I have been trying to write this letter for over a week, but I am not sure how to put into words exactly what I want to say or how to explain what I am feeling. A little over a week ago, I got a text message from a friend. It said, "Did you hear what happened to the 4ID Memorial Wall?" I immediately called my friend who explained to me that a soldier had driven his car into the Wall. She had just found out that morning and was on her way over there to see what the damage was. I asked her what happened and she said she did not know the details, just that it had happened on Thursday during lunch. I immediately went online to read about it. The only thing I could find was a small article in the Killeen Daily Herald which basically said nothing. It was not even mentioned on any of the Ft. Hood websites. When my friend got to the 4ID Memorial Wall, I explained to her where my husband's plaque was located. It was no longer there. The area of the 4ID Memorial Wall where my husband's name was, along with 2 other soldiers from his unit, was destroyed.
What I felt at hearing those words is indescribable. I have memories of my husband taking me to the Wall, pointing out names of Soldiers he knew and then telling me about them. I remember how he touched each plaque and how his voice broke just a little. After my husband's death, I remember being dropped off at my husband's unit for the 4ID Memorial Ceremony, looking across the road at the 4ID Memorial Wall, and realizing his name would one day be added to it. This was a comfort to me because when my husband and I had discussed what he wanted should something happen to him, he had asked that his name be on a military wall at the cemetery where we had his funeral. That wall contains the names of his Grandfather and several other family members who had served the United States during a period of war. When making arrangements for his funeral I was told that wall was full and they did not have future plans to expand it. His name would never be added and I felt I had let him down. So I found some comfort in knowing his name would be on a wall with Soldiers, some of whom he knew and cared about. And on the day of the dedication, I cannot begin to explain the pain and pride I felt at seeing his name on the 4ID Memorial Wall for the first time.
I do not have a grave site to go to so for the 3 years I remained at Ft. Hood, I often went to the 4ID Memorial Wall to lay flowers, talk to him or simply to cry. At the 4 BCT Change-of-Command Ceremony, our brigade commander, COL Michael Beech and his wife Kathy asked me to stand beside them. I remember looking at the 4ID Memorial Wall sitting just at the edge of the parade field and thinking what an honor it is to stand there representing the families of the Soldiers we lost... Soldiers whose names were there on the Wall. When I was introduced to the new brigade commander, COL Phillip Battaglia and his wife Diane, I wanted to point at the Wall and say PLEASE don't forget them! After the ceremony I walked over to the Wall to spend time with my husband.
I have a love/hate relationship with the 4ID Memorial Wall. Some days when I needed to go on post, I would drive longer routes in order to avoid driving in that area. Other days I would find myself driving in that direction, just needing to be there where I feel closest to him. It is perhaps harder for me because my husband's unit was located across the road. There are just so many memories there... meeting him at his office, family organization day, taking him dinner when he had staff duty on our anniversary, meeting his soldiers, leaving love notes in his truck, how every time we came on post he had to drive by there just to make sure everything was okay, and telling him goodbye before he left for Iraq. The last time I touched him, kissed him, felt his warmth and felt his arms around me was there, across the road from the 4ID Memorial Wall. Standing there at the Wall, next to his plaque, I can see and remember it all.
As members of my army family moved away, it became too hard for me to be near Ft. Hood and last year I moved. The day before I left, I took flowers and laid them at my husband's plaque and said goodbye to my husband again. The part of him that came home to me, took care of me, and loves me is the man I carry in my heart, but the Soldier who stood proud in his uniform, looked out for his soldiers, and fought for his country is still there. He is there, watching and waiting for his soldiers, his friends, to come have a cigarette and leave one for him; to be promoted there; to take that important step toward healing; to bring their family so they can point to his name, touch his plaque and with a slightly broken voice tell them his story...
Only his name is no longer there and I have questions. Why did I hear about this from a friend five days after it happened? For every plaque missing from that Wall, a personal phone call should have been made to the families. When I did finally receive a response to my questions, it was very nonchalant, as if the only thing that mattered is that the Wall would be fixed. This is not about concrete, stone, and plates of bronze! It is about love, honor, and remembrance! I have tried in every conceivable way to figure out how this could in any way be an accident and I cannot. I have not made any judgments against the soldier driving the car, but I do want to know the truth. Next week is the 4-year "angel-versary" of my husband's death and I need to know why there is no plaque hanging on that Wall with my husband's name on it. What I wanted to say 3 years ago, I am saying now... I am pointing at that Wall and saying PLEASE don't forget them! Do not hide, downplay, or spin this story. The tears of the families have soaked those stones and we deserve to know the truth.
Proud Widow of SFC Bryant A. Herlem