Veteran’s Journey Ends With Name on Vietnam Memorial
Elaine Stone, of Enfield, N.H. touches the name of her brother, U.S. Army Spc. Alan Leslie Seamans, of Grafton County, N.H, on the wall of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington on Sunday, May 11, 2014. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)
Alan Seamans enjoys his favorite pasttime of fishing in the mid-1990s, a few years before his death. Seamans served in the Vietnam War and is being honored at the Washington D.C. memorial on May 11, 2014. (Photo courtesy Elaine Stone)
Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund President Jan C. Scruggs speaks during the Name Addition Ceremony on the wall of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington on Sunday, May 11, 2014. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)
Washington — When Elaine Stone saw her brother’s name, she gasped. She rifled through her purse for a tissue and wiped away tears.
The etching on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial wall was whiter, less weathered than the other names on the wall. It said, in flawless typeface, “Alan L. Seamans.”
The Stone family huddled around it and saw themselves in the reflection of the gabbro.
“It’s not closure,” said Stone, of Enfield, watching her family trace the etching onto a piece of paper. “It’s just the end of the journey.”
Well-wishers and new friends clustered around the Stones, just as groups formed around the other 13 new additions and eight status changes. All were part of an annual Mother’s Day Ceremony in which Vietnam veterans who recently died — or have recently been identified — are recognized for their service.
At Sunday’s ceremony, a Marine stood watch next to the family, which made the trek to the nation’s capital from the Upper Valley. A flower sat at the base of Seamans’ name.
He was a Grafton native, born in 1949, who quit high school as a junior and felt the need to serve his country as the conflict in Vietnam escalated. He joined up and was sent to Fort Dix. He had been trained as a sharpshooter and the Army was in need of his services, so he was soon shipped out to Vietnam.
In October 1967, his company was ambushed in South Vietnam’s Ho Bo Woods. A sniper shot him through the side, injuring his spine and kidneys.
A doctor helped him in the field, but prospects were grim. When his family later visited him at Chelsea Naval Hospital in Massachusetts, Stone remembered him being “in bad shape.” The doctors told him both of his legs had to be amputated at the hip for his survival.
After the 1968 surgery, doctors gave him five years to live and told him to enjoy them.
He lived for 30.
“(He was) literally only half a man but (he) had more strength and courage than 10 whole men put together,” wrote Stuart Selikowitz, Seamans’ doctor, in a 1998 letter to the Valley News.
Sunday’s ceremony was held about 100 feet from the wall with the Washington Monument rising behind a crowd of hundreds. Mike Harris, an Air Force veteran and city council member in Waynesboro, Va., spoke to the qualities of those who were being honored — duty, strength, honor, courage and integrity.
Those values became the ceremony’s mantra. Harris said that he followed in the footsteps of his father, joining the military after a childhood of squirrel hunting and fishing in Virginia. The northern soldiers who joined the southern ones in the Army, he said, might have had different hobbies — hunting deer instead of squirrels, perhaps driving trucks instead of stock cars — but they came together under the same flag.
“It was not only our duty, but our role and our obligation to serve,” Harris said.
He mentioned some of the honorees, whose names were added to the 58,000-plus on the wall over the past week.
Chester Staten was a machinist who died during a ship fire aboard the USS Ranger.
Walter Hugh Mauldin was a master sergeant who served in the military for more than two decades.
And there was Seamans, who outlived his five-year prognosis six times over . He taught his nephews to hunt and to fish. He took charge of his wheelchair, eschewing an electric-powered one until just a couple of years before his death.
“He was wheeling himself around since 1970,” said Eric Stone, one of Seamans’ nephews.
“He could beat nine people out of 10 in arm wrestling,” Jared Stone, another nephew, said with a laugh.
Eric Stone remembered Seamans living vicariously through his young relatives, buying them the boots he’d never be able to wear.
But the gift didn’t come from a sour perspective.
“I never once heard him complain about anything,” Eric Stone said.
Stone, along with his family, had just stood up from the wall — one of two that meet perpendicularly, each nearly 250 feet long — where he helped trace the etching.
Eric Stone’s mother, Elaine, Seaman’s sister, walked back and forth from the railing across from the wall to the wall itself, either taking pictures or spending time near her brother’s name.
When Janet Clay walked by, Stone flagged her down.
“She’s the one that made it all happen,” Stone said to her husband, Albert, introducing him to Clay.
Clay, a Marine veteran from Kentucky employed by the Department of the Army since 2011, works with family members who are trying to get the names of a loved one added to the wall.
“It’s overwhelming to see the families and how happy they are,” Clay said, standing back from the Stones. “Their family member gave the ultimate sacrifice. This way, they can be remembered.”
Earlier, before the end of the ceremony and the walk to the wall, members of all involved families were invited up to the lectern.
One by one, they read the name of the family member being memorialized.
Stone, along with her brother Tom Seamans, went to the lectern last.
“Our brother: Alan Leslie Seamans,” she said, and walked around the assembled chairs to the back row. She found Clay, and hugged her from behind.
As “Taps” began to play, the two women listened with their arms around each other.