Memorial Day always brings back memories of the Vietnam War and one of the soldiers I served with who I called a friend and a true “comrade-in-arms.” He was Victor Lee Ellinger, a fellow who lived in Staunton, VA. He was shot and killed by an enemy sniper while leading a platoon some 50 miles outside of Saigon.
I’ll never forget the day I got the call over the radio which was attached to this humongous radio battery carried by a foot soldier in close proximity to me, the first lieutenant. The company commander ordered us to come to the aid of Vic who was nearly a half a klick away from our position. (A “klick” was the term we used for kilometers!)
I force-marched the platoon to the coordinates given my radio operator causing two of the “grunts” to be overcome with heat exhaustion. We had them medevac’d after getting to Vic’s location, only to find out that we were too late.
He died from the wounds he received.
He was one of many lieutenants killed by snipers in that crazy Asian war. An urban legend tells us that the life expectancy of a second lieutenant in a hot LZ (landing zone) was no more than 16 minutes. The Viet Cong zeroed in on officers and took ‘em out when some fool would inadvertently salute them on their arrival.
Years after the war I made my way from Philadelphia to Staunton, VA., where I placed a wreath at the gravesite of Lt. Victor Lee Ellinger. He was buried in the same plot where the remains of his mother and father rest. His mother had died years after Vic’s demise and I couldn’t help but wonder how much pain she suffered on hearing the tragic news about her son.
Vic’s gravesite is not too far from a section of the cemetery where Confederate soldiers were placed. Virginia was the center of the Confederacy and I often wonder if Vic was given the middle name of “Lee” to honor the general from his home state who fought in that senseless war.
I cursed out God after saluting Vic. “Why did you have to take him” I cried out staring toward the blue sky above. Victor Lee was the finest of what Congress has designated as “an officer and a gentleman.” He was one of only three lieutenants in our infantry company. He led the third platoon, while I helped guide the first platoon.
“Why did you have to take him?”
Getting no answer, I wiped the tears from my eyes and placed a baseball-style cap at the foot of the gravestone which I had gotten from VA center. It read “Bronze Star.” I turned and walked away with my head down and my thoughts about all of the young men — and now women — who have died in the wars wondering when God would bring a halt to such senseless killings.