Boys were turned into men. With dreams of honor and glory, warriors found a nightmare. Draftees went when called. More than 58,000 of them - 42 from Maui - came home in caskets or were recorded as missing in action. Survivors left America's first "television war" to land in a country that reviled or ignored them.
That was the reality of Vietnam.
The fighting ended 40 years ago, but the war goes on. The battle is waged every day on the island. In groups and alone, Maui veterans of that ignoble conflict fight ghosts haunting emotional and mental jungles.
The nation has finally recognized its collective shame by honoring veterans of subsequent wars. "Welcome home." "Thank you for your service." For the U.S. victims of Vietnam, it seems too late for those words. Maybe not, if faces can be added to the names of the dead and the walking wounded.
The Wall in Washington, D.C., lists the names of the dead - names that are just names for most who stand in awe. The Education Center At The Wall is an attempt to put faces with those names. Across the nation, photographs and biographies of the dead are being collected to be displayed in the Education Center.
There's an ad running on television showing Gen. Colin Powell, U.S. Army retired, requesting photographs of the Hawaii men killed in Vietnam. The job has already been done on Maui by Janna Hoehn.
Collecting photographs and stories became a life-changing obsession for Hoehn. On a visit to The Wall, Hoehn faced the names and her own reflection in the polished stone. On Maui, the California native began a six-month-long quest to put faces and stories with the island names. Last month, Lahaina News columnist Norm Bezane quoted Hoehn as saying:
"Throughout this project, I have hoped that I have given them the honor they deserve. They are part of my life and will be forever. . . . I will also never forget all the men who made it home, hoping they know that I honor them for their bravery and service as well."
But that is just the first part of the effort to make the dead live on. It will take some $6 million to build the Education Center on the National Mall and to post all of the photos and stories on the Internet. Maui's share is $43,000. To raise the $38,000 still needed, Hoehn and the Vietnam Veterans of Maui County are holding a fundraiser June 22 at Cafe O 'Lei at the Dunes at Maui Lani.
VVMC President Michael Covich recently sat in the Moana Cafe in Paia. He talked about the project. Over a plate of loco moco, Covich said he was a little worried about the fact the fundraiser was being held the same night as a major event for Mayor Alan Arakawa. Viet vets take nothing for granted.
According to Hoehn, there is no need for concern. Wednesday, she said 125 tickets had been sold at $60 each, but 55 tickets still were available and she had yet to see how many tickets Covich had sold lately.
Already committed to the dinner and silent auction are 32 relatives of Maui's Vietnam war dead. Tickets have been purchased by Vietnam veterans, making the dinner a good opportunity to see these largely invisible warriors.
A little over half of the ticket price will go to the restaurant for the meal. "I'm hoping to make most of the money in the silent auction," Hoehn said. For the uninitiated, a silent auction involves making written bids for donated items, typically ranging from artworks to gift certificates for a variety services and products. Of course, those attending can also make additional contributions.
Jan C. Scruggs conceived The Vietnam Memorial in 1979 and is president of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund. A Viet vet himself, Scruggs sees the memorial as a healing device for the Vietnam war wounds suffered by individuals and the nation as a whole. "When built, the Education Center will enable visitors to better understand the profound impact the Vietnam War had on their friends and family members, their hometowns and the nation," Scruggs wrote in a letter provided by Covich.
Tickets for the Education Center At The Wall fundraiser can be purchased by contacting Hoehn at 879-5454. It's little enough to do for those who died in service to their country and for those still tormented by an unforgettable war.
* Ron Youngblood is a former staff writer for The Maui News. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.