South Eugene High School, Eugene, Oregon, lost ten men in Vietnam. They are remembered on a Vietnam Memorial placed on the high school grounds by their classmates. The ten are
|LtCol William R. Andrews||433rd TFS||10/05/1966|
|LCpl William A. Beckwith||3rd Bn, 4th Marines||07/04/1968|
|SGT James W. Cartwright||C Co, 3rd Bn, 12th Infantry||05/23/1967|
|Cpl Robert K. Collins||C Btry, 1st Bn, 12th Marines||12/08/1965|
|SP4 Arthur A. Erwin||A Co, 4th Bn, 503rd Infantry||07/10/1967|
|SGT Carlton C. Gray||C Co, 158th AHB||05/18/1970|
|PFC Carl F. Louvring||E Trp, 17th Cavalry||05/13/1967|
|LCpl Dennis E. Mickelson||A Co, 3rd Recon Bn||12/28/1968|
|PFC William G. Muir||B Co, 3rd Bn, 8th Infantry||11/11/1967|
|PFC Kreg A. Viestenz||C Co, 1st Bn, 5th Cavalry||09/18/1968|
08 May 2005
Bill Muir was double-jointed, and he'd bend his arms at odd angles to amaze his boyhood friends.
Bobby Collins was the first in his circle to own a car, and he'd tool around the school parking lot causing an outbreak of envy.
Art Erwin was a varsity wrestler who was classically handsome with a square jaw and a cleft chin, and he married his girl, Carolyn, when he was home on a furlough.
These are the flesh-and-blood memories conjured Saturday when friends and family of 10 South Eugene High School alumni who died in the Vietnam War gathered to break ground on a modest memorial.
The event was the culmination of a three-year campaign by their 1960s era classmate Adrian Vaaler to convince school officials that the marker was a good idea.
Along the way, school officials suggested that Vaaler should make it a general memorial to the dead of all wars. Vietnam, after all, was 40 years ago.
Sure, 58,000 Americans died in Southeast Asia, but 2,065 U.S. soldiers have died since then in the Persian Gulf, Afghanistan and Iraq wars, and the count continues to grow.
Vietnam was many televised explosions, flag-draped coffins and anguished widows ago. The black-and-white images of that era are literally fading.
The parents of the Vietnam dead are in their 70s, 80s and 90s, now. Their classmates are on the brink of collecting Social Security. The memory of those buried so long ago is slipping away - but is not gone yet.
"I didn't want a general memorial. I wanted something more personal. We knew each other," Vaaler said in a recent interview. "Their memories are with me."
Seen too muchThey were car crazy then and lived a real "American Graffiti" childhood, said Tom Brett, a now-retired policeman who ran with those boys.
They got dressed up for their South High yearbook pictures. Their hair was clipped, their white shirts crisp and their jackets tugged straight.
Erwin was a heartbreaker. He was in the Future Farmers of America and was pictured in the yearbook working a shovel, plaid flannel shirt tied around his waist. And on the wrestling page he was pictured just as he pinned his Springfield High School rival, his shoulder muscles rippled.
Erwin graduated with the Class of 1966. In September after graduation, he joined the Army and became a paratrooper.
The February after graduation he sent his girlfriend, Carolyn, a picture of himself in his jumpsuit and holding his parachute pack. A slight smile played on his lips.
On the back, he scrawled "All my love to my one and only Carolyn. Arthur."
One month later, he came home on leave and married the girl. Four months after that, Pfc. Arthur A. Erwin died from bullet wounds in Vietnam.
Erwin was the 17th son of the Emerald Empire - the nickname back then for Lane County - to die in the Vietnam War. The Register-Guard kept a running casualty count.
Bobby Collins, also one of the lost boys, attended Edison Elementary and took Sunday school at the First Congregational Church. He lived just a couple of streets away from Vaaler, and the boys played all the way up through high school.
Collins may not have owned the fastest car at the school, but he had the first. "He could drive around while the rest of us just watched. That was a big deal," Vaaler said.
Collins joined the Marines not long after high school and lived only 1 1/2 years after that. On Dec. 8, 1965, Cpl. Robert K. Collins died on a patrol outside Da Nang.
Vaaler attended the funeral. The Congregational Church was packed. "I stood in the back and wondered what Vietnam was like," he remembered. A little later, he was drafted and found out firsthand.
Collins' mother commissioned an artist to paint a portrait of her son in uniform from a picture he had sent from Southeast Asia. With one modification: She asked the artist to take the eyes from his senior class picture.
She didn't like what she saw in his eyes from Vietnam, Vaaler said. "We call it the 1,000-yard stare: Seen too much."
Not forgottenAnother of the South High 10, Bill Muir, was known as the luckiest kid in the neighborhood, even beyond his gift of double-jointedness.
His father always found the time to be with him. Neil Muir bought a go-cart from Sears and let all the boys ride it out behind Roosevelt Middle School.
When Bill was ready to drive, his dad got him a '49 Ford with a V-8 Oldsmobile engine. Even now, his classmates drool over the memory of that thing.
Neil Muir said he used to worry about his son tearing around in that car. One time he flew up 30th Street - it was country then - and over the brushy downside of the hill where the road stopped.
"You could hardly not drive (the car) fast. It was a going machine," Neil Muir remembered Saturday.
Bill Muir was the kind of kid who found constant joy in life. He was smiling all the time except when he was laughing, his classmate Tom Brett remembered.
But there was a side to Muir his buddies didn't see so much, an artistic side. He loved to draw and paint.
When Muir was 20, he got his induction notice about the same time his buddy Jimmy Oldaker did. Courtesy of the military, they got a free Greyhound Bus ride to Portland to take a physical.
They arrived the night before and whiled away the nighttime hours climbing the West Hills to see all the lights. At 2 a.m., they were down on the Burnside Bridge looking south into the inky waters.
They got more serious, then, than they'd been in their lives, Oldaker said.
They discussed what they should do - join up, or be drafted. Volunteer for six years in the National Guard or let Uncle Sam nab them for two.
The moment has stuck with Oldaker for four decades.
"Two of us made a choice," he said. "I'm here, and he's not. ... I never saw Bill after that night on the bridge."
Muir wrote letters home from his post in a forward position in the Central Highlands of Vietnam.
In letters to his parents, Muir made it sound like the biggest problem to befall him was the mosquitoes, which he said were lunching on his fingers and arms. He thanked his parents for a care package of Kool-Aid and said he liked the Goofy Grape flavor the best.
He described the scenery from his mountain perch with a painter's eye: "It's really a pretty sight with all the rice paddies set in rows. It's almost like a checkerboard with each rice paddy a different shade of green," he wrote.
But in letters to his brother, Bob, he described a whole different kind of landscape.
He said he was tired and depressed, according to a Register-Guard article from the time: "I sure wish I was out of this hell hole, you sweat all day and freeze at night. You don't get out of the field until you're dead," he wrote in the letter to his brother.
Pfc. William Guy Muir died of multiple fragment wounds. He was on point security, charged with firing a shot to alert his unit should the enemy attack. His family believes the shot probably brought the enemy mortar down on him. Muir was the 25th Emerald Empire death.
Before Saturday's ceremony, Neil Muir, 83, steadied himself by holding onto the flagpole before the groundbreaking ceremony began. The flagpole was curiously bare.
Bill Muir's graying childhood friends stepped up one by one to regale his father with memories.
Oldaker told Muir about the night on the Burnside Bridge when the friends made their decisions. Both men's eyes brimmed with tears.
"I want you to know you're not the only one who misses him," Oldaker said. "I miss him so much."
MEMORIAL DEDICATIONWreath laying: May 28 at 11 a.m. in front of South Eugene High School, followed at 2 p.m. by an official dedication
Learn more: For information on the South Eugene alumni who gave their lives, click these links:
Searching: Organizers are looking for relatives of William R. Andrews and William A. Beckwith. Call (541) 344-2113
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Last updated on 05/14/05