Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Wednesdays Brought Solemn Assignments for Reporters

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Wednesdays Brought Solemn Assignments for Reporters

Article excerpt


Mostly, I remember the bells.

In mid-afternoon, usually on Wednesdays as I recall, the bells on the teletype machines in the wire room off The Florida Times-Union's city room would start ringing. The two major wire services, Associated Press and United Press International, would make sure the teletype machine bells rang repeatedly when there was a bulletin about breaking news.

It also became for reporters the weekly moment of angst. The wires were carrying the U.S. Department of Defense's weekly casualty list of those killed in the Vietnam War. It was being released to the media after next of kin had been notified by Armed Forces casualty assistant officers.

The bells drew reporters into the wire room to search the machines' printouts for the names of local souls who had made the ultimate sacrifice.

Then, a reporter was dispatched to find the hero's family, gently ask for some details of their son's young life and future dreams and request the use of a photo, promising its safe return. It was not an assignment most reporters wanted, but one we tried to complete with compassion and composure.

From the mid-1960s until U.S. ground troops were withdrawn at the end of March 1973, those bells rang for more than 300 Jacksonville area service members who gave their lives for their country.

At the Times-Union, we'd clip the printed news item we wrote about the fallen hero and paste it into a notebook so we could keep count of our county's tragic losses.

The city will honor its fallen heroes of all wars in a ceremony this morning at the Duval County Veterans Memorial Wall, 1145 E. Adams St., adjacent to Jacksonville Municipal Stadium. The names of two servicemen felled in Vietnam will be added, bringing the number of those from Jacksonville killed in Vietnam to 343.

The black granite memorial wall contains the names of Jacksonville's more than 1,500 war dead beginning in World War I through the current wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. It was dedicated on Veterans Day in 1995.

But there is an older memorial to those lost in the Vietnam War that was dedicated by the city on Memorial Day in 1974. It sits on the lawn of the Duval County Courthouse at the southeast corner of Bay and Market streets.

During an impressive and solemn ceremony that sunny day 36 years ago, Mayor Hans Tanzler placed a capsule containing a scroll with the names of 263 Vietnam War dead from Duval County into a gray granite monument before it was sealed with a bronze marker.

The numbers differ from each other - 343 on the wall and 263 in the monument. Yet they also differ from the list of heroes included in a Times-Union special anniversary report published at the end of April 1985, 10 years after the official end of the war. At that time, the Department of Defense listed Duval's Vietnam War dead at 213. …

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