"Next Year, in Angel Fire"

Hi Gang,

Back from AF, finally. What a trip!!

How good it was to see those who made it, and I can't remember all the names. (Yah, Gene'o, that's old age creeping up....What? You say it has caught me!....Might be a smidgeon of truth there.)

First off, couldn't go down on Friday like I had planned. A little bit of trouble on the home front. Something came up Thursday night, and my wife said she couldn't go to Angel Fire because she didn't want to be reminded of a bad year in her life.

Earlier this year I had been told by my oldest son that he remembers his mom crying all the time while I was in Nam. And when I got back to Germany, the AFN Kaiserslautern crew told me (28 years ago, mind you) that she called all the time to try to get details of what fighting was going on where in IV Corps.

Anyway, Thursday night, when I asked her what she meant, she told me that she was pregnant with our second son and didn't know whether he would ever see his daddy. Plus she said when we had found AF quite by mistake a few years ago, she had run out of a room, with all the kleenix boxes in it, crying - I didn't realize that.

So, I went down Sunday, early, instead. Got there shortly after nine and joined Nancy S. and Gracie and Gracie's sis and her family for a cup of coffee in the D&D. Also said howdy to Gene'o, Nancy Cubed, and JR.

Later it was Bill and Penny and Kerry and Robyn and Roger Herrick and (sorry, Mrs.; my mind just went blank), and Ann and Dave. So nice to see them again, and I was touched by their all telling me how glad there were to see me up and about after New Year's by-pass. Don't think I really told them how great their expressions of concern and love meant.

And I know I am leaving someone out. Yeah, Tom Willis and Chuck Price, and h and C-4 Bob. And two new guys from the Bay Area whose names I just can't remember right now. And dd and Debbie - love you all. And I am sure I am forgetting someone.

And while I don't have PTSD or any of that other nasty left overs from VN, it is great to be with people that I can talk to about our experiences there and listen to theirs. This is the special comradship I missed while in nam because I was in MACV and ARVN, not a US unit.

Must say that I thought the reception at the DAV Vietnam Memorial was a bit standoffish - but I never did meet Butch Farley and Artie Ann Ortega - just some NM Volunteers. And, in all fairness, they were extremely busy.

Our own little group's annual session in the Chapel was a bit strange, too. John got up and told us his feelings of how special it is to be able to gather together each year at AF; and I said something to the effect, quite off the cuff, about how we should all feel honored that we are able to remember the dead and missing because in a few years, 25 to 50, there won't be many of us left to remember them; and now is the time for us to carry that torch for as long as we can before we and they are consigned to history as are the vets of WW I, the Spanish American War, Civil War, 1812, Revolution, etc.

I mean, time is fleeting; and while it is true as one of us remarked something to the effect "I still feel as if I were in my early 20s, but my body is telling me different," all we have to do is to look in the mirror and realize that there are wrinkles, crows feet, grey hair, bald spots, excess poundage, and muscles and joints that ache and don't let us move as we used to. I mean, that hill from the Chapel to the parking lot on top is too much for me! I mean, next year it will be a quarter of a century that I was there...and it seems like only yesterday.

There were a few more than just us there in the Chapel; and while I was extremely touched by an old First Sergeant breaking down in the Chapel remembering some Vietnamese demon and the care and love from his friends there, it was rather annoying to be interrupted by a stranger to most of us from another IRC chat list who wanted to know who we were. I knew this guy from IRC; and if that encouraged him to act the way he did, I deeply apologize to the whole group. I heard that someone else who wanted to say a few words didn't because of him.

And, after I had my impromptu say, Mrs H ( name still escapes me, sorry) got up to tell how her article in a high school publication caught Roger's eye and led to marriage and wonderful years.

There was a candlelight ceremony at 1800 Sunday night, and some of us didn't go. Sounded very moving, and I'll let someone who did go tell about it.

Yesterday morning was bright and clear and cold and windy; and many of us are sporting red wind-and-sun-burnt-faces today. Ceremony is ceremony; and Tom and Chuck certainly carried their part well, as did a gold-star mother - what is worse than a mother loosing her child - and a handful of gold-star dads.

But what stuck in my mind at the time was the big kahuna from DAV talking about the male vets that were there and thanking us and ignoring the fact that three fine women I was standing next to and behind - Ann, librarian; Grace, nurse; Nancy, donut dolly - where there, too. This is something we have to get corrected.

And, even Diane Carlson Evans, keynote speaker, slipped up, and mentioned the Red Cross Rec Workers waiting for the GI's, the grunts, to return to big camps. As DD Nancy told me later, she and the others were out much further than that.

But I am nitpicking; all in all it was another emotional, joyous visit to a somber place of remembrance. Emotional because of what the DAV Vietnam Memorial at Angel Fire represents--a place to remember, a place to mourn, a place to weep, a place to heal, a place of honor, and a place of peace.

Joyous because we were able to meet once again and share ourselves with our own kind in a place where total strangers can come up and give me a hug, and I don't cringe; a place where a female not my wife can give me a hug, and I don't turn beet red or try to run; a place where I can join hands and spirit with Godzilla on a motorcycle and call him brother.

And the way most heads turned to follow the "whop whop whop" of the New Mexico National Guard's three dustoff hueys coming in to land and later take off and then come in straight overhead. I mean, I could stand and look for those choppers and follow them coming in, passing over, and departing without having to explain to someone else the glorious effect a huey in motion has. And the New Mexico Air National Guard with its jet fly-over...what a chill, what a thrill!

Even the guard's ragged 21-gun salute and echoing rendition of taps caught my breath.

What a great two days - it was my privilege to share them with you! And those of you who couldn't make it were in our thoughts, too.

At the end of our Passover Seder, we Jews say, "Next Year, in Jerusalem!"

I say to you, my dear friends, "Next Year, in Angel Fire."

Ed St.Clair,
"Ramled," who would be Saint,
except an imposter already is.

copyright © 1997 by Ed St.Clair, all rights reserved

Ed St. Clair passed away in 2014. It was an honor to know him. Hand Salute!