The Wall, the names, the memories

Robert A. Erlandson

July 31, 1991|By Robert A. Erlandson | Robert A. Erlandson,Robert A. Erlandson is a reporter for The Sun.

IT'S ONLY a plastic replica, but from a few feet distant it looks as solid as the black Indian granite that lends such weight and dignity to the real Wall, the 490-foot Vietnam memorial in Washington.

The replica copies the huge panels inscribed with the names of )) the more than 58,000 men and women who died in the 15-year struggle in Southeast Asia.

The important thing is that the 240-foot replica offers the same experience, the same symbolism, to people who may never have an opportunity to see the original but who want to feel the Wall's healing influence.

That symbolism came home recently during an assignment to report on the replica's visit to Meadowridge Memorial Park, in Howard County, one of 100 stops around the country for the traveling exhibition.

I joined the scores of people who came to pay tribute and look in the index book for the panel and line numbers of the names they sought.

There they were -- Riley L. Pitts; Roland A. Gorschboth -- two who are forever part of the Vietnam experience that America is trying desperately to forget and remember at the same time.

Roy Pitts was an Army captain who started his tour in South Vietnam as a public information officer, answering reporters' questions and accompanying them on combat operations of the 25th Infantry Division.

But Roy was a soldier first and he wanted command time to qualify for promotion to major. They made him a company commander and Roy, 31, quickly became one of the best, a hard charger. He led his last charge against a Viet Cong bunker line Oct. 31, 1967, in a hamlet north of Saigon.

But his actions that day were such that on Dec. 10, 1968, President Lyndon B. Johnson presented the Medal of Honor -- the country's highest award -- to his widow, Eula, and their children, Stacie, 7, and Mark, 5, in the Oval Office.

Roy was the first black American officer to win the Medal of Honor, the White House said. But in Vietnam nobody noticed; to newsmen, Roy was just a good PIO, a good soldier and a good guy to know.

Finding his name 24 years later on the 240-foot replica of The Wall was a reminder of that.

PFC Roland Gorschboth's name brought memories of another life cut short, and of a funeral home in Dundalk.

A bright young man who had his eyes on a law career, Roland joined the Peace Corps after graduating from the University of Maryland in 1967, but was drafted mid-way through training. In September, 1968, less than two months after reaching Vietnam, he was killed in a mortar attack on his unit of the 11th Infantry Division. Roland was 23.

In any form, the Wall is a poignant reminder to the people of the United States of their sons and daughter who died in Southeast Asia. It also stands as a reminder and warning to politicians who sent them into the quagmire.

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