MGySgt Valdez, NCOIC of Saigon, Vietnam
MGySgt Valdez's Speech
It is a special privilege and a deeply moving and emotional experience to stand before the parents, relatives, and friends of Lance Corporal Judge(and Corporal McMahon), and to honor the memory of these two Marines on the 25th anniversary of the Fall of Saigon and the end of the Vietnam War.
As I considered what I would say today, memories go back 25 years ago, April 1975. A painful reminder of what took place, chaos, panic, desperate crowds, tears and expressions of pain and fear, the death of two of our own, contemplating the inevitable fate when forgotten momentarily on the Embassy Roof and Finally the tragic end which would change our lives and American history. Everything happens so quickly. I do not propose to impose my views on the Fall of Saigon or the Vietnam War. Events which cover a ten year period, as well as inexplicable political and military mistakes, has already made their mark in history through scores of books, magazine and newspaper articles, motion pictures and television documentaries. We will continue to be reminded of war that will not go away.
Coming here to honor two fallen comrades has allowed me, and those marines who knew and served with Lance Corporal Judge and Corporal McMahon, to take an experience that was so destructive, and make something constructive out of it.
I stand before you with mixed feelings and pray that by my presence here I can make peace with the past, and the parents of Judge (and McMahon). Aside from a welcome aboard letter in April 1975, which I addressed to the parents of these two fine Marines when they arrived in Saigon, I have had no contact with the families until this special occasion. For this I’m deeply ashamed and sorry, and sincerely offer my belated condolence. For a period I went though survivor guilt, “Why wasn’t it me instead? Why did I, who had been in country longer, and had already served a previous tour in Vietnam, lived and these two men died?” There were, and still are, no easy answers. To blame god, as most people do when loved ones suffer tragedy or injustice, is wrong. Instead we should look up to him, who gives us life and receives us when our life is over, to give us strength to face and to endure our enormous loss and the wisdom to rise above our grief, and find ample thanksgiving for the life’s of Judge and McMahon.
It’s good to be together. At such a time the various faiths which sustain us separately come together in a harmony which acts across all creeds and assures us of the permanence of goodness. The inspiration of dedication, the value of serviceable human life. More than anything else we need one another right now. Each of us grieves, and when we grieve together, the healing begins. Just by being here each of us gives comfort to everyone else. If only for this hour, this day, we are joined in a compassionate family. At a time like this words frequently fall short of what we really want to say. Yet we find ourselves trying to express not just our grief, but also our joyful feelings for Judge and McMahon. Some of us only knew or remember a small portion of their world, but for a short time our lives were intertwined with theirs. There are certain qualities of their lives that will never die.
We know and accept, as best we can, the fact that death must and will come inevitably, to each and every one. Death, we know, has several faces. It claims the unborn, the young, the aged or the ill. However when death comes to one in the fullness of life, it is not easy to accept, for we not only measure the greatness our loss, but we think of what might have been for Judge and McMahon, and for us, had not death come like a thief in the night.
Finally, let us pause:
- To gather our individual feelings and thoughts,
- To remember two men who touched and filled our lives,
- To meditate upon the meaning of this occasion,
- To say our private farewell,
- And to show our love and support for the families, relatives, and friends of Judge and McMahon.
Let us remember; a human life is sacred in its being born, in its living, and in its dying.
In closing, I wish to publicly thank the De Moines I & I Staff, CO “E”, 2nd BN, 24th Marines for their support. I also wish to thank Doug Portaz, Ken Locke, and others who organized this memorial services and allowed me, and members of the Saigon Detachment and the Marine Security Guard Battalion, the opportunity to honor the real heroes who paid the supreme sacrifice for our country and corps. God be with Judge and McMahon.
(April 29, 2000)