- The Washington Times - Friday, June 6, 2003

Emogene Cupp hopped planes at 4 a.m. and trekked across the countryside of Vietnam with its rice paddies and rugged terrain to find the spot where her son was killed 35 years ago by a land mine during the Vietnam War.

Although the journey, in August of last year, opened old wounds, Mrs. Cupp, the mother of two, says it provided her with peace of mind and closure.

Mrs. Cupp, 83, says she remembers her only son, Robert, a corporal in the Army, telling her about the beauty of Vietnam — a country ravaged in one of the most protracted and unpopular wars of the 20th century. In a letter, he asked his mom to send him a camera to capture the majestic mountains and hillsides.

The camera Mrs. Cupp mailed was returned unopened. Her son had been killed 25 miles south of Da Nang, the second largest city in South Vietnam, in June 1968. Cpl. Cupp was buried on his 21st birthday, Mrs. Cupp says.

“You never forget. What gets to me is that Bob would be 56 years old now. He said he would never volunteer [to join the Army], but if he was drafted, he would serve his country,” Mrs. Cupp says.

Cpl. Cupp possessed a nice temperament. As a youngster, he loved baseball. Played in Little League. Graduated from Thomas Edison High School in Franconia. Liked fast cars and was especially proud of his shiny black Ford Fairlane, Mrs. Cupp says.

“Everybody loved that car, and so did he,” she says with a smile.

The spry senior, who lives in Alexandria and retired from the Army and Air Force Exchange Service at the former Cameron Station there after 30 years, didn’t make the trip alone. She was accompanied by three other women who share a common bond: Each of Mrs. Cupp’s traveling companions is a member of the American Gold Star Mothers, a national organization of American mothers who have lost a son or daughter during war. The organization is headquartered in Northwest.

“After he was killed, I joined the American Gold Star Mothers because we had the same trials in our lives and we understand each other better,” says Mrs. Cupp, who served as national president of the group from 1978-1979.

The four mothers, who live in different parts of the country, were reunited last month. They were honored during the Public Broadcasting Service’s 2003 National Memorial Day concert May 25. Their moving stories were recounted in dramatic fashion by television celebrities during the 1-hour program on the Capitol lawn.

Jerry Colbert, executive producer of the Memorial Day Concert, said different people are selected to be remembered and honored each year. He received a newspaper article from a little paper in Pennsylvania that told the story of the courageous mothers.

“I thought, what a great story. I had never heard of moms going to battlefields. And I felt, in a way, that this put a perspective on it. After 30 years, they are still grieving; they’re still remembering,” Mr. Colbert says.

Mr. Colbert talked personally with each mother, and their stories moved him, he says. They told him stories about their sons as youngsters and as young men going off to war. They told him about losing their sons and a mother’s pain and grief. They talked about the years that followed and about visiting Vietnam. They talked about closure, Mr. Colbert says.

“They talked about reaching out to others,” he says.

Mrs. Cupp credits the Dusters, Quads and Searchlight veterans’ organization for raising funds so the women could travel to Vietnam. The organization escorts mothers back to the locations where their sons and daughters have been killed, she says. It was because of the organization’s efforts that Mrs. Cupp, Anne Herd of Dallas, Florence Johnson of Braintree, Mass., and Georgiana Carter Krell of Miami made the pilgrimage.

Led by Vietnam veterans Robert Lauver, Mike Sweeney and Gregg Dearborn, the mothers shared a profound experience that connected them in their grief.

“We left as a group but came back as a family,” Mr. Lauver says.

During their stay, Mrs. Cupp and the other mothers each visited the site where their sons had been killed and participated in memorial services. They sang patriotic songs, recited poetry and left mementos. When the mothers planted flags in the ground at the roadside spot in Vietnam where Cpl. Cupp was killed, they sang “God Bless America,” and the traffic on the road stopped out of respect.

“They seem to know what we were doing — they stopped and did not pass until we had finished,” Mrs. Cupp says.

Her friend Mrs. Herd, 76, lost her son Ronnie to friendly fire 23 days before his two-year tour of duty was to end. He was a platoon sergeant who accompanied another solider to set up camp near an area surrounded by the Viet Cong. When the two soldiers returned to their troops, they were mistaken for the enemy, and Ronnie, 22, was fatally shot in the chest.

“I had reservations about going [to Vietnam]. I thought I had reconciled myself to the fact that he was gone. I thought that it would be hurtful, but when I arrived in California and met the veterans, I felt comfortable, and they got into our hearts. They were so good to us and so careful with us,” Mrs. Herd says.

Mrs. Herd says she wasn’t afraid to stand on the site where her son had fallen. She wanted to see where her only son had taken his final breath. The group traveled across rice and watermelon fields and railroad tracks to get to the site in Lavan.

“It was very dark, like a tunnel of trees and bushes. Ronnie had sent film to have developed so I could tell [the area], and it brought back memories of what he had shared with me. I felt like I could see him, if I looked really hard. It felt good to be there in a way — I would have liked to have been with him when he died,” Mrs. Herd says.

Like the other mothers, Mrs. Herd remembered her son’s enthusiasm about life as she stood on the spot where he died.

“I prayed to God and thanked him for the opportunity to come to Vietnam. I thanked God for Ronnie, who was such a good young man. He was eager to live and never wasted time. Maybe God was giving him that urge because he knew what would happen,” she says.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide