By DAVID MAY
Nearly four decades since the end of the Vietnam War, the 58,287 men and women who sacrificed their lives are long gone but far from forgotten.
About 100 people made sure of that Sunday evening with the third annual “Christmas at the Wall” and “Lighting of the Tree” event at the National Vietnam War Museum site in western Parker County near Mineral Wells.
This year the family of Army Spc. E4 Tony Anguiano were special guests and helped light the museum's Christmas tree. His name is on Panel W3, line 112 of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, of which a half-sized replica is the centerpiece of the NVWM site.
Anguiano, of Mineral Wells, was killed July 24, 1971, in Quang Ngai Province, South Vietnam, just two weeks before he was to return home.
Anguiano's older brother, Ralph Anguiano Jr., introduced some of the family members present. He said Tony was the 10th of 12 children – seven boys and five girls.
“Tony was my mother's favorite,” Ralph Anguiano said. “He was a very good boy. He attended church regularly. He decided after he finished high school that we would go and see what was going on over there, then come back and play basketball for the Army.”
Tony was a basketball standout at Mineral Wells High School, known as “The Flying Ram.”
“He wanted to go over and see how come all of these guys were being killed,” Ralph Anguiano said. “One of his goals was to come back and buy a car. He was 20 years old and he had never owned a car. He was a boy of many talents. He excelled in pool, table tennis and especially basketball. He enjoyed life very much.”
Another brother, Joe Anguiano, a 25-year Army veteran with several tours of duty in Vietnam, was at a loss for words and obviously struggles to this day with his war and service experiences.
“Nobody knows me in this town,” he said when called to podium. “I left when I was 18 years old to go into the Army. I didn't return until I was old. I saw all my nieces and nephews and I didn't even know them. I appreciate all the DAV out here, all the folks in uniform.
“I don't know what to say. Antonio was my brother. I don't know anything about him. This is my family I don't even know them. I lost them somewhere. They said I needed to come back around here and find out where I lost them at. … I appreciate all of your concerns.”
His were the words and emotions a visitor to the museum often sees and hears.
Local Disabled American Veteran Commander Lewis Logan, veteran of the Navy Seabees, evoked similar emotions. Sunday was his first day to walk along the wall's path, touching the names of those he knew and were killed.
“For a while I didn't want to participate in anything like this because it was hard on me,” Logan said. “I saw too many of my buddies get killed in Vietnam. I got injured myself. But the more I thought about it the more it seemed to me I need to get involved in this (museum) situation and think about the guy who is over there on that wall. I'm just sorry for anybody who didn't make it back from Vietnam. There were a lot of them who didn't make it back from Vietnam. I just thank the good Lord today that I made it back alive.”
Retired Army Sgt. Major Hayward Bellah recalled entering the service in 1968 with three high school classmates. “Three of us went to Vietnam and two of us came back,” he said. “I had a lot to learn. I guess I learned something because I made it back.”
“There are a lot of reasons why we went to Vietnam,” Bellah said. “Did any here go to Vietnam because of their personal politics? I don't think so. I think we went to Vietnam because our government said we want you to go Vietnam. So we went to Vietnam, whether it was in the United States Army, Marine Corps, Air Force, Coast Guard, we did what we were told. We went where we were told to go, we did what we were told to do.”
AmVets Post 133 Commander Jim Vines said he was in a squad of seven in 1967 when an explosion killed everyone but him.
“Their names are on that wall,” Vines said. “I should be on that wall by all rights. But I'm not, and I have often wondered, and for the most part of 41 years, I didn't understand why I was the only one who survived that moment. “
Vines said he learned that reason soon after returning to Mineral Wells in 2008, when he learned of and became involved in the efforts to build the National Vietnam War Museum. When the replica wall was dedicated in 2009, Vines said he walked it with a reluctant fellow veteran. They found the names of people they knew.
“I knew then and there why I was afforded the opportunity to continue to walk the face of this Earth,” Vines said. “The Lord at that moment had called me out to serve. He has asked me to find veterans who need help, guidance, need love and need understanding and to try to make their lives a little bit easier.”
Following the speeches, candles were lighted in honor of the fallen men and women killed in Vietnam. Nellie Anguiano, a sister of Tony's, did the honors of lighting the tree and, with the sun setting below the western hills, everyone walked the wall, looking for, remembering and touching the names of heroes lost to that far away war.