Danny Gladding was an American soldier and the first graduate from Seaford High School killed in Vietnam. His name is one of the thousands of names listed on the granite wall of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
Danny had graduated two years ahead of me from Seaford High, and everybody knew him, since he was the captain of the football and baseball teams, senior class president and king of the senior prom. He married the prom queen, Annette, and was supposed to have a great life.
Danny was an all-around good guy, and life was perfect until a little war over in Vietnam ended it. I was in training at Fort Benning, Ga., when word reached me on May 9, 1968, that Danny had been killed. He was 21 years old. Within a year, I too would be serving in Vietnam.
This past week, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund hosted the Reading of the Names of 58,282 service members inscribed on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., as part of the special activities planned this Veterans Day weekend to commemorate the wall’s 30th anniversary.
The Reading of the Names took place at the wall for 65 hours over a four-day period beginning with an opening ceremony on Wednesday, November 7, 2012, at 3 p.m. On Thursday evening, I took my place as one of the volunteers who read the names for about eight hours from 4 p.m. on Nov. 7 to 12 a.m. on Nov. 8. Other volunteers then read the names for 19 hours daily from 5 a.m. until 12 a.m. on Nov. 8, 9, and 10.
The Reading of the Names took place in Washington, D.C. just four other times in the wall’s history. In November 1982, the names were read aloud at Washington National Cathedral as part of a week-long national salute to Vietnam Veterans. The names were read at the wall during the 10th anniversary celebration in November 1992, during the 20th anniversary celebration in 2002 and during the 25th anniversary celebration in 2007. And with the reading of his name, Capt. Harry Griffith Cramer Jr. became the first to be honored Wednesday in what was a 65-hour marathon session by 2,000 people reading all the names on the wall from now until Veterans Day.
It’s not just reading the names; it’s a reminder that these names had families. They were human beings with stories like Danny’s. I had known Danny’s story for the past 44 years, but on Thursday night, I researched the 30 names I did not know to find out more about them. I didn’t want to just read the names as if I was reading a phone book. I know every one of those names had a family just like me, and maybe their families are gone, or maybe they can’t be here, but I owed it to them to know who these people are. The 30 names I read are listed on Panel 37 East, lines 28 through 30, and I know who they are now.
I lost some friends in Vietnam, and I regard the wall as a very spiritual place. Reading the names on this special Veterans Day weekend has brought me a sense of relief. I think this special place will always serve as a healing process for the country to remember, and for veterans like me.
It also shows how much pain people still feel in their heart. So, on this Veterans Day, let us take time to remember the connection between the living and the dead, lest we not forget those who gave their all for our country.
To those who have survived, may you and yours have a Happy Veterans Day.