- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 22, 2004

David Fondren held back tears as he described the Thanksgiving Day attack in Iraq that left his son, Jay, a double amputee.

Mr. Fondren and other relatives, veterans and volunteers from Walter Reed Army Medical Center went to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial yesterday to read holiday greetings and tributes to soldiers dead and alive.

“It’s a shame that another generation has to go through the same thing that the Vietnam generation did,” Mr. Fondren said after a 9-foot-high Christmas tree was decorated with hundreds of greeting cards from across the country.

“You would hope we had learned those lessons,” he said. “But I guess each generation has to fight for our freedoms again.”

The annual dedication ceremony was held a day after an insurgent strike on a military base near Mosul, Iraq, killed 22 persons and wounded 69 in one of the deadliest attacks on American troops since the war began.

Mr. Fondren and others read about a dozen of the cards aloud in the somber tribute under bright sunshine. The tree was then placed at the center of the memorial’s black granite wall, its branches heavy with messages of gratitude, remembrance and hope.

The cards, mailed in each year by members of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, range from simple notes to thank soldiers for their service to more personal messages.

“To My Brothers,” one card said. “My heart is with you always. My mind will always remember those I fought along side.”

Another: “Bro: Been there, done that. Sorry you bought it in the jungle so many years ago. Miss you much.”

“The idea is that there are so many soldiers from Vietnam who never came home for the holidays,” said JoAnn Mangione, a spokeswoman for the memorial fund. “It reminds us that today we are again in a situation where there are soldiers fighting for us around the world and won’t be home for the holidays.”

Mr. Fondren was at the ceremony because his 24-year-old son is recovering at nearby Walter Reed. Army Staff Sgt. Jay Fondren, of Corsicana, Texas, lost both legs and suffered shrapnel injuries to his arms after his Humvee was struck by a bomb in an attack near the Sadr City neighborhood of Baghdad.

“It’s like our child was born twice to us, to get him back another time and it’s just a blessing,” Mr. Fondren said. “We’re going to stay with our son through the first of the year and just try to have the best Christmas we can have.”

Craig Barron, 38, an Iraq war veteran from Reno, Nev., said his own experiences have given him a newfound respect for veterans of other wars.

“I wanted to pay my respects to a different generation of veterans who didn’t come back,” he said. “Every generation has a defining conflict. The Iraq war is the defining conflict of my generation.”

He already has spent nine months in Iraq and is returning for duty there next week, after a three-week medical leave for noncombat-related treatment.

He said the attack Tuesday on a military mess hall was similar — though more deadly — to incidents he has seen.

“It happened to us on a much smaller scale, so I know what those soldiers are going through,” he said. “I know what it’s like to lose a friend — I lost a friend over there.”

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial tree will be on display through the holidays.

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