Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Trip: 2009 "The Wall"

Just got back from Philadelphia after attending my First Battalion First Marine Regiment reunion, the unit I served with in Vietnam. On the way I stopped in Washington D.C. to visit my brother Terry at the Vietnam Memorial. I had been telling myself for forty years I was going to go see him when suddenly I was 62 years old and I realized that now was the time. Combining the visit with the reunion seemed like a good idea. I had been in touch intermittently with a few of my comrades from Charlie Company and they wanted me to come and my wife Gwynne and two daughters Caitlin and Charlotte encouraged me too. I have dealt OK with Terry's death but I still miss him a lot and going to The Wall was something I knew I had to do to honor him and the other Marines I knew who were there.

After getting off the Metrorail near George Washington University I headed down the gradual incline of 23rd St NW and could see the Lincoln Memorial in the distance. I didn't look for a taxi because I felt that the half mile journey I was taking should be walked; like a man, like an ex-Marine, like a brother should do. True I was dragging my suitcase on wheels like a wimp but it was hot and I didn't stop for a water break or a rest in the shade. At the bottom of the hill, at Constitution Ave., I stopped at the light and knew that through the trees and across the street to my left was my destination. After crossing the street then heading left I reached Henry Bacon Drive and I turned right.

I often wondered what I would do when I got the Memorial, would I circle it as if scouting on patrol? would I stand and watch the other visitors, putting off the moment until I felt comfortable? or would I turn away like a coward unable to face the truth? I knew the panel Terry's name was on and the line number. I immediately turned left and descended down the ramp with the Wall on my left and the people around me invisible. 12W, 19W, 23W. I was at Terry's panel and my eyes ran down the names until they stopped. -RALPH T.LOMEN- (His middle name was Terence) I knew his name was there and I wasn't trying to kid myself that it wasn't. I stared at his name for awhile lost in my thoughts, strangely calm and at peace. Then I crouched down, level with his name, and took three photographs from slightly different angles not sure how the afternoon sun would reflect off the black granite. Finally I reached in my pants pocket and removed items that I placed at the base of the Wall, underneath Terry's name.

Ralph Terence "Terry" Lomen

Prior to going on my trip I knew I wanted to leave something to mark that I had been to visit my brother but I couldn't think of the right memento. Finally the night before I was to leave I sorted through a collection of family items and found the perfect thing: a dog tag of Terry's from Vietnam, one of my dog tags from my service there and an American Red Cross dog tag belonging to our mother Rosanne Coyle from her service in Europe during the Second World War.

How did I feel reading that undoubting name on the Wall? Confirmation and relief are the the only words I can think of that registered at the moment because I had already been through all of the other words and emotions since June 7th 1969. I won't list them because there are too many but seeing his name made me realize that I had completed a journey of love for my younger brother and there would never be a day that I wouldn't remember him.

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