Van Gieson_Robert_Lester_DOB_1947

Robert Lester Van Gieson 5.21.47-3.12.67

May 26, 2014

Dear Bob,

Hi buddy, funny how on Memorial Day you always seem to find me no matter where I am. Must be a perk of living across the bridge, eh? Have wings will travel? You have to know, I’m a bit weepy writing this. It’s hard to think about you going through, you know, what happened. Like Vicki said in that remembrance she wrote, you were such “A sweet, nice but a little bit crazy, in a good way, kind of guy.” Yep, that was you, Bobito! Which is why imagining you at 19 in…well, it just sucks the life force out of me.

I don’t know if I ever told you about the time I was at a teacher conference in Washington D.C. and asked my friends to visit the Vietnam Veterans Memorial with me. I wanted to make a rubbing of your name from the wall. Maybe I needed some closure because, up until then, I didn’t believe you were gone. Not really. Neither did Bill, my brother, your best friend. I wanted to give him a piece of evidence to ease his mind, too. Losing you was like loosing an arm each. In Van Nuys, you were the life of every party! Oh, man, you had more hangovers than all of us put together. We really miss your energy, Bob.


Anyhow, we walked over to the memorial and were shocked at the size. It was a long, long wall nestled like a bent arm into the grass. There were an impossible number of names engraved on it; 58,272 according to a brochure I’d read. I remember feeling overwhelmed, nauseous knowing that so many had perished and that you, dear friend, were among them. At first, I teared up, and then I began to sob hard. After that, I just wailed uncontrollably, completely lost in grief. And I wasn’t alone. That sound of sorrow is something I’ll never forget.

My friend, Dan Stockwell, hugged me as we walked over to the huge book that contains all the names of the deceased. It was the largest book either of us had ever seen. Finally, near the back we found your name followed by “Panel 16E, Row 71.”


At your panel, Dan took a deposit slip out of my checkbook because we had no paper and I was still shaking and howling and incapable of doing anything else. He found a pencil, placed the deposit slip over your name and rubbed it tenderly with the pencil until “Robert L Van Gieson” appeared in a ghostly gray image, and then he made one more with another check stub, just in case. Finally, we had a nice group hug and headed over to Fadó’s Irish Pub to do what you loved best, drink far more beer than we should.


So, there you go, Bob. Thanks for the visit and I’ll see you next year.

Sleep well, old friend. You are still very much loved. XOXO


Photos courtesy of the Wall of Faces, Wikimedia Commons and Fadó Irish Pub

15 thoughts on “It’s Been Ages, Bob

  1. Maya Lin knew what she was doing when she planned that memorial. The pain is cradled by the earth, a place that holds many tears. My brother was in medical school at the time and got a deferment. By the time he graduated from medical school, the war was over. Thank you for sharing your memory as a tribute to your friend.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Dawg. After I found out how Bob died, I wrote the poem “Roll Call,” that addressed all of those killed in the Vietnam War who were from Van Nuys, California. It was a long, hard poem to write. I read it at Poetry Night.


  2. Thank you, Carol. Grief seems to come in waves, sometimes gentle ones lapping the shores of our hearts, sometimes tidal waves wiping us out. This wave crashed somewhere in the middle. ❤


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