The database page for Leonard A Stalnaker
Written 12/14/88, Washington DC after visiting the Vietnam Memorial
I finally saw the Wall today. You're on 38E, line 39. February 1968. Some friends of mine help me make a couple rubbings of your name. I've got one that Katrina made for me years ago, but I wanted to get my own, too.
I didn't go to your funeral. I was only 6, Little Pete was only 3. There's a picture, somewhere, of your casket in the funeral home. It was blanketed in red, white and blue carnations, and your army picture was on top. I think I remember a uniformed man standing next to your casket, but I haven't seen that picture in a long time.
I guess Mom and Dad thought we were too young to go to a funeral...maybe we were, but I've always felt like I never had a chance to say good-bye. There was no finality to your death, just a continuation of your absence. I was only 6, and reality is so elastic at that age.
You were a myth to me then, and grew into a larger myth as I grew older.
I have a memory of you taking me to the little market once; I pestered you into buying me a Mountain Dew. I have another memory of you at home -- at our home -- on leave. It was Easter I think, and you slept on the couch. I got up early to see if the Easter Bunny had come yet. He hadn't and I was afraid you had scared him off. You slept on your back. I watched you for a bit, staring at you, trying once again to sort out the complication that was our relationship. Were you a brother, an uncle? I knew Debbie was my aunt, but she felt like a sister since she lived with us. But who were you, how were we related, and why had you scared off the Easter Bunny?
From the mythical status your memory grew into, I suspect there must be other memories buried somewhere, but those are the only two I see when I think of you.
I remember Daddy taking Pete and I into our bedroom and telling us you were dead and wouldn't be home again. I knew what dead was, and I cried for you then.
I've never been able to pinpoint anything that led me to hope you might still come home. Did I overhear the family talk about mistakes made in identifying soldiers? Was it Gramma Ethel's insistence that you'd be home again? Surely no one else in the family ever said, "Well, maybe it was a mistake. Maybe he'll still be back." Surely no one actually said that to me.
But that belief grew and grew in me--unspoken. I knew better than to say anything out loud, but there was that hope. Maybe it was simply that, although I knew what dead was, I wasn't ready to apply it to people I'd known.
So I harbored a secret hope that you were out there somewhere. Maybe you were just lost, so far away from home, and you'd find your way back someday.
When the POWs came home, they televised the first plane loads. I was glued to the TV, searching for your face. Mom watched with me, admitting that she was sort of hoping to find you in the crowd, too.
But you weren't on any of those planes, nor the ones after it. Six or seven years after we buried you, I understood then that it really was you in that Waynetown grave. I cried for you again, and thought I was finally saying good-bye.
But...I stood on a street corner in Chicago, holding the rubbing of your name from the Wall as thousands of veterans marched past me. I saw a group from Crawfordsville and I wanted so badly to dart after them, ask them to carry your name because you should have been there. I hesitated too long; they passed. So I held your name up, and said good-bye again as I cried.
Last July, the Moving Wall was in Des Plaines. I found your name, cried, and said good-bye yet another time.
Tonight in Washington, I stood in before your name on the real Wall, cried, and thought of the Easter Bunny. I didn't say good-bye.
I have my memories and several family stories about you. I have an enormous sense of loss that I only knew you when I was a child. To say good-bye is to forget that knowing you when I was a child was wonderful at the time.
Lennie was assigned to Alpha Company, 3/7, 199th Light Infantry Brigade (also known as the Redcatchers).
A memorial from|
Lisa Ann Stalnaker
13 Dec 1997
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With all respect - K. J. Davis, Commander, United States Navy (Ret)