The 3rd Battalion, 506th Infantry, 101st Airborne Division
The Flower Fund Project
|Henry Wadsworth Longfellow expressed many years ago what the Currahee’s, the men of the 101st Airborne 3-506 Infantry, do today. To remember their friends, in many instances their buddy who died in their arms, Memorial Day flowers are placed on the gravesites of those in the 3-506 who were killed in Vietnam 1967 to 1971. Along with the flowers is a card with a name and phone number in the hope that a KIA family member will make contact with someone from the 3-506.
The story of how this Flowers-to-Grave Program started began during the Tet Offensive on February 19, 1968 near Phan Thiet, Vietnam. Many men were killed or severely wounded that day, among them, Don Marshall who died trying to save my husband, John Colone. For John, as for most soldiers in Vietnam, there was no closure…no chance to say good-bye, no chance to grieve for their friend, no chance to tell their parents or siblings how much that KIA meant to them. In John’s case, no chance to relay Don’s final words, “Tell Mom I love her.”
The story picks up again in January 1998 when John and I were in Hawaii. He decided to locate Don Marshall’s gravesite. Don was from Honolulu. Through the local Honolulu paper Don’s obituary was found on microfiche. We made a trip to the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, the Punchbowl, and almost 30 years later John saw Don’s final resting place.
The next month on February 19, 1998 John had flowers placed on Don’s grave hoping that a family member would see the card. But there was no call.
As he thought about having flowers sent in 1999, John decided that he wanted flowers sent to all of his platoon members who were killed in action during that battle. We started to search for those gravesites. John mentioned what he wanted to do at one of the Currahee reunions and people stepped forward to help with the search. Some also gave us the cemetery and plot number of their buddy who was killed during the time the Currahee’s were in Vietnam from 1967 to 1971. We also received donations for those flowers. The concept and the parameters had grown.
From flowers on one grave in February 1998 to flowers placed on 158 graves on Memorial Day 2005, the men of the 3-506 are saying, “You will never stand alone. You will always be loved and remembered. You will never be forgotten.” When a Currahee and his wife personally delivered flowers to gravesites he emailed, “We want you to know that we delivered the flowers with respect and honor. Thanks for letting us help. It was the best Memorial Day I can remember. I plan on doing the same next year.”
That’s what it means for these men. What does it mean for families when they suddenly discover flowers on their son’s, their husband’s, their brother’s grave after 30 plus years? This was from a Mom, “It is difficult to adequately thank you all for the lovely flowers you sent to Johnny’s grave on Memorial Day. For 33 years I have planted geraniums – this is the first time any other flowers have arrived.”
From a sister we hear, “It was 30 years of silence and now there is this great ‘family’ out there – The Currahee’s - what great people you are.”
From a wife, “I always take my flowers out early and then go on Monday and look at all the flags and remembrances. This year I was so surprised and happy to find the flowers on Danny’s grave. How proud he would have been to think that all of you wish to remember all of them. Danny was a very happy go lucky guy, always a smile on his face. He wanted to go to Vietnam because he didn’t want his family to live in the fear and surroundings that the people in Vietnam had to live in. He wrote home about watching his best friend Richard Gonzales being killed May 8, 1968. Richard’s family had requested that Danny escort his body home, but Danny was transferred and it was taking awhile to locate him. His last letter home ended with, ‘this is my first time out with this unit’. It always really bothered me that the people that were with him didn’t even know him, but I do feel comfort in knowing, now, that ALL of you had a bond. Thank you so very much.”
A sister-in-law called to say how the flowers on her brother-in-law’s grave were such a blessing. All of the brothers were together for Memorial Day and it was the first time that they talked about what their brother’s death meant to each of them.
Two sisters sent emails. One said, “I can’t tell you enough how much it meant to me to find the flowers, to think that Dick is still remembered by his fellow comrades is beyond belief. It has been 33 years and the memories of his loss are still painful to us, his family.” The other sister thanked the Currahee’s too, “I cannot tell you how touched I was in hearing about the note and the flowers on his grave! My brother was so brave and he did his job with all his heart. I am proud of him and miss him, miss the chance to know him as an adult.” The flowers opened up old feelings but it also allowed the siblings to talk about their brother with their own children. “You may hear more from our family, it feels good to get our feelings out into the open and finally have some discussion with the younger generation. It simply amazes me that the effects of a simple floral arrangement can ripple so wide. Thank you again.”
In “Shrapnel in the Heart” Laura Palmer wrote, “Wars don’t end. Every bullet in Vietnam left an exit wound as it soared back into unsuspecting hearts. Lives stopped, dreams collapsed, futures imploded.” But she also observed that if there were parades for people who survived their lives, the marching would never stop.
Seeing Don Marshall’s grave, sending flowers and finally connecting with Don’s Mom has been a way for John to deal with February 19, 1968. John has said, “There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think of Don Marshall, my platoon and February 19.” What started at one gravesite has spread to 158 gravesites through generous donations and adoption of graves by the 3-506. We will continue to supplement the Flower Fund bill as long as we can. Our hope would be that every grave is eventually adopted. Our dream would be that other organizations would imitate what the 101st Airborne 3-506 Infantry is doing and someday every Vietnam KIA would have flowers at their gravesite on Memorial Day.
This year (2013) we switched from a local florist to FTD. We have a few kinks to work out but overall the switch was successful.
For more information, make a donation or to adopt a grave click here.