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Sniper's story tells the story of The Wall

By Howard B. Owens

UPDATE: The name of the "spotter" in this story has been removed. Public records indicate there is no way the person mentioned was a spotter at the time of the described incidents.  Dan says the only thing he remembers for sure was that his name was "Petey." 

While the dignitaries introduced each other and made their speeches -- all very solemn and respectful -- I couldn't help myself, I wandered over to the Wall.

The Wall is a smaller replica of the Vietnam War Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C. It's on display at the Veterans Hospital in Batavia until Monday afternoon. Today, at 5 p.m., the dignitaries hosted opening ceremonies.

Dan Matthews was at the Wall, too. I took his picture, and moments later I gave him my business card and offered to send him a copy. That's when he told me his story.

Matthews, who splits time between Pembroke and Phoenix, was a sniper, an elite sniper. He served in the Marine Corps on a "recluse" mission.

A young man named XXX was assigned as his spotter.

On XXX third outing with Matthews, they were on a mission and XXX was working hard to do a good job. At one point, Matthews told him he needed to get his head down. He kept spotting. He didn't move fast enough.

"I inhaled bits of his brain," Matthews said.

He then added, "but I killed the other sniper."

Two days later, on another mission, he killed an enemy three-star general.

But to this day, Matthews said, he still struggles with the memories of his time in Southeast Asia.

When I showed him the picture I took of him touching Peter's name, he said, "I can never touch the real Wall."

I'm sorry, but I missed the speeches.

I met Dan Matthews and learned about XXXX instead. They are what the Wall is really about. With due respect to the dignitaries, it's not about speeches.

You should visit the Wall while it's here. I don't care if you're a hawk or a dove, pro-interventionist or anti-interventionist, or supported the Vietnam War or opposed it: You should visit the Wall. The Wall isn't about politics or American foreign policy. It's about young men and women who died doing either what they thought was their duty, or  they felt was the only choice they had. It isn't about the generals or the politicians. It's about our neighbors and our uncles and their friends and their family. It's about Ken Matthews and it's about XXXX

UPDATE: Click here for WBTA's coverage.

More pictures after the jump:


Lorie Longhany

In 1968 my neighborhood on South St in LeRoy was usually filled with the carefree laughter of hop scotch, back lot baseball and games of tag. On this one particular day in September of that year the neighborhood fell silent upon the news that Harry "Flip" Van Alst was killed in action while serving in Viet Nam. I was 9, but I remember like it was yesterday the silence that fell over all of the mothers in our close knit neighborhood. I never really knew Flip (he was much older), but will never forget how his ultimate sacrifice effected our street that early fall day in 1968 and the imprint it left on me.

I found Flip tonight in Batavia on the Wall, as I had in Washington DC, and remembered back to my neighborhood where we all held our breaths waiting for the draw of the draft lottery which determined whether my friends brother's stayed or went.

It was a moving tribute tonight at the VA. Thanks for the great pictures and story, Howard.

Jun 24, 2010, 11:44pm Permalink
Sam Tambe Jr.

Awesome story and pictures Howard! Every person in Genesee County should take the time to visit the wall while it's here...I know I will. Thanks to all who have served this GREAT Country over the years.

Jun 24, 2010, 11:41pm Permalink

Your comment struck a chord. I knew Harry for a very short time, back in the summer of '63. We were at Y camp on Silver Lake and ten fortunate campers made a three day canoe trip along the Genesee River. Harry Van Alst was in the lead canoe with former Batavian Phil Moyer. Both wore customized sleeveless T-shirts which read,"Harry & Phil-Buccaneers." It was quite an adventure, canoeing the Genesee and sleeping under the stars. After leaving camp I never saw Harry again and though I knew him but briefly, his death caused me to reflect as did your comment. I remember him as a leader, someone who led by example.

Jun 25, 2010, 8:02am Permalink
Laura Scarborough

The wall is open 24hrs a day to the public, so if you think you wont have time due to obligations or if the heat bothers you, you have the option of going when the sun goes down or after dinner. Maybe you will catch them playing taps when they lower the flag. My husband & I talked last night, bringing back memories of being stationed at Quantico, VA every evening when they played taps it was over many loud speakers all over the stopped... you saluted or put your hand over your heart, if you were driving you pulled over... if you did not hear it in your car, someone else always did and pulled over so you knew you needed to pull over as well. The wall is a good thing, brings up memories sad/happy but still memories/feelings and pride.

Jun 25, 2010, 8:02am Permalink
Ken Herrmann

It was midnight last night when I visited The Wall. The emotions are always overwhelming. The names of brothers bring faces to The Wall, memories that haunt, and the same tears I shed in the Que Son and Hiep Duc Valleys when we lost another hero. Each time I visit these places it is as if no time has passed and the yesterdays are today. Each time I visit The Wall the madness of it all creates a certain logic that never really answers any questions. It is just a reminder that war lacks reason, but the heroism of those who died for their brothers and sisters in arms has a certain glory.

Jun 25, 2010, 10:48am Permalink
Laura Scarborough

The flag is lowered at Sunset, hard to say what actual time, Sunset is closer to 9pm these days, I'm hoping someone who knows better will chime in to let us know.

Jun 25, 2010, 11:08am Permalink
Jeremiah Pedro

I went to the traveling wall today. I had relatives that fought in Vietnam both in the Air Force and Marine Corps. Both of them were fortunate to make it back to the world.
I remember both of them today because neither are with us anymore.

Jun 25, 2010, 3:31pm Permalink
Don Hawkins

Howard, thank you for very reverant coverage of a major event in our history. As an Army veteran I appreciate your excellent attention to this memorial.

Jun 26, 2010, 10:27am Permalink

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