Anthony W. Pahl

Grandpa’s Grand Adventure: Washington DC

After arriving at Dulles Airport, I had to take the airport shuttle to the main terminal and then make my way to the baggage claim area. I found the correct terminal (I really had no difficulty because that is where the shuttle deposited me) but initially proceeded in the wrong direction. Dulles Airport is huge and I was perspiring from panic rather than heat – I found it a little confusing to say the least. By using my innate navigation skills learned as a chopper gunner in Vietnam (NOT) I eventually realized that I was headed deeper into the jungle rather than towards the Fire Support Base and friends. A hot extraction (it was very warm and humid in DC) landed me safely at the correct baggage area where I espied a tall Washington native – his back to me, sporting a short-white-beard and leaning on a walking cane with a copy of “Who Will Cry for the Soldiers” open to the page containing my photograph. So as not to trigger a startle response (and thus become the cause of the onset of PTSD in a theretofore extremely well adjusted Vietnam Veteran), I approached from the side and was rewarded with a most wonderful smile and embrace.

After locating Woody’s beautifully maintained personnel carrier, we drove the 20+ miles from the airport to the Armed Forced Retirement Home via downtown Washington, my eyes agog as Woody pointed out memorials and landmarks that I’d previously only seen in photographs and dreams. After locating our destination, we promptly became disorientated and had great difficulty in locating the entrance because after 9-11, the main gate to the Retirement Home was closed and the Eagle Gate on Upshur Road became the only point of ingress… and that gate wasn’t easy to find. I should point out that I was of no assistance at all because I had no idea where on heaven or earth I was except that I was somewhere in the Capital City of America.

We eventually reported in and met with my sponsor for the week, John Mallernee (also a Vietnam Veteran), who showed us to my room. Finally, forgetting my camera in the rush, Woody, John, and I were ready for our first reconnaissance patrol which included a rendezvous with a Pittsburgh based unit at the granite Wall. Time was against us… we were already 40 minutes late so Woody decided to let us out near to the Korean War Memorial and continue on in order to find a parking spot leaving us with the admonition that he would join us in about 15 minutes or so. John and I made our way to the designated meeting place – which was supposed to be near to the steps to the Lincoln Memorial.

Therein lay a bit of a problem… I am absolutely certain that the Lincoln Memorial has been moved several hundred yards further from the Sentinels at The Wall than when I was last in Washington in 1996. Despite (or because of?) some uncertainty, disorientation and panic, John and I located Boon, Nancy and Alan Hladic on the seats near to the entrance to The Wall. Alan is a Vietnam Veteran who had driven from Ohio to join us – he is the cousin of Boon’s best friend, Ron Ralich who was KIA in 1966. After introductions, greetings and hugs all round Nancy set out on a sortie to locate Kristy and Eric (Boon and Nan’s daughter and son-in-law) who were waiting where I told Boon we’d meet… at the steps to the Lincoln Memorial!

While we waited for Nancy’s return with Eric and Kristy, and for Woody’s arrival, we were greeted by several strangers, but strangers only in the fact that we had never met. They were fellow Vietnam Veterans and were thus brothers. I think Boon was amazed at this openness – it truly is something unique to The Wall. We chatted with these friends who were strangers, and with each other, then took photographs (with Kristy’s and Nancy’s cameras – but not mine… poop) and waited for Woody at the Three Soldiers until about 5:20 pm… but no Woody. He had said, when he dropped John and I off (with much horn blowing and angst by fellow road-users) that if he hadn’t joined us in 15-20 minutes, it was likely that he was unable to locate parking spot within a reasonable distance and had decided to proceed home. We had waited 35 minutes… another 10 minutes would have seen us make the walk as a quintet… Boon, Woody, Alan, John and me

We missed Woody… we really missed him!

… and so the story of Grandpa’s Grand Adventure, as it was dubbed by Tait, my seven year old grandson, will continue…