WORCESTER, Mass. When Bob Roy woke up Saturday morning and looked out the window of his home in Milbury, he thought: this is appropriate. It was raining and windy, miserable conditions. Just like many of his days and nights in Vietnam. Roy served in the 173rd Airborne in the central highlands in 1969 and 1970. I met him at the Massachusetts Vietnam Veterans Memorial, where he and other veterans gathered for the 10th anniversary of the memorial.
Roy wasn’t drafted. He enlisted after he graduated from high school. He was 17 so his parents had to sign for him. “I felt it was something that had to be done, right, wrong or indifferent,” he said. “When I was over there I was convinced because I wouldn’t have wished it on anybody. It was just something I wanted to do.”
Roy actually re-enlisted for another six months after his year-long tour of duty ended. “People ask me today why I did that and I can’t answer them. It was just something I had to do. I figured if I could do it then someone else didn’t have to.”
Phillip Madaio was born in Worcester but lives today in Auburn. He served in Vietnam with the First Infantry Division from October 1966 to October 1967.
Today, he helps other vets take care of the memorial and takes school groups on tours. “They only know what they see on the movies,” he said, “but we do get some high school kids who ask some in-depth questions about what happened over there because they really don’t know. We try to enlighten them a little bit, let them know what those people who are on the memorial did for them.” Madaio says he knew seven of the men whose names are engraved there.
Maybe veterans of other wars feel the same way, but there seems to be a special comaraderie among the veterans of the Vietnam War. They are now of a certain age, their hair and mustaches graying. They come to events like this in uniform, camouflaged shirts and pants and hats. They greeted each other with hugs and they stood or sat silently, some with their heads bowed as the names that are on the Massachusetts memorial were read aloud Saturday.
The Massachusetts Vietnam Veterans Memorial features a section called “A Place Of Words.” Engraved on these huge stones there are letters home from 13 men who were killed in the war. I stood in the rain and read them.