A Memorial Day Remembrance

2006_0803_vietnamwallI grew up outside Baltimore and was with Washington, D.C., from my earliest memories. My birthday is in July, so my parents usually let me pick where we would go on vacation. I invariably chose to go to Washington. Mom, Dad, my brother and I would load into the car and we’d drive down to New Carrollton and take the Metro into the city. We’d visit the Air and Space museum, walk on the Mall, see the Capitol and the White House, visit the Natural History museum and generally do all the touristy things families do when they visit the Nation’s Capital.

The summer of 1984 was pretty standard – we headed down in July per my usual birthday wish to see Washington. This year, however, after walking down the Mall and passing the Washington Monument, we headed down the reflecting pool towards a new memorial that I hadn’t seen yet. I remember it being “the controversial one.” A decade had barely passed and the scars of Vietnam were still healing.

It was a long walk from the Washington Monument down to the Memorial, especially for kids. My brother is two years younger than I am and he has never been as big a fan of DC as I am, so after too much walking he begged for a break. Mom wanted one too, so they decided to sit on one of the ubiquitous benches along the reflecting pool as Dad and I continued on to the Vietnam War Memorial.

I remember being amazed at how quiet everyone was. There were flowers and photos along the base of the wall, left there by friends and family. Someone was handing out rice paper and golf pencils to those who wanted to take a rubbing of a name. It towered over me as we walked down to the bottom and looked at the names on the wall. That was what I was most struck by – there were so many names.

I didn’t know any of them. My Dad had tried enlisting in the Navy during the war, but wasn’t fit for service because of a minor heart condition. None of my other relatives had gone. None of our family friends had gone. So while I knew that many people here had given their lives for America, I found it hard to relate. But I knew enough and cared enough to want to remember. So I looked over the wall and I said to myself, “I’m going to pick out one name on this wall and remember it. And if I come back again, I can always look for it and remember the first time we visited.” And so I did.

Fred R. Tice.

That was the name I chose. And I have always remembered that name. I have visited the memorial dozens of times in the twenty five years since I first visited with my father, and I have always sought out Fred’s name. Back when I first did this, there wasn’t a lot of information published about the names on the wall that was easily found by folks who just wanted to know more. There were books available around the memorial to look people up, but they only provided bare details – name, rank, service, date of death, hometown.

I didn’t look up Fred’s name at the time, but through the miracle of the internet, I know today that Fred Rost Tice was a Captain in the United States Air Force, a pilot. He was 33 years old when he died, born December 13, 1933, and he died piloting his C-130 over South Vietnam. Through some kind of mechanical problem, his plane crashed on September 18, 1965, killing him and a number of others on board.

Fred was from Hilltown, Pennsylvania, a small town of 15,000 north of Philadelphia in Bucks County. Fred flew the C-130 Hercules aircraft, where he was involved in Combat Cargo transportation operations as part of the 35th Troop Carrier Squadron of the 6315th Operations Group, part of the 13th Air Force. The 13th is one of the oldest and longest serving active Air Forces in the military, currently station at Hickam Air Force Base in Hawaii, and was originally stood up in 1942.

Fred didn’t die in combat – he was one of the thousands of accidental casualties that occurred in Vietnam, the inevitable result of significant military action anywhere. Accidents invariably happen, and those accidents can kill just as easily as any bullet or bomb. Fred lost his life to one of those accidents.

I never knew Fred, never met him, have never seen a photograph of him. But I have always remembered his name, especially on Memorial Day.

Memorial Day is the day we set aside each year to remember the men and women who have worn the uniform of the United States and have given their lives in service to our country. The many, many men and women who have given what Abraham Lincoln called the last full measure of devotion to their countrymen deserve to be remembered and honored.

As we enjoy our holiday weekend, visiting friends and family, cooking out and watching the Indy 500, never forget the price they paid to make all of this possible for us. Many of us have loved ones and relatives who have died in service. Many of us have friends who have died – like my friend Ensign Kris Krohne, USN, a fellow GW graduate who was killed in an accident while landing his T-37 during training in 2000. And many of us don’t have a direct connection to anyone who has died in the line of duty, but we have a connection with them regardless – they were Americans, just like us, doing their duty and serving in the forces which guard our country and our way of life.

This Memorial Day, let us remember with thanksgiving all those who have died in service to the American people in uniform, and let us honor their memories by spending time with friends and family, enjoying the freedom they fought to protect.

Have a great Memorial Day weekend.

And thank you, Fred.

This is a repost of a May 29, 2011, Bearing Drift article. 

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