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Gerald Abbenhaus Jr. and Bob Hope

Author's Name: Bill McClellan

Submitted by: Frank Abbenhaus

Title: "Some of the best are on the Wall"

This Reprint Authorized by Bill McClellan on 08/03/2017

THE NEWS was in this paper on Friday - Gerald Abbenhaus Jr. will have his name placed on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C.

He died in August 1986 from wounds sustained in Vietnam shortly before Christmas in 1968.

I knew Jerry pretty well, and one of the things I liked the most was that Jerry loved ideas. He had a very sharp mind - he was a National Merit scholar - and even though his body was next to useless in his last 19 years, his mind never lost its edge.  So he and I would get together for dinner, or for chess, and we'd compare ideas.

Maybe ideas isn't the right word. Maybe the word I'm looking for is theories. An idea, after all, can be just a single thought, but a theory usually links a series of ideas.

Lately, even before Jerry's name appeared in this newspaper, I've found myself thinking about him rather often, and wishing he were around to discuss something about which he certainly would have formulated a theory.

What's behind this country's sudden fascination with Vietnam?

All of a sudden, Hollywood has discovered Vietnam, and the movies are no longer surreal adventure stories, but instead are efforts to deal realistically (within the confines of Hollywood) with the rigors of Marine boot camp, the confusion of a firefight and the mood of young soldiers fighting a war that their country does not fully believe in.

And, of course, now that Hollywood has discovered the war, so has the rest of the country.

What would Jerry think?

Despite the terrible price he paid, he was never bitter. He thought we went over there with good intentions.

But as long as he's not here to give me a theory on that subject, let me propose a theory about the young men who are now names on The Wall.

One of the ironies of David Halberstam's book ''The Best and the Brightest, '' which is, of course, about the not-so-young men who got us into Vietnam, is that the war was not supposed to be fought by our best and brightest.

The inequities of the draft were supposed to take care of that. If a young man could get into a college, he could get a student deferment. And, of course, the children of the powerful could use their folks' influence to get into the National Guard or the reserves, or get a draft-deferred job. The draft, if you remember, had more loopholes than the tax laws.  But nothing exists in a vacuum, and the draft was no exception. It existed in the late '60s, a time when many of this country's best and brightest young people were into . . . experiences.  It was difficult for a bright and adventurous kid to hew to the straight and narrow, because to do so was to ignore the excitement.

So it was that Jerry Abbenhaus joined the Marine Corps, knowing full well what it means to join the Marine Corps in time of war.

So there he was, one of the best and brightest of my generation, lugging a machine gun through the jungles and the elephant grass.

Even then, he might have survived the whole thing except for that day when another Marine was hit by a North Vietnamese machine gun, and Jerry rose from his place of concealment to return the fire and let a corpsman get to his wounded companion.

Now, 19 years later, he is about to become a name on The Wall.