Buried in Northeastern Cemetery in Rocky Mount, North Carolina is George Foxe (1940-1965). Foxe served in the 7th Calvary in Vietnam; the infamous unit previously commanded by Gen. George Armstrong Custer. If you’ve read the book “We Were Soldiers Once . . . and Young” or seen the Hollywood film, you know a little bit about the ordeal Foxe experienced.
Foxe played a pivotal role in keeping two platoons from being overrun during the Ia Drang Battle in November 1965. He was found dead, slumped over his M-60. The “We Were Soldiers” film was unique, not only for telling an amazing story, but it was one of the first major Hollywood films to portray Vietnam veterans in such a positive light.
Unfortunately, some veterans who returned from the conflict were called “baby killers” and harassed in despicable ways. Only time, and the brilliant architecture of Maya Lin’s Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington D.C., have healed some wounds.
Over in Dunn lies the remains of Denning Cicero Johnson (1938-1975). He was killed during the Fall of Saigon in 1975. Johnson was part of an Air Force C-5 crew evacuating Vietnamese orphans for repatriation to the United States. The plane crashed.
Ronald Gale Trogdon (1946-1967) is another casualty of Vietnam. He’s buried in Oaklawn Cemetery in Asheboro. A recipient of the Distinguished Flying Cross, Trogdon lost his life while trying to evacuate wounded soldiers as part of a medivac helicopter crew. Understandably, Trogdon’s older brother is quoted as saying his parents grieved their son’s death until the day they died.
Buried in Evergreen Cemetery in Winston Salem is Monta Sherauz Ruth (1979-2005). Killed by a roadside bomb in Iraq, his mother called his death “a sledgehammer to the chest.”
There are families across our state and nation still devastated by the cost of war. The loss of American lives due to the more recent War on Terror has been heartbreaking for new generations to observe. There is a great line from Wilfred Owen, a World War I trench poet, who wrote that “Those who feel most for others suffer most in war.”
Every day and particularly on Memorial Day, we have an obligation to remember the fallen who died in defense of our nation and its ideals. The more recent wars and conflicts of this nation haven’t produced the kind of collective sacrifice like past American wars. In a Marine Corps briefing room hung a statement on a whiteboard during the War on Terror that read: “The Marines are at war … America is at the mall.” There is a lot of truth to that.
For our state and nation to flourish, instead of being paralyzed by a culture of victimhood or excess, we have to relearn sacrifice. It produces character and virtue, and the bloodshed of America’s warriors should command our attention. We’ve inherited a great legacy of freedom.
The cost of war is high. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund does a phenomenal job at honoring those killed in one of America’s longest conflicts. There are over 1,620 names of North Carolinians on the Memorial Wall in Washington D.C.
The VVMF recently highlighted a story of a mother in 1990 who made a trip to the wall to see her son’s name. Perhaps for the last time, as she was getting older. The mother’s young son, a Marine, was killed in Vietnam in 1967. And as many people do, she wanted to leave a letter for him and his favorite teddy bear from his childhood below his name etched in the reflective black granite. The letter explained that she wanted to leave his teddy bear but in the end, she just couldn’t part with it. She left his baby sweater instead.
That right there is a reminder of the high cost of war. We must always remember it.
Ray Nothstine is Carolina Journal opinion editor.