Vietnam veterans feel guilt, sadness when visiting memorial

WASHINGTON D.C. (WTOL) - 55,629 - that is the number of names written on the gabbro wall at the Vietnam Memorial; 55,629 men who never returned from combat.

Last week, the 'Honor Flight' out of Findlay took veterans of World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War took Washington DC. The veterans visited Arlington National Cemetery and the National Mall.

The veterans gazed at the spectacle that is the World War II Memorial. The memorial is larger than life, and symbolizes the sacrifice that gave the United State perhaps its greatest victory.

Veterans also got see possibly the most haunting sight in the mall: the Korean Memorial. The memorials shows soldiers simply marching. There is no indication where they are marching toward, or what is in front of them. However, the expression on their faces shows the horror they have seen already and the fear of what is yet to come.

Then there is the Vietnam Memorial. It is simple, but somber. The only memorial to show every person lost in the war. And when you look at it, the names seem to extend on and on. And each name has a story they wish to tell. But it is up to those who survived to retell their stories.

"It culminates the whole trip," said Ron Enser. "It does mean a lot to me. And I'm not only representing myself. I represent the folks on the wall and what they're about."

Enser is a veteran on the Vietnam War from Toledo. On March 12, 1969, Enser and his brothers in arms were involved in a battle. Eight Americans fell in that fight.

"To some extent, I feel a little bit of guilt because we came back and they didn't."

Jim Kreiling, another Vietnam veteran from Toledo, says seeing the names of his fellow brothers in arms killed in action near Saigon was a more touching experience.

"These are people you lived with, ate with, fought with, and one day they're gone," Kreiling said. "You never lose them. They're always gonna be with you, always in your heart.  To see and feel their names is touching."

When veterans like Kreiling and Enser returned from the war, they did not receive the heroes welcome as others did in previous wars. At times, the treatment was harsh adding insult to injury. But in the years since their return, the healing of those wounds have begun.

"I know when I came back and took off my uniform and put it in a box, it was a time our country was divided," Enser said. "We've gotten past that. This type of thing, being with Honor Flight, has been part of that process."

Three generations of American heroes serving in three wars - there is much to be learned through them and those who made the ultimate sacrifice. But with organizations like the Honor Flight, the next generation will have yet one more story to pass along to future.

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