This is a picture of the Vietnam Memorial Wall panel on which Kenneth Leonard's name appears. Two of my children and I are reflected in the wall. Ken's name is at knee level. I took this picture in 1991 on my first visit to the wall. This is a favorite picture of mine.

Sometimes I have felt terribly guilty that I did not go to Vietnam, even though I did not make any effort to avoid it. I simply got the luck of the draw and received orders to Korea. Sometimes I just feel terribly lucky. But however I may be feeling, I have never forgotten Kenny and the others I trained with at Fort Polk who paid the ultimate price. Each of the names carved on The Wall represents a young American of my generation who was denied the life that I have enjoyed. I shall never forget them.



TRIBUTE TO KENNETH EDWARD LEONARD

SP4 - E4 - Army - Selective Service
20 year old Single, Caucasian, Male
Born on Aug 11, 1949
From HAVERTOWN, PENNSYLVANIA
His tour of duty began on Mar 17, 1969
Casualty was on Sep 15, 1969
in BIEN HOA, SOUTH VIETNAM
Hostile, died of wounds
GROUND CASUALTY
GUN, SMALL ARMS FIRE
Body was recovered
Religion
METHODIST

Panel 18W - - Line 89

TRACED MAY 20, 2002

When you visit the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, the U.S. Park Service will provide a piece of tracing paper and pencil to make a tracing of a name on the wall. It is certainly a worthwhile place to visit if you get to D.C.


DEAD SOLDIERS
(AT THE WALL WITH KENNY LEONARD)

So many dead soldiers taken young,
spirits, contrails of their short lives
loom on the wall around you.

your young face has not changed,
layered sweat and dirt of Nam
like at Tigerland, look familiar to me.

I reach out to touch you,
and am moved by the spirits that surround you,
in this, their final formation,
I feel the eddy of souls, cheated, unfulfilled,
wanting their life that never was.

I want to grasp your hand, and find out more
about Vietnam, the hell that I was spared,
and reminisce about Fort Polk and how we felt
at 19, training to kill other human beings.

I visit you every time I get to DC
and think of you every time
I hear the National Anthem,
and most of all, pray God
I can ever understand,
Duty, Honor, Country.

Don Lopez



CLASS OF 1967
HAVERTOWN HIGH SCHOOL
HAVERFORD TOWNSHIP, PENNSYLVANIA

Leonard, Kenneth Edward, 523 Country Club Lane, Havertown
Basketball 1,2,3; LaCrosse 1,2,3 (Captain); Varsity Club 3;Junior Prom Comm. 2; SC 3


Haverford High School Lacrosse Team
Kenny is #25, third from left in front row.


    This picture was taken in Company A, 4/5th barracks at Fort Polk, Louisiana circa January 1969. He is on the left in the white boxer shorts. Robert T. Lewis is laying on the bunk behind Ken Leonard. You can see Kenny's tatoo of cherries on his right thigh.
The idea to write the above poem came to me on a visit to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in May 2002 while tracing Ken's name on the wall. I went through infantry training with Kenny from December 1968 until February 1969. During those 10 weeks Kenny and about 8 others of us in the company, shared the trials and tribulations of the infantry course.
    Here are some of the Fort Polk curmudgeons of late 1968 in an old streaked Polaroid photograph: Two soldiers in back row unknown. Next row: Robert Lewis, Michael Kerr, Unknown soldier. Front row: Don Lopez, Vance Loeffler, and Paul LaDuke. Kenny is not a part of this photo. As you see from this photo, we got a little silly at times to help make it through infantry training.
There is no way to adequately describe the experience. It consisted of training on a wide variety of infantry weapons: the M-16 rifle, M-60 machine gun, M-79 grenade launcher, hand grenades, bazooka, etc., and several other battlefield skills like how to prepare for and execute an ambush.

    The training was very realistic and Fort Polk at the time was designated as "Tigerland" the "Birthplace of Combat Infantrymen for Vietnam". These signs were ubiquitous at Fort Polk.
We never lost sight of our purpose because the cadre were mostly Vietnam veterans who had survived the 1968 Tet Offensive which was allegedly the most horrific campaign of the war. I remember the daily emphasis on the importance of learning the skills of an infantryman and how the perfection of those skills would increase our survivability on the battlefield. In our spare time we read the obituaries in the Army Times. We were losing from 150 to 200 soldiers every week in late 1968 and early 1969 and we all knew that our role as infantrymen would increase the probability of our injury or death in Vietnam. Most of us, like Kenny, were just a year or so out of high school and went from innocent adolescents to battle ready infantrymen in those few weeks. I was ultimately spared from assignment to Vietnam and sent to Korea in April 1969. I learned of Kenny's demise from someone in our training company who was assigned near him in Vietnam.

Don M. Lopez
email: imjin@donlopez.org

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