Dennis W. Zineal
Today is one of those beautiful sunny Bismarck days when the temperature is just right; there is not a cloud in the sky and just a hint of a breeze. What a day to be out for a ride on my Yamaha. I feel especially good today, I am glad to be alive and I plan to enjoy this day to the fullest, and yet, there is something quietly nagging at my conscious. I try to dispel it as I get on my bike and speed off. Before long I find myself riding by the Capital and that’s when I remember it.
I drive around to the other side of the Capital grounds and hit the kill switch on my bike while kicking down on the bike stand. I swing my leg over the seat and study the setup; I am not sure what I am supposed to do.
On the right is the “Moving Wall” and it is set up on a grassy flat while on the left is a brown tent with tables lining one side. Two men stand inside the tent. They carry that look – that look of being in charge. I amble slowly toward them and one of them addresses me.
“Are you just visiting or did you want to look up someone in particular.”
Then it hits me. I see the H-3 Sikorsky Helicopter spinning out of control, its hull slipping past my line of vision on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier. I feel a hollowness enter the pit of my stomach as I run to the edge of the ship just in time to see Helo 76 hit the water. The white helmets of the pilot and copilot stand out starkly against the backdrop of the dismal murky South China Sea and the dark navy gray bird. I am aware of others standing around me and of people shout…
“Sir, did you want to find someone on the wall?”
The voice of the official brings me back as tears well in my eyes and a big lump forms in my throat. I find it hard to speak but know I must. He is looking at me; the expression on his face is demanding an answer.
My voice creaks like a rusty nail being pulled from a weathered old board.
“AZ3 Scotti Moore, United States Navy Reserve.”
To myself I add, “Killed in a helicopter that I performed the preflight inspection on.”
The official looks in his book and mumbles something about not everyone being listed.
My mind races back again to the Tonkin Gulf, I watch as the flying coffin starts to capsize and slowly sink. I stand helplessly as the crew and some of the passengers bob in the four foot swells along with the many sacks of mail that now litter the ocean surface, all tiny, compared to the large gray metal bird that is sinking slowly beneath the surface of the…
“Texas, was he from Texas?”
The state registers dimly in my cloudy mind,
“Yes that’s where Scotti was from.”
Suddenly, the official looks up, beaming triumphantly.
“Here he is, Panel – – -- – – Row – – ----.”
I don’t catch it, so I ask him again and he writes it down on a slip of paper. He hands me the paper and I began to walk away happy to be free of him but the official is not done.
“Did you want to take an impression?”
I turn and look blankly at him, not knowing what to say. He seems to understand and soon shoves another paper and a black crayon into my hand. I mumble a barely audible “Thank you”.
I walk along the wall trying to put the panels and the rows together. I try to match up the numbers on the paper to the wall but I feel so much pain it is difficult to function. My vision is blurred and I can’t think clearly. I have such a feeling of loss, of guilt, and of emptiness. I find myself back in a period of my life that I thought would not have an effect upon me anymore. I am wrong. I finally find the correct panel. His name is in panel 13. Scotti Moore Jr.
I lay the paper across his name and rub the crayon across it slowly. As his name appears on the paper, I see the wheels of the inverted gun ship slip slowly beneath the waves. It is the last visible sign of the once noble war machine. It isn’t only the Helo that is sliding slowly down beneath the surface of the salt water. Scotti Moore is going with it, he is still strapped inside. There are two other helicopters in the air now and men are shouting, others are being pulled from the water, along with the surviving sacks of mail, but Scotti and I are saying good-bye.
I stand there, sobbing, the pain tearing at my insides. I loose all track of time, but finally I do feel better and I leave. I still feel gut wrenching guilt and emptiness; however the wall has helped me realize I can no longer suppress the war. I know I need help to deal with the guilt and anger.
Scotti is just one of many and I wonder how many others feel the pain I feel? Scotti was my friend, my very good friend and he is dead. I am alive, is that fair? I remember Scotti as a very happy man. He was ever optimistic, so very full of life, and he had dreams of doing and achieving, but first he wanted to go home to his parents in Texas. We would talk of them often. Scotti only had five days of active duty left when he died. I often wonder about the anguish that Scotti’s family must have endured. Scotti was a very young man when he gave his life for his country.
As I leave the “Moving Wall” I know I can no longer bury the war and just expect to go on. There is too much pain, too much guilt, and far too much anger.
I find myself at the Veterans Administration and I become involved in a group. We discuss Vietnam and we find we have similar issues. The group is a cleansing process but I feel the need to do more, so I write a letter of inquiry and before long I have found that Scotti still has a sister in Texas. I write her a letter and explain to her who I am and how I knew her brother. I apologize for any part I may have played in his death.
I never expect to hear from her but I do. She replies with a letter that is open, warm, and cordial. She invites me to come for a visit. Texas is a long way from North Dakota but I find myself driving there.
I find her house and when the door opens, I almost fall over. Right there in front of me stands an almost exact replica of Scotti. This young man of course is Scotti’s nephew and we have a very nice visit. I leave Texas felling much better.
Scotti’s death had a special impact on me. He represents to me what the war represented: the loss of so much. We lost some of the bravest, brightest, strongest and most intelligent. I have heard that for every loss there is a gain. I hope that the gain was worth what Scotti’s family has endured. The war caused so much suffering and so much pain for everyone one involved. If we ever needed a reason not to go to war, can we say that Panel Thirteen is that reason? Maybe this at least would give Scotti’s death some reason.
©Copyright January 1993 by Dennis W. Ziniel