Dr. Bill Atwood

Vietnam War seems so distant. A bracelet brought sacrifices made there front and center

Taking a rubbing of a name from the Vietnam Veterans Wall is one way to stay connected to those who gave the ultimate sacrifice. A replica of the wall now travels the country and stopped in Fresno in 2005.
Taking a rubbing of a name from the Vietnam Veterans Wall is one way to stay connected to those who gave the ultimate sacrifice. A replica of the wall now travels the country and stopped in Fresno in 2005. Vida en el Valle archive

Sept. 6, I will be remembering a man whom I have never had the privilege to meet. Captain Samuel M. Diechelmann died alone in the service of his country in 1968 in Vietnam. He was flying a rather small plane so that he could report ground troop movements.

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Captain Samuel M. Diechelmann died alone in the service of his country in 1968 in Vietnam. courtesy Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund

Samuel had just visited with his brother who was also serving in Vietnam and he was on his way back to his base. His plane and body were never found. He was listed as MIA for a number of years and then that changed to KIA. Samuel’s brother, Steven, was also killed in Vietnam in a vehicular accident. Samuel’s and Steven’s father had retired as a general. That is a family that was willing to serve this nation. Steven and his father are buried at Arlington next to a marker honoring Samuel. Their mother is now buried alongside the two.

I first heard of the Captain in the early days of the MIA/POW campaign that wanted people to remember the captured veterans in Vietnam and part of the campaign was the selling of the POW/MIA bracelets. I sent in my money and after a couple of weeks my shiny silver reminder arrived. Emblazoned with the name Capt. Samuel Diechelmann 9-6-1968. I read the short biography and learned that he was missing. At that time they thought over Laos but that misinformation was later corrected.

I had a difficult time learning about his family due to privacy issues but eventually Congressman Robert K. “B-1 Bob” Dornan helped me learn about Steven and the parents. There are no living relatives to remember these heroes so Congressman Dornan challenged me to ensure that Samuel’s life and sacrifice will not be forgotten.

This past week we watched as the United States honored a senator who had also served in Vietnam and had a different fate than Samuel. John McCain was held captive for over five years and suffered physical and psychological torture during his days in the Hanoi Hilton.

A decade ago several students from Mariposa Middle School traveled to Washington, D.C., and I asked that they find Samuel’s name on the wall and bring me a rubbing. The teachers reported that the kids were diligent in their search and had chipped in some money to buy flowers to honor this man. I heard that the kids even organized a remembrance ceremony which drew the attention of the other people visiting The Wall.

Last year my friend, Frank Gilb, rode with thousands of other bikers from all over the U.S. in a movement called, “Rolling Thunder.” While at the Wall, Frank and a few other veterans did me a favor and prayed at Samuel’s spot on that beautiful monument. I will always be grateful to those folks who have taken the time to honor the Captain for me.

On the day the Captain paid his last full measure of devotion, 46 other brave heroes lost their lives in Vietnam. The names of the brave become lost to history and to the ages so it becomes more important that we never forget the sacrifice they made serving the U.S. After his death the Air Force promoted him to major.

My bracelet wore down, becoming too thin to wear, so I buried it in a time capsule to be opened in 2101. I left a note explaining the bracelet so that the deeds of a man in 1968 would be remembered at the start of the 22nd century.

Today I ask that you offer a quiet prayer for all those MIA/KIA/POW veterans.

Rest in peace, Captain.

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