Pilgrimage to The Wall

Washington, D.C.

For some time, I have wanted to go to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington D.C. I have visited before, but have never visited with a mission. And so, riding to The Wall became my personal pilgrimage, and maybe closure. The proximity of the Moto Guzzi National Rally made it more possible.


I left the Moto Guzzi National Rally one day early. My reason was the weather. It also meant that I was going to the memorial one day earlier than planned taxing my mental and emotional preparedness. It turned out to be a good decision. For that night, a storm rolled through the area downing trees and power lines. D.C., like many other cities, was in gridlock. I would never have been able to ride to The Wall if I had waited one day as planned.

Brent on guard dutyUncle Sam called me up for active duty in March, 1970; I was drafted. In November, I received orders for Vietnam and was home by Christmas on leave. In January, 1971, I went to Vietnam and was assigned to a Signal Corps unit on the Mekong River at Binh Thuy in the Can Tho Province, the 52nd Signal Battalion, HQ Company. In October, I received an early out and was home three weeks before my 21st birthday. When we processed out of Long Binh, we were ordered to turn in all our jungle fatigues. The only thing we could keep were our boots. We came home in khaki uniforms. I have kept those boots for 40 years.

You have probably heard many times that the soldiers returning from Vietnam were not treated so well. I can attest to that. What happened to our beliefs that all soldiers were welcomed home, just like in the movies about WWII. Not so Vietnam. But, time has changed that with military action and wars in the Middle East, and my personal mission to The Wall was born.


I parked the motorcycle on the street next to the Potomac, about a half-a-mile from the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. I dug through my bags for the things I brought. After securing the bike, I started walking towards the memorial. I pulled out my phone and sent a message to my wife.

TXT: “I am parked and walking to The Wall.”

Lin: “My heart is with you love.”

I nearly lost it reading that text message from Lin. She is the incredible love of my life, I could feel her presence with me. I began to think of all the names on The Wall  and loved ones and family members who never got to express their love or even say goodbye. All that is left is an engraved name on The Wall, and the many objects left behind.

Planning this mission, I wanted to write something to my brothers and sisters on The Wall. I took a copy with me.

I walked the entire length of The Wall, looking at the names and occasionally leaning against the wall. The polished granite is remarkable, for you cannot look at this memorial without seeing yourself. I walked back to towards the middle and found an appropriate spot. I placed my 41-year-old boots on the curb and the copy of my prose behind it.


Pilgrimage to the Wall

Like so many other veterans from the Vietnam War
I wonder why my name is not on this wall. Lucky, I guess.
I returned home with only memories and my boots.

So many names etched in stone
on a black granite wall
memorializing an unpopular war.

The experiences of those who returned
are burned into our memories
and have marked on our lives.

Good memories of friendships and a brotherhood of comrades,
bad memories of warfare, destruction and death.
Memories of coming home to an unappreciative nation.

Our country has learned a great lesson from us,
taught by our experience, the lessons of war and the returning soldier.
You on The Wall would be so proud.

We have learned to separate the politics of war from the warrior.
No matter the conflict, our soldiers are now treated as the heroes
that they are, and all are welcomed home.

Rest in peace brothers and sisters.
We think of you often.
You are missed.

# # #

More than forty years ago, I returned from that land that caused our nation so much grief and changed so many lives. I have come to pay homage to The Wall—a pilgrimage. I am returning my boots, for I no longer need them.

D. B. Miller, Sgt. E-5, US Army, Republic of Vietnam, 1971.

 I stepped back, saluted and then walked away.

TXT MSG to Lin: “Mission accomplished.”

As I walked away, I turned to look back. Visitors to the memorial were already starting to stop and read to see just what was left behind.




Some photographed my boots. I heard one young boy say, “Look! Are those real boots?” Yes they are. They were mine. They belong to the memorial, now.

Rest in Peace Brothers and Sisters on The Wall, and Welcome Home to those who returned.

Peace be with you.


Note: Published on July 4th, Independence Day. Enjoy your freedoms.

The Joy of Catching a Fish

The local fly fishing group and Project Healing Waters has a regular schedule to go fishing at one of the county parks. It’s a pond on a children’s farm, and fishing is usually not allowed, but there are exceptions like for the kids and the Veterans group. Because the pond is not regularly fished, it has fish in it just waiting to bite on something. It makes for a good experience. And, it is all catch and release.


The Veterans range in age and are veterans of too many wars—Vietnam, Iraq, Gulf War, Afghanistan. One is a Korean War Veteran. The mission of Project Healing Waters is to give Veterans a little R&R. It is amazing how disabilities disappear on the water with a fly rod or fishing pole in hand. Shaky hands become still. Troubles disappear for a little while.


Willy was at the pond for his first fishing experience with the Veterans. Confined to a wheel chair, partially paralyzed, he needs help with just about everything. He has movement in his arm, but cannot grip your hand to shake it—that doesn’t stop him from introducing himself and sticking his hand out towards you. “Hi! I’m Willy.”

Willy cannot grip a rod, so we did like all good soldiers do, we improvised. We strapped the pole to his forearm, so that he could lift and lower the rod. Volunteers helped by baiting the hook and watching the rod for him. It was a team effort.

In what seems like the short time we were there, Willy caught more fish than anybody—eight! I guess the fish liked the piece of hot dog on a hook. Willy was happy, saying it was one of the best days he has had in a long time. I think his smile says it all.


Of course, the rest of us had some success with the fly rods. In all, it was a pretty good day for all of us.


See you on the highway.


Shall we gather at the river?


When we help others, we sometimes help ourselves.

For more information about Project Healing Waters, visit their web site.

See you on the highway.


The Back Story

There is more to this personal essay, and it’s how it came about. I reviewed a documentary film last year called the Welcome, and I was haunted by the film–not in a bad way, but in a way to do something. It was like that voice in the bottom of my heart and soul that kept saying, “Well, Brent. What are you going to do now?” And, that voice would not leave me alone.

The premise of the film is about finding a way to welcome home the warriors–our veterans. I kept thinking about how I would use the motivation of this film to do something. I should do something. I am a veteran myself, a Vietnam Veteran. I should be helping my veteran brothers and sisters. It’s time to get involved somehow.

When I learned our fly fishing club, Buckeye United Fly Fishers, was involved with veterans programs, I investigated and joined the cause. That’s how I became involved with Project Healing Waters. It’s an incredible program. I don’t know if I would have been involved had I not seen that film. If you get the chance, you should see it too. You will be moved. –B.

Review: “The Welcome” will move you to tears

I discovered the documentary film, The Welcome, in a regular e-Letter mailing from Poets & Writers magazine, of all places. What does a poetry magazine have to do with veterans? The answer came quickly. The title, Veteran Poetry, caught my eye and the movie trailer that accompanied the article’s description really grabbed my interest.

I called The Welcome Home Project, talked with producer Bill McMillan, and ordered a copy of the DVD. It arrived in just three days. I set it aside for a couple of days, leaving it in view on the kitchen counter and pondering when and where I would watch this film. Alone or with someone? I decided to watch it alone in the privacy of my writing space. I finally popped it into the DVD player of my laptop, with my headphones on. I expected to see a film that would be very moving. I did not expect to see something this powerful, having to pause it a couple of times to collect myself.

The Welcome begins with a poetry reading in an auditorium. A young woman soldier describes the effects of a car bomb during her deployment in Afghanistan. Fade to black. People are gathering in an Oregon rural retreat. The film takes you on a journey of coming to terms and addressing the issues faced by many veterans. It takes you through a gathering of veterans and a few family members trying to deal with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and “trying to come home.” The workshop, conducted by Michael Meade, The Mosaic Multicultural Foundation, leads the participants in sharing, building community, reflecting and writing with the plan to share their writings at a public venue only a few days away, to build a bridge to a larger community.

The Welcome Home Project

Meade poses the dilemma faced by veterans. The tradition of all cultures is to welcome home the warrior, but that is not happening in our society. There is a lapse of memory that warriors need to be welcomed back and to find a place in community as meaningful valuable citizens. He leads the discussion about differences and guides the veterans though building a temporary community with some common ground. It isn’t easy.

There are some tense moments in this film. War experiences differ. Even race comes into question. After an emotional, verbal confrontation between two veterans and an attempt at resolution, Vietnam Veteran Bob Eaton says, “You put twenty four veterans with PTSD in a room together, I think we’re  doing pretty good.  We’re not killing each other.”

As the film draws to its end, the veterans are reciting their poetry and stories in front of a sold-out audience in Ashland, Oregon, on Memorial Day. The power of this documentary will move you to tears, and hopefully bridge the understanding of what so many of our veterans have gone through after serving our country. If you have a chance to see it, or better yet sponsor a showing of this film, you must.

The producer’s thoughtfully provide a strong word of caution:

Thoughts on showing the film to a group:

Before showing the movie to a general audience we think it is important that you let the audience know a bit about the film and offer a few words of caution.  Due to the nature of the material discussed in the film it is not recommended for children under the age of 16 without parental supervision and approval.  The film contains strong language and some graphic descriptions of combat. Also, due to the language and discussion about the military and the impact of combat, some veterans and family members may react strongly to the viewing of this video.  You may want to offer information about local support and counseling services for veterans and family members viewing this film.

Here is the movie trailer:

For additional information and resources, visit The Welcome Home Project.

October 11, 2011, will be the 40th anniversary of my return from Vietnam. For 40 years, I seem to have been avoiding veteran’s issues. Having watched this profound movie, the question arises, “What am I going to do with this, now? How can I help?” After watching, you may have the same feelings and questions. All of us know a veteran—a family member, a friend, a spouse or loved one. Everyone can benefit from watching. It’s what you will do with the knowledge gained after the movie that will make a difference.

See you on the highway.


(Note: How appropriate that this review is posted on June 14th, Flag Day)