Dennis Robert TrippCorporal
HHC, 1ST BN, 77TH ARM RGT, 5 INF DIV
Army of the United States
02 August 1946 - 25 October 1968
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The database page for Dennis Robert Tripp
I managed to make it to the Wall when I was in D.C. recently. That night, Jack Daniels and I felt constrained to write a few lines. Just so you'll know, I never have more than two fingers of Jack. The last time I got drunk, was July 24, 1968. I was in Vietnam the next day. Maybe there was no connection, but there's no use taking a chance.
I never figured that the Wall would affect me. I was dead wrong. For what it's worth, I think that whoever is responsible for the Wall got it exactly right. It's perfect, in stark contrast to the war itself. But that's just my opinion.
I lost a lot of buddies in Vietnam. I didn't understand what a tragedy, what a waste it was until I saw my own bright-eyed sons turn draft age. Only then did I feel the outrage. some things never change: politicians always voting the party line; single dads playing catch with young sons every other weekend in cheap apartment parking lots; old men sending young men off to kill and to die, for reasons known only to the ungrateful dead.
One October morning in 1968, someone stepped on a mine just south of the DMZ. The battalion exec, Major Pihl, called for his driver, my buddy Dennis Tripp, who was at the time telling me about the fly, entombed in a ball of wax, that the Vietnamese barber had recently removed from his ear, all included in the price of a haircut. Dennis mouthed a perfunctory "I'll see you later" and took off. Within ten minutes, the call came on the radio: "The following have been killed, Tripp, Dennis. . . ." The rest of the message was lost along with my friend; it lies lifeless, entombed like a fly in a ball of wax in my brain, next to this moment that would change me forever. He was 22. A baby. He never got to experience all that I have. No kids, no career. He never met his special friend, his soul mate, who's still out there somewhere, looking in vain for him, not even knowing he's already gone. And he never even got to see me later.
All dressed up in my fancy suit, and ashamed only by my existence, I cried for him at the wall today. People pretended not to notice. No one made fun of me. I got some of the free blank pieces of paper, which an old lady volunteer was giving out to vets in search of catharsis, and made rubbings of the names of some friends. All I can do is live the best way I can and honor these men who never got a chance to grow up. But why am I so lucky? I came within a dice-throw of being the major's driver.
Someone once asked me what I missed most in the war. My answer surprised even me: my feelings. When your friends are dying, you pretend that it doesn't matter. You withhold your love, your caring. Love and caring hurt too much. In order not to feel bad, you choose to feel nothing at all.
So I encourage all my children, my students, my friends, to enjoy their lives, Their journeys - and each other - at all times. Live life now. Later is not guaranteed. Don't put happiness on hold waiting for a milestone that might just be a headstone. Carpe diem. It's all we've got. The past is gone. Tomorrow is just an oft-broken promise. If you love someone, tell him. If you care, tell her. Especially if you ever hear, "I'll see you later."
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With all respect
Jim Schueckler, former CW2, US Army
Ken Davis, Commander, United States Navy (Ret)
Channing Prothro, former CAP Marine
Last updated 08/10/2009