Vietnam Stories: Mattoon man's cousin made ultimate sacrifice

Vietnam Stories: Mattoon man's cousin made ultimate sacrifice

By JAMES ALAN DAVISSON

 

This is my story of how the Vietnam War affected me on the home front.

When I was 7 years old, my grandmother passed away. Her sister and her sister's kids came to our house to console us.

I remember I hung out with my cousins Raymond and Gary. My cousin Raymond — to occupy his time — was cleaning out his mother's 1959 Chevy. I was sitting in the car listening to the radio and watching Raymond; very little was said.

Then he said, "Jimmy, do you want to see something neat?" He started the car without a key. Back then, if you didn't put the ignition in lock position, you could start a General Motors car without a key.

"Can you drive?" I asked. He said yes, and we went for a short drive.

I never got the chance to tell Raymond that on that day, I felt like I had a big brother.

Raymond graduated high school, got a job working in a factory, bought a new red Chevy Nova. He was living the American dream, and then he got drafted to go to Vietnam.

The last time I saw Raymond alive was Thanksgiving. I think it was 1969.

The following spring was when he was killed in action in Vietnam. Enemy mortar fire was heavy and retreat was ordered. In the confusion, Raymond's glasses fell off his face, and when he went to retrieve them, a piece of shrapnel struck him in the back of his head.

According to his buddy, Raymond died instantly. That same buddy, at the mother's request, was the honor guard.

Raymond was the first casualty of war I have viewed lying in a casket. This caused me to stay awake at night and worry that the war might continue to escalate and be even worse when I turned 18. Sometimes while awake, I would visualize Raymond in his casket, then the picture would change and I would see me.

I remember in the sixth grade, my teacher wanted volunteers for something and made the statement "I'll draft if I don't get any volunteers." That statement made cold chills go up and down my spine.

It took a president who never was elected — Gerald Ford — to say enough is enough and evacuate the last remaining Americans in Vietnam.

When I found out that a replica of the memorial wall was going to be on display at Arcola, I decided to go see Raymond's name, because I'll probably never get to see the real thing in Washington, D.C.

Once I arrived, I tried to find his name, thinking the list was in alphabetical order. I went to the tent and found out they were in the order they became casualties. I asked the guy at the computer where Raymond's name was and he told me.

A married couple was ahead of me, getting ready to exit the tent. The wife said, "Honey, did you hear that? That guy just asked for the same name that you did."

As we stood at the wall looking at Raymond's name, the man told me Raymond was his best friend in high school. I replied that Raymond was my cousin.

Watching the Ken Burns/Lynn Novick documentary, I now know there are more than 58,000 names on the Vietnam Memorial Wall.

My cousin Raymond Williams is one of them.

James Alan Davisson lives in Mattoon.