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    « Judge Perry's Order Sounds "Appealing" | Main | September 11, 2011 »

    A Portrait of War

    There isn’t a day that goes by where the thundering echoes of war escape us. Today, we live in a world filled with radical extremists, defiantly justified to maim and kill in the name of their god. The following story is my hideous wake-up call. It came at a time when wars were fought over more mundane causes - patriotism, democracy, communism, bigotry and territorial rights. This was back when building a bigger, better, bomb was all the rage and nations proudly strutted their hardware in a show of strength and unity in order to intimidate their neighbors and enemies. Today, the enemy just straps on a vest and they blow themselves up.

    On a distant morning of 1967, one of my classmates was quietly asked to get up from his desk and follow the administrator out of the room. I remember that day and wondering why. Did he do something wrong? It didn’t take very long before the school principal came on the P.A. system to announce that his cousin, Van Dyke Manners, was killed in action in Vietnam. He was one of the first from Hunterdon County, New Jersey to die in the line of duty. I didn’t know him personally, but I remember it well because it was a solemn day. My friend had lost a loved one. Greg did not come back to class that week. To a 14-year-old, those echoes of war were a distant sound that lightly flickered in our young minds. We never thought of death then. We were invincible, but with each passing day, the reverberation grew louder and louder, and reality hit us fast and hard. The Vietnam War was in full boom.

    Back then, what was going on in our own back yards seemed more important than anything else, but the Vietnam war was lurking out there. Despite our youthful dreams and aspirations, the war never escaped us. We saw it on our black & white televisions. We heard it on our AM radios. It made headlines in the daily newspapers. Everywhere we went, the specter loomed large and it cut deeply into our subconscious minds.

    Early in 1968, a girl who lived up the street from me asked if I would be interested in creating a portrait of her boyfriend. Back in those days, a small town was just that. Windows were left open because air conditioning was a luxury. Doors were left unlocked, and neighbors knew all the gossip. I was known as the left-handed artistic kid. Ask Dave. He knows how to draw.

    She was a little older than me, and her boyfriend had enlisted in the Army. She offered to pay me and I accepted. I asked her to round up whatever photographs she could so I had something to work with. I asked her if I could meet him. To an artist, it’s good to know something about a subject that photographs can’t tell you. Because of that request, I got to know Mike Baldwin. At 21, he was a man. At 15, I was not. He was old and mature. I was still a kid. He shaved, I didn’t. With a war going on, I was in no hurry to buy my first razor.

    His girlfriend asked me to draw the portrait as big as I could. When I went to the store to buy materials, my old “Be Prepared” Boy Scout lessons taught me to have a back-up plan, so I purchased two poster boards, just in case I messed up. I couldn’t just go to the store back then when I was too young to drive.  Well, I didn’t mess up, so I had a blank sheet and decided to draw another one, identical to the first. Buy one, get one free. I don’t know what compelled me to do it, but I’m glad I did. Maybe I thought if the relationship didn’t work out years later, at least he would have one to share with his family. That must have been the reason. Maybe the death of Van Dyke put apprehension in my heart. You know, one for his mother, just in case.

    When I finished my work, I made a date to deliver the artwork. My neighbor had invited Mike and his mother to “attend” the presentation. Everyone was very pleased with the job I had done, especially his mother, who was honored to have her son’s portrait captured by a local artist.

    Soon afterward, he left for Vietnam. He went because he believed in a cause. He believed in America and freedom. In school, we were taught about the Domino Effect. Red China didn’t exist on any of our maps and globes. It was just a grayed out mass of nonexistent land. Call it Peking duck and cover. Back then, it was a theory that if any country fell under the influence of communism, then the surrounding countries would follow. North Vietnam was one of those countries. South Vietnam was not. Today, it is one country, but back then, 58,000 red-blooded Americans gave up their lives. Michael Baldwin was one of them.

    43 years ago today, he became a statistic. His body was zipped up in a bag and shipped home. That was the day I awoke to the tragedy of war. It was my first real experience with the horrors of conflict and someone I knew was dead because of it. 

    One of the things I learned, and it’s very important, was that Michael Baldwin put his country before his life. We lost so many and what did we gain? I know I gained a whole lot of respect for our fellow citizens who march off to fight. He was a man and I was a boy back then, but I still look up to him and I am now 41 years older than he was on the day he died. To this day, I’ve wondered what if he had lived. Would he have married my neighbor or someone else? Would he be bouncing his grandchildren on his knee today? Would he be happy? Or would he be mourning the loss of his children and grandchildren in our present day wars? The more war changes, the more it remains the same because death is still death and the loss of loved ones over religion and politics is still just as senseless as it was when Michael Baldwin died.

    Today, he would be 66-years-old, soon to be 67. I will remember him as a true American hero; a very proud young man. As for the identical pictures I drew, they are lost and gone but not forgotten. In my mind, the memory of them will forever remain a haunting portrait of war.



    Sgt. Michael Richard Baldwin (7/19/1947 - 9/12/1968) KIA - Binh Long Province, South Vietnam, ambushed while on reconnaissance 5 kilometers Northeast of Loc Ninh, along with:
    Ssgt. Phillip Kenneth Baker - Detroit, MI
    Pfc. Eugene Russell Boyce - Spartanburg, SC
    Sp4. Wayne Daniel Jenkins - Bryson City, NC
    Pfc. Kenneth Leroy Martin - Los Angeles, CA
    Pfc. Marion Luther Oxner - Leesville, SC
    Pfc. Dale Arden Palm - Toledo, OH
    Pfc. Kurt Francis Ponath - Cudahy, WI
    Sp4. J C Williams Jr. - Muncie, IN
    Pfc. William Wittman - Binghamton, NY

    September 12, 1968, was a long and sad day for Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 28th Infantry, 1st Infantry Division.

    Pfc. Van Dyke William Manners (11/10/1945 - 2/15/1967) KIA - Kontum Province, South Vietnam

    To all our brethren lost in wars, rest in peace. Your deaths will never be in vain.

    I first published a different version of this story in 2006. Michael Baldwin’s cousin searched his name on Google and found my blog about a year later. She wrote me and said, “I just found your website and read your article about Mike.  I just wanted to say thank you…  It touched me and helped me remember my cousin very fondly.  He was a good guy and the last of the Baldwin men in our family.  He is remembered fondly by many of my friends who still [live] in Flemington, as well as my family.

    “I also wanted to let you know that Aunt Peg didn’t handle Mike’s death very well.  She couldn’t even bring herself to go to the funeral.  I do remember that both she and my Uncle Alvin (Mike’s Dad) did attend the memorial at Ft. Dix after his death.  That was really all she could handle.  She always said she preferred to remember people while they were alive.  I can’t say that I blame her.  I didn’t understand it in 1968, but I get it now.

    “Mike left a large impact on me.  The memorial service was really something and I can still remember the 21 gun salute at his funeral in the cemetery in Flemington.”

    Mike’s mother passed away in 1993. His sister contacted me right after her cousin got in touch with her. Here is what she told me:

    “My cousin called me and told me about your blog.  She had seen Michael’s name in it and read the story.  I read it too and also your reply to her.  I am Mike’s youngest sister.  You made me cry—but it was a good cry.

    “My family and I are so pleased that we are not the only one’s who remember Mike.  Looking through your blog and your e-mail to Mary, I found it so interesting that there are so many things we are connected through.

    “I go to church at Kirkpatrick Memorial Presbyterian church in Ringoes. Van Dyke’s mother went there before she died a couple of years ago and there is a stained glass window dedicated to him.

    “My father worked for the Forans in the foundry they owned in Flemington.  My father was friends with Walt Foran. [My friend Frank’s father.]

    “When I read your blog, I could feel that you knew Mike well.  He was a great kid and we loved him.  You talk about my mother—you may not know it but I had a brother who was older than Mike—his name was Alvin—we called him Skip.  He died in a car accident on Sept. 13, 1958.  No, I didn’t confuse the dates, it was one day short of 10 years later that Mike was killed.  It was a blow that my parents never recovered from.

    “I am so glad that you wrote about Mike, it makes me feel that we are not the only ones who remember. Thank you again for keeping his memory alive.”

    Please see: NJ Vietnam War Memorial - Michael Baldwin

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    Reader Comments (20)

    Good Morning Dave, Your post so hit home that it made this old broads eyes leak. What a beautiful tribute to what must have been a beautiful man..You have made his legacy live on and I can see how his family appreciates that.

    We lost to many great men in that one war and they were never given the heros welcome they deserved..They fought long and they fought hard and for that I SALUTE YOU ALL AND THANK EACH AND EVERY ONE!

    September 12, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterGLENDA

    Good morning, GLENDA - I posted this in 2006, and didn't do it again until last year on September 12, the date Mike died. I made a few edits each time, but the story remains the same. When I first wrote it, it was something I felt compelled to do because Vietnam is the forgotten war. I don't remember much about Mike from those days, but his family filled me in on things I didn't know, and things I had forgotten over the years. His family took comfort in the fact that someone outside his family cared; that he was not just a statistic. I was proud to write about him, and every year, I will put up my post about Rick Rescorla, followed by Michael Baldwin, to pay tribute the fallen.

    We did lose a lot of good people in Vietnam, and those that came home were treated despicably. That's a real travesty. I will never forget them and I won't let anyone else, either. Not if they read my blog. Thank you for your comment.

    September 12, 2011 | Registered CommenterDave Knechel

    Dave, this is such a nice tribute to Michael Baldwin. I am sure his family appreciates it a lot. They can take comfort in knowing that you will always remember him every year on this date. I am sure his family still has that portrait you did of him. I think it is very nice that each year you remember him along with Rick Rescorla. It is sad that those who fought in the Vietnam war were treated like they were. They deserved so much more than that. I hope that both of these families are able to read your blog.

    September 12, 2011 | Registered CommenterMary Jo

    Dave: I feel like I'm always thanking you--but thank you for sharing that very moving story.

    I had occasion to know a veteran of the Vietnam war. He made that war real for me. I would have to leave the room if he shared too much; but he was a gentlemen and tried not to say anything that he knew I couldn't cope with, once he got used to me.

    Mostly, I was a crazy Canuk to him--but he taught me a lot. To me, he was an American hero.

    Time and time again, I was stund to realize the depth of love he held for his country and of the sense of duty he felt toward it.

    I join Glenda with my salute.

    September 12, 2011 | Registered Commenternan11

    Thank you, Mary Jo. Yes, Mike's family certainly did appreciate what I wrote. Ironically, his sister went to work at the newspaper I had worked for in the late 70s. What's ironic about it is that it's the same position I once held. Unfortunately, no picture exists today. His old girlfriend moved on years ago and his mother passed away years ago, too. No one in the family has any idea what happened to the one his mother had.

    The way Vietnam war veterans were treated is a national tragedy. Yes, they deserved a heck of a lot more than what they got. Thanks, Mary Jo.

    (This iPad sure does come in handy.)

    September 12, 2011 | Registered CommenterDave Knechel

    Well then, nan11, allow me to thank you right back! I think it's tough for anyone today, in the US and Canada, to not know someone who fought in Vietnam. Most of them are grandfathers today, if Agent Orange hasn't gotten to them yet.

    There are (and were, like Rick Rescorla) a lot of real heroes of that war, and I could never pass them on by. I grew up with them. I watched them leave, and I watched some of their families grieve. It's the least I could do.

    September 12, 2011 | Registered CommenterDave Knechel

    Dave, It touches my heart when you put these stories on your blog. I have no idea why this Vietnam war began, who started it? As others mention, what was gained? I do know that more than any other war the returning were treated as if it was their fault and backs were turned on them. Where are some of them today, except in the hearts of their loved ones. Some I know that were there never speak of it, some ended up wandering the streets of USA begging. If someone can enlighten or direct me as to the real facts of the Vietnam war I would appreciate reading more about it. Thank you!

    September 12, 2011 | Registered CommenterNew Puppy

    Hi New Puppy - Blame it on France. I recommend reading this:

    French Colonialism

    It's a relatively short summation. In the late 50s-early 60s, France abandoned the country.

    According to Wiki Answers, the United States entered the war to stop the spread of Communism in Southeast Asia. American leaders feared that Communist forces would gain control of Vietnam. After that, nation after nation might fall to Communism.

    At first, the United States supported South Vietnam with only money and military advisers. The number of advisers in Vietnam jumped from 800 to nearly 17,000 during the early 1960s while John F. Kennedy was U.S. president. In 1964, U.S. president Lyndon B. Johnson reported that North Vietnam had attacked U.S. Navy ships along Vietnam's coast. Nearly 80,000 U.S. troops were in South Vietnam by the end of 1965. . The United States conducted a brutal air war against North Vietnam. In one year, the air force flew 150,000 bombing missions. By 1967, the United States had dropped more bombs on North Vietnam than it dropped on its enemies during World War II (1939-1945). By 1969, at the height of the war, the United States had about 543,000 troops in Vietnam. Many of them were teenagers. The average age of Americans fighting in Vietnam was 19.

    It's one of the saddest chapters in American history. The worst part about it was that the US government didn't just abandon Vietnam, which was expected, it abandoned the returning troops, and the American public washed their hands of them, too, because it was such an unpopular war that splintered the country.

    One of these days, I'll hit the history books and write about it, but it would be more about what happened to our men and women in the military. You know, I'm very partial to this post. To be able to write something about 1 of 58,000 casualties and have his family find it online, well, all I can say is that it's a great feeling. He wasn't just a number, and I, for one, never forgot about him.


    September 12, 2011 | Registered CommenterDave Knechel

    Thank you Dave for the information, I will go there and read.

    September 12, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterNew Puppy

    My pleasure, New Puppy!

    September 12, 2011 | Registered CommenterDave Knechel

    Dave~~this is the second time that I have read A Portrait of War. You did an exceptional job on this article. So many young lives were lost in Vietnam and the majority of the ones who came back alive suffered ( and some still do to this day) mentally. You used to have one of your portraits (Lois) in your sidebar and I admired it, what a fantastic sketch artist you are.

    We can never forget those who fought and the ones who gave their lives for our freedom. Thank you.

    September 12, 2011 | Registered CommenterSnoopySleuth

    Thanks, Snoopy. Every time I get ready to publish it, I have to tweak it. It's never quite right, so every year, it's a little bit different.

    In my opinion, Vietnam was the worst mistake this country ever made. We lost 58,000 Americans and we have absolutely nothing to show for it except soldiers who had to come back and fight another war for social acceptance. The people treated them like a pariah and so did the government. It's better today, but many more lost their lives right here at home. Oh well, I'm not here to make any sort of political statement, but it's true.

    Anyway, the portrait of Lois is still there in the sidebar. They keep recycling, so every few seconds, she pops back up.

    September 12, 2011 | Registered CommenterDave Knechel

    What a wonderful post Dave, you brought me out of lurking. The Vietnam war took my dad away for four years of my life, but at least when it was finally over, he came home. So many of the kids I met in life were not so lucky. Several times while growing up, my mom accompanied military personnel to notify the moms of my friends that their dad would not be coming home. Attending the funeral of one of our fallen heroes is by far one of the most overwhelming experiences imaginable.
    You are so right in your assertion that the soldiers who served in Vietnam were terribly mistreated and disrespected upon their return. I remember several times as a teen sitting on the perimeter of the Washington Mall, listening to the protesters express their distain not only for the war, but the soldiers who were fighting it. My heart would break, knowing that they were talking about my dad.
    Fortunately, we have learned a few lessons as a nation! For those who have never witnessed a funeral procession on a military instillation, it is quite something to see... people not only stop their cars, but get out to show their respect. Soldiers in uniform salute, people outdoors stop what they are doing until the procession has passed.
    One of the things I love about living in a military town is the level of support and respect given to the military.
    The respect you show in remembering the two men who touched your life, is respect shown to all the soldiers who have made the ultimate sacrifice. Thank You! Vicky

    September 12, 2011 | Registered CommenterSempre Invictus

    Hi Vicky - For too many years, the government refused to acknowledge that Agent Orange was not healthy to be around, let alone ingest, and veteran hospitals refused to treat anyone for a problem that didn't exist. In the mid-70s, I lost a friend to problems he developed from Agent Orange. Everyone knew it except the government. He was exposed to it all the time while in Vietnam. About 20 years ago, another friend showed me an official questionaire from the government. It was page after page of single spaced questions on both sides. It was all about Agent Orange. It was the most detailed questionaire I've ever seen. My friend used to bathe in the stuff. He was an Air Force Sprayer and he went inside the holding tanks to clean the walls. Interestingly, to this day, he shows no outward signs of problems from it, but at least the government is acknowledging the possibility of health risks.

    Growing up, it was more about who we knew and worried about than anything else. Many who came home in one piece still had emotional problems and no one was there to help until recently. A lot of those boys died homeless. Today, the nation has a whole different attitude toward soldiers returning from war. Vietnam veterans will never be looked at like WWII veterans, but it is better. I think the Vietnam War Memorial helped. It's just a shame it has taken so long.

    Thank you, Vicky. I'm thankful your father came home. Like the others, he served honorably and it is my civic duty to give soldiers the respect they so deserve.

    September 13, 2011 | Registered CommenterDave Knechel

    Dear Dave,

    Your article or rather a chance to go back into the past and remember our heroes in Vietnam, was so very well written. I was crying when I read it. You and I are approximately the same age and remember the first disturbings of war for our generation--hearing it all on the black and white TV's and the AM radios, while listening to all the new rock songs and the changes in music back then. Your friends were very brave.

    Also, the way you approached the drawing shows the kind of person you were then--caring--and are now. Thank you for writing such a beautiful ariticle.

    September 13, 2011 | Unregistered Commentermartha

    Hello, Martha My Dear... that was a Beatles song back then, wasn't it? Of course it was. I didn't mean to bring you or anyone else to tears, but it is a story bound to affect people in that sort of manner. The Vietnam War left us haunted by vivid memories of all that transpired during those turbulent years. I knew a captain, he was a tank commander, who did 7 tours. Every trip home, he brought gruesome pictures of the enemy. He was proud of the men he killed. My point is not to disparage his photos or the type of man he was, it's to point out how splintered we became as a nation. Nothing good came out of it. Patriots sat on both sides of the fence, but neither side could understand the other.

    Yes, I remember those days of AM stations and B&W TVs. When FM came into vogue, it was like an explosion of new sounds. Today, we are fortunate to be able to reminisce on the Internet, like on YouTube and iTunes. Yes, those men were brave - just like they are in today's wars. It's the nature of the beast. Heroes live everywhere.

    I guess you know me now, Martha. I am a caring person; then and now. I'm glad you understood my message. I'm glad it touched your heart.

    Thank you, my friend.

    September 13, 2011 | Registered CommenterDave Knechel

    With tears in my eyes,I type my response to this wonderful article. I am surounded by Vietnam War heroes and WW1, WW2, Korean War. I devoted alot of space in my home to all of the photos during war and peace time, handed down to me from family members. I could not be more proud of the family of men and women in my family. My brother served in the Navy for the Gulf conflict. Remember when they blew up the platform? A small event leaving such a large impact. Michael Baldwin. War hero. Thankyou ............We will always remember.

    September 14, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSageMom

    Thank you, SageMom. I think it's very important to remember our fallen, and we have to do it in our own personal way. We have national holidays that honor our veterans and those still serving, but there's no reason we can't do the same thing at any time. This is my remembrance. It was my first real experience with the consequences of war. We can never forget the sacrifices of our brave men and women.

    September 15, 2011 | Registered CommenterDave Knechel

    Oh Dave,

    This was lovely - I mean lovely in the sense that it was so lovingly written It made me laugh and cry I laughed at the part you bought 2 canvases because even though I was never a girl scout I knew myself well enough to know to buy 2 also.... It really hit home about Mike I was very young when the war started and didn't know anyone who had a family member there. Until, one of my sister's closest friends in high school came over one day to say goodbye. He had signed up to go to Viet Nam. My mom was very upset because she liked Bob very much. He and my sister had dated a few times - nothing romantic came of it but they had remained close friends He was 18 yrs old.

    He didn't last long, it had only been a few weeks after training camp and he was gone. That was 1966. The next year in August we moved to Guam. We lived on the Naval Communication Station there. Guam is only 90 miles long and 36 miles wide if you're not talking about the coastline that is. Yet there were 3 naval stations, 2 Air force stations and 1 army station. Marines populated all the bases as well.

    I wondered why so many on such a tiny island? Well, I found out soon enough. Guam was the main landing point for B52 Bombers and the largest storage area for ammunition. Every single day they flew over our house either taking off or landing. We had monthly air raid drills and my father taught the young soldiers how to use grenades. The night before his first class, he spent almost all night taking it apart to disfuse it and putting it back together. He was very tired the next day.

    As he was demostrating how to use it he was talking, he pulled the pin out saying "like so" there was huge gasp from the students and everyone of them immediately got up and ran to the door. They were all trying to squeeze out at the same time. My dad being so tired at first reacted and was right behind them. Then it hit him and he yell wait a minute get the h---- back in here. Anyway, it was pretty funny at the time.

    I know this. I will never forget Viet Nam. It was too close to where I lived and we heard all the stories daily. Our own lives were in danger there (not that I understood that back then) because of all the ammunition storage and B52's. I'll never forget what they looked like on the outside and in. My 7th grade class got to take a field trip tour inside of one. Every week we would hear stories from the frontline. Years later in the 70's I protested with a bunch of other people against war. I made a poster using the words 'Suppose they gave a war and nobody came?' I made raindrops with the peace symblol inside them. I've always hated the way our own government used the war for propaganda purposes leaving the Vets helpless to fight their own conditions that stemmed from that war.............

    September 21, 2011 | Unregistered Commentermystical pippin

    Hi mystical pippin - I guess all of us of a certain age have memories of the Vietnam war, from experience or just living through it in our daily lives. Every night on the evening news, there was carnage. It's sad I even had to write this piece, but pitting man against man is inevitable. War will never end, and you learned that early on with the death of your family friend. What a hideous wake-up call.

    I think it's very interesting you spent a part of your life on Guam. Of all the US territories, that's one I know nothing about. I've often wondered if there are any influences outside of the military. I've never heard anything about it as a vacation destiny choice, so I guess it's not really a place to visit as a non-military citizen. I've also wondered if Guam has any indigenous people. I think it's fascinating that you got to tour B52s. That's something I'd like.

    Thank you for sharing your Vietnam experience. Thank you for appreciating my post, too. I am a real pacifist at heart, and I hope it was reflected in what I wrote. I have never owned a gun and I have no intent to ever own one.

    September 22, 2011 | Registered CommenterDave Knechel

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