R.I.P., young soldier

I posted this blog essay two years ago to commemorate Memorial Day. I want to share it again today as the nation prepares to honor the memories of those who have fallen in battle.

I don’t dwell too much on these kinds of things, but I’m thinking today of a young man I knew briefly many years ago.

His name was Jose DeLaTorre. We served in the same U.S. Army aviation battalion at Marble Mountain, a heavily fortified outpost just south of Da Nang in what used to be called South Vietnam. He served in a different company than I did; he worked on a UH-1 Huey helicopter crew while I was assigned to a fixed-wing outfit, the 245th Aviation Company, which flew OV-1 Mohawk reconnaissance aircraft.

One day in June 1969, Jose came bursting into our work area full of enthusiasm. He was going home in just a few days. I recall he’d extended his tour in ‘Nam several times. I think he had served something like 32 months in-country. I recall he usually was full of it – even on his quiet days. But on this day, Jose was pretty much out of control with excitement.

Later that day, his Huey company scrambled on a troop-lift mission. DeLaTorre did what he usually did when his company got the call to lift off: He strapped himself into an M-60 machine gun and flew as a door gunner on the mission.

It was supposed to be a “routine” drop at a landing zone. It wasn’t. The LZ was “hot,” meaning the ships were greeted by heavy enemy fire when they arrived.

You know how this tale turns out.

DeLaTorre was killed in action that day.

I didn’t know him well. Indeed, it took me 21 years – when I visited the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in D.C. in 1990 with my wife and sons – to learn he hailed from Fullerton, Calif. I saw his name carved into The Wall. I paid my respects and, yes, choked back the lump in my throat.

Today I’m thinking of that effervescent young man and the 58,000-plus other names on that monument, as well all those who have fallen in battle since the beginning of this great republic.

May they all rest in peace.

Thank you for your sacrifice.

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