Remembering His Name
Just before visiting The Wall That Heals in Columbus, Ohio, Bill Cousar stepped into the information tent and found himself looking at a familiar face. The face of his high school buddy who died in 1966.
Pfc. Lueco Allen Jr. is on a search and destroy patrol in the Phuoc Tuy province, South Vietnam. In the June heat, he has unbuttoned the top of his uniform. His comrades look down at their feet, trying to negotiate the difficult terrain with their supplies on their backs. Allen’s attention is called up. He locks his eyes on the camera for just a moment before walking away.
Allen looks out from that place, from that moment, on photocopies, newspapers, magazines and computer screens; he looks out from a poster for the Ohio Vietnam Veterans Commemoration. In 2013, the Ohio Department of Veterans Services worked with the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund to bring The Wall That Heals to Columbus.
The makers of the poster didn’t know that Allen was a native of Columbus. They didn’t even know his name; the photo’s caption just lists the men as U.S. soldiers.
“This picture seems to be everywhere as a representation of the Vietnam War,” said Joseph Henry, Ohio Department of Veterans Services staffer.
But Cousar knew the face immediately.
“It just stunned me,” Cousar said. “It was like he was jumping out at me.”
The two had gone to high school together and even the mothers and sisters of Cousar and Allen had been friends. Allen went to Vietnam first, while Cousar trained at an airbase in New Jersey. He remembers receiving a letter from home and a newspaper clipping with Allen’s photo; he thought Allen had received a medal and was happy for him.
“But then I started to read the story…I couldn’t accept it.”
Allen fell on Dec. 29, 1966.
It was the memory of Allen and a few other fallen friends that brought Cousar to The Wall That Heals in late March of 2013.
“I felt it was something I should do,” Cousar said. “I owed it to them to go.”
He was prepared to see the names on The Wall That Heals – but not to see his old friend’s face.
“A veteran walked up to our poster and started crying,” Henry said.
As soon as he saw the poster, Cousar knew who the lead soldier was. At the end of the event, the Ohio Department of Veterans Services gave him the poster as a keepsake. Cousar hasn’t yet decided where he will put the poster in his home. He says having the poster is a “welcome home” to Allen.
In Washington, D.C. the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, the owners of The Wall That Heals, is working on a project to collect a photo for every name on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. The photos will be displayed in the Education Center at The Wall to help future generations understand the context of the names on The Wall. VVMF did not have a photo for Allen until Cousar recognized his face.
“They’re not just names on a wall,” Cousar said. “It’s somebody’s brother, somebody’s husband, somebody’s father, somebody’s friend. These people belong to somebody.”
It is appropriate that the story of these childhood friends should begin and end in Columbus, Ohio. Separated by distance, war, and death, Cousar has found his friend, forever frozen in that moment in June 1966.
“I’m glad to have him back with me.”