Offerings Left at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial

7/23/2009 • Vietnam Extra


Vietnam magazine presents a photo selection of the more than 100,000 objects left at the Wall since the memorial’s dedication in 1982.

For an online interview with Duery Felton, curator of the memorial’s collection of objects that are archived at the National Park Service Museum Resource Center near Washington, D.C., see Vietnam magazine October 2009 issue.

14 Responses to Offerings Left at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial

  1. Gary Chenett says:

    Welcome Home Duery;
    I Salute You for such a fine job you have done preserving artifacts left at the Wall by Veterans, families and friends of all Nam Vets.
    It’s obvious to me that you have all artifacts placed in your tender loving care well taken care of..
    I do not believe any civilian could do the fine job you are now doing.
    You understand what we suffered, fought for and how important it is to have so many odd items left there that have helped a Veteran or family some closure.
    The Wall is not a Political Memorial, it’s a Memorial for a select group of Americans who were brave enough to step out and serve their Country, when it was very easy to have stayed out of the war.
    We were Patriots during a period that America was lost thinking of only themselves. ?I doubt there is a Vietnam Veteran that is not proud of their Service.
    We knew and know now it was a job We had to do!!! Every though we did not have the support of our Country
    It takes the love of one Brother looking after his many Brothers & Sisters who served to understand just how important these items left are and will be as time goes on.
    I do hope that all efforts by Jan Scruggs are blocked to place a useless 20 Million dollar Visitors Center at the Wall.
    We have to many sick and dying Vietnam Vets and their families out here in American who are living lives of total poverty or in many cases Veterans that are living a life worse than many of those that are in living Third World Countries.
    We must remember them and the VA for what it has done with it’s broken promises and for what theyboth have done to us.
    We must maintain the Honor of those lost then and the Millions killed since the War by AO & PTSD
    Agent Orange and PTSD are taking us out at a estimated 300 a day or more. We need to look after them just as you are looking after the things we all know are “Very Special” even though others may think they have little significance.
    I have left my Memory piece there with my best friend I served with in The Nam with me in 1992.
    I am very comforted knowing our Memories are in your hands.
    God Bless You Brother!!
    Gary Chenett
    Vietnam 1967/68 The Big Red One 1st/4th Calvary III Corps

  2. James Burns says:

    I recently returned from a visit to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. I wanted to see the WWI memorial as well. Many from my home town of Quincy, Illinois had served in WWI. I had a hard time finding it. I finally found it. I was the only one there.
    For the rest of my time in D.C., I kept wondering if curious future generations will visit the Vietnam artifacts collection.

  3. Mary Thomas says:

    i would like to say a few words if i may …. this lovly and divine Wall is what i would love for my grandchildren to see as i have these past few years. It is quite important to me and my husband of 30 years to keep on seeing this great and honorable memorial. So i wish you and everyone to go and see the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall.

  4. Jill Hubbs says:

    “Happy Father’s Day!”

    Those three words are a phrase that I have longed to say to my dad for more than four decades.

    My father, Cdr. Donald Richard Hubbs, United States Navy, was commanding officer of VS-23, stationed aboard the USS Yorktown during the Vietnam War in 1968. On March 17, 1968, my father piloted an S-2 reconnaissance aircraft with a crew of three, taking off from the deck of the aircraft carrier USS Yorktown, flying a night mission over the Gulf of Tonkin toward North Vietnam. At some point during the flight, my father radioed to the ship that they saw something on the water off the coast – possibly fishing vessels – and they were going to fly at a lower altitude to take a closer look. The plane disappeared off the radar screen and my father and his three crewmates, Lee Benson, Randall Nightingale and Thomas Barber, were lost and declared missing in action.

    A search and rescue mission was undertaken by several squadrons aboard the Yorktown. Slight ping noises – possibly from emergency radio devices worn by pilots – were detected in the area where the plane was last seen on radar, but the plane was never found and no trace of the four men aboard the plane was ever discovered. They were declared “missing in action” and later, with no additional information, their status was changed “Killed In Action, Body Not Recovered.”

    Life for our family became a form of limbo. My father was gone – vanished without a trace. We knew other families who had lost their husbands and fathers – but their bodies had been returned to the United States and they held funerals and grieved. We never had a funeral because the facts surrounding my father’s loss were so inexplicable. We hoped for a miracle.

    We prayed that my father and his crew had somehow survived and were taken as prisoners of war by the Vietnamese. My mother did what the Navy asked her to do – which was to be silent – not to speak to the press, not to talk about my father’s case to anyone because it might jeopardize his safety. After years of this, with no new information and because the Navy declared the crew KIA, my mother began appealing to world leaders and other officials to help find out what happened to my father. She wrote letter after letter after letter on her manual typewriter, pleading for help and mailing the letters to people all over the world. I still have that typewriter – when I look at it, I remember the love and devotion that my mother had for my father – and how she never gave up on finding him. That typewriter symbolizes my family’s struggle to deal with my father’s loss and my mother’s dedication to doing everything in her power to rescue him.

    In the hopes that he was a POW, we wrote letters to my father, hand-written on forms provided by the Vietnamese, mailed to prison camps in Hanoi. My mother mailed care packages to my father, carefully following the strict guidelines set by the Vietnamese. The packages contained things such as toothpaste and toothbrushes, socks, chewing gum, decks of cards, packets of powdered milk, hard candy and letters and drawings that my sister and I had written to my father. “We miss you, Daddy” was scrawled in big letters across sheets of notebook paper, lovingly decorated with red hearts and “XOXOXO.”

    My mother, sister and I sometimes volunteered to sit at tables outside of stores and post offices, urging people to sign petitions to send to Hanoi, appealing for the humane treatment and release of the American POWs. We gave away bumper stickers and wore POW/MIA bracelets. I remember someone telling me at one of those petition drives that my father was a murderer. I was ten years old.

    One of the saddest days I ever remember was after the war ended, the day that the American POWS were released from the Hanoi Hilton and other Vietnamese prisons. The identities of some of the POWs on the flights back was known – but the identity of all of those being released wasn’t certain. My father had been potentially identified as a POW in a grainy propaganda film of POWS released by the Vietnamese in Christmas of 1969. Although it was never confirmed, it helped keep our hopes up that he might be a POW, that he might be alive, that he might come home. So we watched television news reports as the POWs emerged from those planes, hoping against all hope that my father would be one of the men to walk down the steps of a plane. It was not to be.

    My father had been stationed in San Diego, California at the time of his deployment to Vietnam. We stayed there, waiting for news, hoping and praying for a miracle. After more than three years, my mother made the decision to move us back to her hometown of Pensacola, Florida. I can remember crying on the flight to Florida, devastated and feeling as if we were somehow abandoning my father by leaving the home where we had lived with him just before he left for Vietnam.

    Through the years, my mother, sister and I came to accept that my father would never be coming home. We accepted the fact that we would never know the truth. Years passed. My sister and I grew up, attended college, married and started families of our own. My mother never remarried. She devoted her life to us and to her grandchildren. My father was always in our hearts. Certain days were especially hard, such as his birthday or the anniversary of his loss.

    And then, in 1987, the Defense Intelligence Agency contacted my family, informing us that one of their credible sources had claimed to have met a mountagnard, (a Vietnamese farmer) near the city of Dalat, who stated that he had seen my father. According to this witness, my father told him that he was being held as a POW, forced to work in a munitions factory, along with 13 other Americans. My father supposedly gave him a piece of paper with my grandmother’s Pensacola, Florida address on it and asked him to help.

    When this live sighting report was given to us – it was completely surreal – we were shocked. It had been more than 20 years since my father had been lost in Vietnam. He had been declared “Killed in Action, Body Not Recovered.” We had given up hope of ever seeing him alive again. And now this – did we even dare to hope? My mother and I traveled to Washington D.C. to meet with military officials and politicians, and to attend the Senate Select Committee hearings on POWs/MIAs. We obtained all of my father’s military records. We asked questions. We talked to everyone and anyone, trying to make sense of this live sighting report, trying to find out the truth. Finally, in 1993, against my mother’s wishes – because she was worried about my safety – I embarked on a journey to Vietnam to see what information I could find, accompanying the “Friendship Force” – a group of Americans traveling to Vietnam in the name of peace and friendship.

    In Hanoi, I met with the Joint Task Force – Americans who were working diligently (and still are to this day) to recover remains and provide answers and closure for families. They carefully went over my father’s case with me, detailing information about the circumstances surrounding his loss and the actions that had been taken in the years since. They told me about a Vietnamese document that had been discovered the year before – a grave registration with the names of numerous Americans who had died in Vietnam and had been buried in various locations.

    My father’s name was on the grave registration.

    The Vietnamese had always claimed, since 1968, that they had no knowledge of my father or his crew, that they had never recovered the plane, that they had never held any of the men as P.O.W.s in their prison camps. This document indicated otherwise. A flood of emotions overcame me. I was in Hanoi and I needed to talk to my mother – she was half-way around the world in Florida. Someone offered to take me to the Associated Press office in Hanoi, where they allowed me to call my mother. I told her what I had learned and we cried together on the phone.

    The document only listed the region where my father was buried as the “Quang Ninh” province – so more information was needed. The Joint Task Force representatives assured me that they would continue to investigate my father’s case. I asked for a copy of the grave registration, which they said they could not provide to me. The next day, I met with the Vietnamese office for “Seeking Missing Persons.” I was sitting in Hanoi, Vietnam with communists, asking them to help me find my father. A very surreal experience. They talked to me about “The American War” and the thousands of Vietnamese who were also missing in action from the war – something that had never occurred to me. They told me information about my father’s case – basically everything that the American Joint Task Force had told me the day before. They told me about the grave registration document – I asked them for a copy, which they provided to me. Another surreal experience – and very ironic – that I had to get a document from the Vietnamese because I couldn’t get a copy from my own government. How could that grave registration still be classified information nearly two decades after the war ended?

    Today, 42 years after my father was lost in Vietnam, I still do not know his fate. His remains have never been recovered. The questions my family had on March 17, 1968 are the questions that we still have today. We still have no answers.

    In an effort to know more about my father and the kind of man he was, to find out more about the circumstances surrounding his loss, I reached out to his shipmates and those with whom he served in the United States Navy. And many of them reached out to me, traveling to meet me, to personally share stories and memories with me, to explain what they knew about my father’s disappearance. Some wrote letters, sharing kind words about my father.

    In the last several years, someone anonymously contacted me on the telephone and via email, claiming to have seen my father in Burma and having first-hand knowledge that he was being held against his will with other Americans. Another heartbreaking experience. The things this person told me were hard to believe – but what if it was true? But why would someone contact me – after all of these years – to tell me such a story?

    April 30, 2010 marked a milestone – thirty-five years since the end of the Vietnam War. A lifetime ago – that war seems so long ago, a thing of the past. History. Yet there are those who are still dealing with the scars of that war, who are still dealing with the pain caused by decisions made by politicians and governments. There are many living casualties from a war that divided our nation, a war that impacted generations, a war from which the wounds have yet to heal. They are veterans, they are the families of those who served. They are the children of those who sacrificed their lives in a country half-way around the world. People just like me.

    Yet another chapter in my father’s story is now unfolding – more than 42 years after he was lost in Vietnam. On May 20, 2010, I was contacted by a forensic genealogist from the Navy POW/MIA office, wanting DNA samples from members of my family, including me. DNA! Over four decades have passed, but this was the first time such a request had been made. What did it mean? There are over 1,800 military personnel still unaccounted for from the Vietnam War. The Joint Task Force is actively working to recover remains and return them to the United States. Eight sets of remains were returned from Southeast Asia in April 2010, but none have yet to be positively identified. Could this be the reason for the DNA request?

    Once again, there is hope. There are many questions but no answers. You learn to accept that you may never know.

    The Vietnam War is history, yet sadly, America is once again engulfed in a war that is strikingly similar. The parallels are surreal. And there are children right now who will grow up just like me, without their fathers or mothers because they were lost in a war that no one really understands.

    20 years ago, I traveled to Washington D.C. on Father’s Day to attend the very first meeting of “Sons and Daughters in Touch” – a group of children whose fathers’ names were engraved on The Vietnam Veterans Memorial – The Wall. I always felt somewhat different from the other kids when I was growing up – because my father was missing and I didn’t know anyone else who had a father killed or missing in Vietnam. Meeting the other men and women – who had also lost their fathers in Vietnam when they were children – was a very healing experience. They understood the journey I had experienced – and I knew exactly what they had also encountered growing up. We were brothers and sisters, united with a common bond.

    20 years ago, we met at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial on Father’s Day, to honor our dads. We lovingly washed The Wall, scrubbing away the dust and dirt, lovingly rinsing away the soapsuds, with water flowing over the names etched in the panels – symbolic of the tears we have shed through the years. We held a candlelight vigil in the darkness by the black granite walls, talking and sharing our experiences until dawn. And we left roses at the panels where our fathers’ names were engraved. Red roses for fathers who were killed in action. Yellow roses for those fathers, like mine, who were still missing and unaccounted for.

    My mother accompanied me to Washington D.C. to be there for this first “Sons and Daughters in Touch” gathering. Now, two decades later, there will be a reunion of those sons & daughters – “The Children of the Wall” – at The Vietnam Veterans Memorial on Father’s Day. I will be there to honor my father, but this time, I will go alone. My mother is gone now, never knowing what happened to my father. This time, I will honor both my father and my mother, leaving roses for both of them underneath Panel 45 E, Line 12.

    I usually leave something for my dad whenever I visit The Wall – a photograph, a letter, a remembrance of some kind to honor him. This year, I will leave a picture of my five month old grandson – his great-grandson who will never have the chance to know his great-grandfather. I will also leave something I’ve wanted to leave for a long time – a jar of clouds. As a little girl, I knew that my daddy was a pilot. I always begged him to take a jar with him and as he flew through the clouds, I wanted him to capture some of those white fluffy clouds inside the jar and put the lid on it and bring it back to me. It will look like an empty jar to anyone who passes by Panel 45E, Line 12, but it will be my jar of clouds – my way of remembering and honoring the man who was my father.

    Panel 45E, Line 12. A place so sacred to me – the black granite that bears my father’s name.

    Jill Hubbs
    Pensacola, Florida

    • Robert Wirt says:

      Dear Jill: You don’t know me and we have never met but I know the story of your late dad and I was deeply touched by your entry. My name is Robert Wirt and I am the youngest of three children of the late CAPT William “Bill” & Marie Wirt, USN (Ret). My dad was CAG of the Air Wing on the USS Yorktown when your dad was CO of VS-23. Our families were actually neighbors in Chula (or Bonita) Vista during this time although I barely remember as I was only 6 when we moved in the late Summer of 1968 when my dad got orders to attend US Naval War College in Newport, RI. If I’m not mistaken, I believe my late mom said your mom’s name was Julie? Our family– like so many other Navy/military families– all wore the POW/MIA braclets for several years. I can remember my mom wore that of a family friend and naval aviator, Jerimiah Denton. I wore one for another naval aviator, Rodney Knutson. However, I believe my brother Jim or sister Dyan may have worn your dad’s braclet. Thankfully, both Jerimiah & Rodney survived the war as POWs and were repatriated. Unfortunately, your father didn’t get to share the same fortune but I hope you can take some measure of solice in knowing that our family shared in the silent grief in the loss of your dad with you and your family. Fast forward 40 years! I currently live in the DC area and earlier this year, I had some out-of-town friends visit and they wanted to sight-see in the nation’s capitol. The Washington Monument, the Captiol, the Lincoln Memorial, etc. They also wanted to visit the Vietnam War Memorial. When we stopped there, I made a point to look-up your dad’s name and visit his inscription on the wall. I couldn’t help but have memories of that time of my life wash over me, remembering how it felt to have our dad away on cruise & at war, not knowing if he too was ever coming home to my mom and me and my brother and sister. Fortunately, I had the opportunity to spend many years with my dad as he lived to retire from the Navy after 34 years of service in 1979; he died in 1995. Sadly, my mom passed away only 4 years later in 1999. While it is likely of little condolence, please know that your dad was never forgotten by those who knew and served with him, and that you and rest of your family were never far from our– and many other Navy family’s– thoughts & prayers. God Bless!

      • Susan Shaw says:

        Two of the most beautiful stories I have ever read. Thank you for sharing.

  5. Dean "TEACHER" Halstead says:

    What an amazing “Happy Father’s Day” story, concerning the loss of Cdr Hubbs! Why would anyone question the reasoning or motives of those who want to hold our government accountable for the return of our nation’s warriors who have yet to return from the wars they fought. I salute you Jill Hubbs and am so sorry for all the pain you and your family have experienced over these last four decades. God Bless you.

  6. Stephanie John says:

    Oh, Jill. And Jayne. I looked up your Dad because I remembered the PAAS school service for the end of the Vietnam War, and my mom had mailed me a newspaper clipping in 1993 when you were in Viet Nam.

    My dad died 2 years ago in his 70’s and I miss him every day. I cannot imagine the pain of losing a parent when at 10 or 11.

    I still have the 2 POW/MIA bracelets I bought from you for a donation to the POW/MIA cause. Thomas James Sterling made it home and was alive and well in 1998. Cmdr. David Scott Greiling’s status was changed in 1973 to “Died while captured”.

  7. thomas shontz says:

    Jill Hubs,
    I was on the Yorktown that 1968 cruise. I was in the sister squadron VS-25. We were all saddened at the loss of Cmdr. Hubbs and the three crew members of that S-2. God bless you for your diligence to find your father.

  8. thomas shontz AX-3 says:

    Jill Hubs,
    I was on the Yorktown that 1968 cruise. I was in the sister squadron VS-25. We were all saddened at the loss of Cmdr. Hubbs and the three crew members of that S-2. God bless you for your diligence to find your father. When I visit the Yorktown, I shed a tear when I see the memorial there. May you find peace In knowing that, like all of us, we were willing to give our lives for our country.

  9. Sam Tillett says:

    Dear Jill and all of the other wonderful people on this site, Immediately after reading about your heroic fathers, I fervantly prayed that you are granted peace today and every day hereafter. It is my opinion that this is what your dads would want as their top priority. I have been uneasy and triggered into nagging depression by the death in Viet Nam of friends and those that served with me every year since I returned from my positions as a Marine rifle platoon and company commander. I can not imagine the emotional turmoil brought about by really not knowing the verifiable truth about one’s father. I am sorry. I just wanted you to know you are in my prayers today, tomorrow, and as long as I can conscietiously pray. Highest respects, Sam Tillett

  10. Joe Abodeely says:

    The Marines were under siege until the 1st Air Calvary Division’s Operation Pegasus relieved them on April 8, 1968. They did not fight their way out of the siege or break out (as some Marines claim) as they could not go up and down highway 9 until the airmobile infantry (augmented with some Marines and ARVNs) cleared the road to the Khe Sanh Fire Base. They had to be resupplied by the Air Force with LAPE methods. The Marines were unable to send two companies (per the contingency plan) to aid Lang Vei Special Forces camp when it was attacked by NVA tanks. And the Marines lost almost entire patrols whenever they left the perimeter before the relief of the siege.
    The Air Force had bombed the AO around KSFB with fantastic bomb tonnage, but the entrenched NVA still kept the Marines contained. Air Force bombing did not drive the NVA away as some USAF proponents claim. Even the famous History Channel in its recent Vietnam series commented that the air force drove the NVA away so the 1st Cavalry Division could relieve KSFB. But the NVA could retreat to nearby Laos or North Vietnam at will. When did the Air Force drive the NVA away because 1st Cavalry troopers were still fighting them during Operation Pegasus? USAF bombing was important, but not decisive.
    If the NVA left before the 1st Air Cavalry conducted Operation Pegasus (because they “heard about it”)–when was that? If the mere threat of the 1st Air Cav coming is what drove the NVA away—that is all the better. The art of war is not defeating one’s enemy in a hundred battles–it is putting him in a position whereby he must capitulate. (Sun Tzu). The 1st Air Cavalry “boots on the ground” are what drove the NVA away, cleared Route 9, and relieved the Marines from the siege at Khe Sanh Fire Base. D company, 2/7 Cavalry lead the drive. Those who opine to the contrary are incorrect. Give the 1st Air Cav the credit it deserves for breaking the siege of Khe Sanh and clearing Route 9. The 1st Cavalry earned much deserved glory for its actions in the Ia Drang campaign, but the 1st Cav’s greatest accomplishment was its relief of the Marine Khe Sanh Fire Base.

  11. the gioi thoi trang says:

    You understand what we suffered, fought for and how important it is to have so many odd items left there that have helped a Veteran or family some closure.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *