I sat next to Randy Turner in a concert band in the back row. I was a drummer, he was a sousaphone player — and a very good one. He also played first-string guard for the North Central High School football team — the highlight of the senior season being the final game and a 20-7 thrashing of our cross-town rival, Lewis and Clark, which was also the No. 1 ranked team in the state. I didn’t know Richard Walker as well, but he always had an easy smile and laugh. Not as physically gifted as Randy, Richard still got to play frosh and junior varsity football. Both were members of the Warriors Club so it didn’t surprise me to learn that they would go on to become officers in the Army.
Randy served with Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (MACV), which was a highly classified, U.S. special operations unit that conducted covert unconventional warfare operations in North and South Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. It carried out the capture of enemy prisoners, rescued downed pilots and ran rescue operations to retrieve prisoners of war throughout Southeast Asia. Richard fought with Bravo Company. Robert Hemphill, author of Platoon (the same platoon which Oliver Stone’s movie drew from) said this about Bravo Company: “Bravo Company had mighty fine soldiers. As a commander, I could not ask for better soldiers than I had in Bravo.”
The spring following the dedication of the Vietnam War Memorial, I drove down to Washington, D.C. from Connecticut to see it. It was only a few years earlier that I had heard the terrible news that both Randy and Richard had been killed while serving in Vietnam.
The memorial sits just north of the west end of the reflecting pool, within a short walk of the Lincoln Memorial. It is made up of two tapered walls sunk into the ground and forms an open “V.”
At the apex it is about 10 feet high and at the extremities eight inches. Over 58,000 names are etched into the highly reflective black granite and it took several minutes to locate Randy and Richard.
Randy is on the west wall, quite high up, whereas Richard is lower down, just below eye level, on the east wall. I reached out to touch the cool stone, then ran my fingers lightly over the letters. Except for some distant construction noise and the occasional jet airplane, it was silent.
I mourned Richard and Randy that day — not so much because they had died, but because they had died so young. Unlike me, they would never have the opportunity to live full lives and become old men. But I honored them, too, for the true warriors they were.
1st Lt. Richard Harold Walker died of small arms fire on Jan. 15, 1968, at Tay Ninh, South Vietnam just two weeks before the beginning of the Tet Offensive. 1st Lt. Randy Van Turner died of small arms fire on Sept. 25, 1969, at Bien Hoa, South Vietnam.
Steven McMacken is a resident of Lihue