Donald Jackson stands by a helicopter in Vietnam in 1968.

When I was a child we celebrated “Decoration Day” on May 31st of each year.

That day had originally been set aside for us to honor the dead of World War I by decorating their graves with flowers, and had grown to include those of World War II and Korea. And then we decided to honor all of our dearly departed on that day. I do not recall when the name changed to “Memorial Day” but it seems quite natural and a very good description of what we should do on that day.

For me, it is a day of remembering.

I have devoted a great deal of my life to the Military Service of our country. This has resulted in some of the strongest friendships that I have, and some of the deepest losses.

I enlisted in the Army on a Memorial Day, May 31, 1965. During my service I spent 18 months in Viet Nam, working in support of the Vietnamese 9th Infantry Division. I saw a lot of death, but most of it was of people whom I did not know personally. I lost five friends while I was there, and each Memorial Day I think of them and wonder what kind of lives they would have lived.

In the intervening years I have been able to reconnect with some of my friends, via the internet and at reunions. It has been wonderful to see them again, but time is catching up with us.

Alan Hull, my aircraft commander on Tiger Surprise, came to our reunion in 2004 and we remained close friends until his death of a stroke in 2012. We shared a bond that only another vet can appreciate.

I located Buddy Evans, another helicopter pilot, via the internet and visited him in 2004. A friend who saw us meet said: “You two last saw each other in 1967 and you act like it was just last week.”

He died in 2010, and his widow could not bring herself to tell us until 2013. I miss that little Indian with the big smile. There are a host of others, all close in a special way.

Then there are those who I lost track of. Most of the enlisted men disappeared without a trace, due to the social climate caused by the Vietnam War. We have found some, but others have proven elusive. I would dearly love to know what happened to Sandy Bailey, Roger Bolyard and Nick Owen, to name a few. Each Memorial Day I find myself wondering what happened to them and whether they are still alive.

I also remember my family, my Mother, my grandparents who raised me while Mom worked my uncles, aunts and cousins, and a host of boys and girls who I went to school with.

For me, Memorial Day has become a very special, private day to reconnect with all of these people and to hope that one day I will cross the river Jordan and will be with them again.

Recommended for you