with us, and I felt honored to be able to show my respect to him, to other veterans, and to all those whose names appeared on the Wall.
Dad was there, but he stood as far back as he could. He never touched the Wall, nor got any close than ten yards from it, the anxiety and sadness painfully evident. But he pulled from his wallet a piece of paper with a name written on it and handed it to us. With Dad far off waiting, we searched for the name but couldn’t find it. All these years later, I don’t remember now why we were unable to find it, maybe a misspelling, but we were unable to find the name that day. I was horribly disappointed, as I so wanted to be able to be able to take an etching to give to Dad. I know now that it wasn’t meant to be that day; this was just a rehearsal.
In 2007, my sister Melissa and her husband, Shawn, took my parents to Washington, D.C. With much patience, Dad was able to visit the Wall, the full Memorial. Though Dad still couldn’t get close enough to touch the Wall, this time they were able to find the name he was looking for: William H. Clevenger.
Dad arrived in Vietnam at the age of 19 having lost his father from cancer mere months before. So it was understandable that Dad looked up to his superior, Sergeant Major William Clevenger. Dad was first stationed at Tay Ninh Base Camp with Clevenger, a seasoned soldier who had served in World War II, was Dad’s superior at Tay Ninh Base Camp where Dad was first assigned. Dad looked up to this man, saying “He was like a father to us.”
In the early morning hours of June 6, 1969, another attack on Tay Ninh Base took place. Warrant Officer Albert Major of the 187th Aviation Company described it as “a night to remember in Tay Ninh.” The camp was hit with over 200 rounds of rockets and mortars. The base suffered shrapnel damage and some buildings started on fire. It would prove to be a sad day for Dad and his unit.
Decades later, Dad would write about what happened to Sergeant Major Clevenger:
“In the middle of the morning when we didn’t normally get mortar and rockets in base camp, they shot some in and one exploded by our battalion Sgt. Major and killed him. He was so cut up from shrapnel that they had nothing they could do to save him.”
After Dad’s passing, Mom shared with us that it was Dad who found SGM Clevenger’s body outside the bunker. William Clevenger was 48 and would have been eligible to return home two months later, in August of 1969. He left behind a wife, Lois. His name now appears on Panel 23W Line 084 of The Wall. You can find out more about him and others who gave their lives at http://www.virtualwall.org.
Many More Than 58,261
A picture may be worth a thousand words, but a black wall with 58,261 names is worth a million pictures. Each of these names brings to my mind pictures of the man or woman represented there, of what their lives were and could have been. No memorial or statue I have ever seen can compare to the power of the images the Wall brings to my mind.
In his iconic painting “Reflections,” Lee Teter shows an aged veteran touching the Wall while in the reflection lost comrades reach to touch his hand. And I feel that, too. Standing before it and resting my hand against the smooth black stone, it feels a thin veil separating the living on this side to all those lost on the other. I like to imagine Dad standing among the other soldiers behind the Wall. They had been separated for a few decades, but now they are together sharing a cup of coffee. And this time, there are no wounds, visible or otherwise.
The Wall represents those 58,261 precious lives lost, but please remember that one name on the Wall represents so very many more lives touched by the war. For each name on that Wall, countless lives have felt the impact of that life and its loss. There are the fellow soldiers who served alongside. There are perhaps medics, nurses, doctors who tried to save this life, even if all that could be done was to say a prayer. There are the millions who served with them, some who came home with disabilities and illnesses, some with the wounds that cannot be seen, but all who came home changed.
And back home, each name on that Wall represents generations of friends and family that will never be the same. They were sons, daughters, siblings torn away from their families. Some were husbands and wives and parents, whose loss leaves a terrible hole. There are the families left without a husband or wife, son or daughter. They are the children left without a parent.
When I see the Wall, I am also very thankful. In Washington, D.C., my brother-in-law Shawn pulled my Dad aside and said, “We’re sure glad your name isn’t up on that wall.” We are so blessed that Dad came home, so blessed to have had all those years with him. I am deeply grateful to the fellow soldiers whose friendship, or bravery, or simply commitment to duty, made it possible for Dad to come home.
As the daughter of a Vietnam veteran, I can’t look at the Wall and not imagine in some way how life would have been different if Dad’s name had been etched on the Wall. You see, had my Dad not come home from Vietnam, I would never have been born. Four of us—Melissa, Eric, Scott, and I—were all born after Dad came home. Mom and my sister Shelley, who was born while Dad was in Vietnam, would have been left alone. So you see, I not only owe these men and women my gratitude for my time with my Dad, but for the very chance at life.
The Wall is a moving tribute to the 58,261 precious lives whose names are etched in the stone, but it is also a tribute to the web of people whose lives are forever linked to them. They are the fellow soldiers, the families, the friends, the spouses, the children. They are the lives that could have been. The least that we can do is remember them—all of them.
Related Post- My Unknown Soldier (Reflections from the woman whose grandfather served with Tracey, and who recently discovered this post about her Grandfather)
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[ii] U.S. Army Data Survey Center. Personnel Roster, Active Army Personnel as of 30 April 1969, 0011 FA BN 7th 105T. 1969. San Francisco, CA. Page 2.