Each year on Veterans Day, there is a celebration of Vietnam War veterans at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C.
On Nov. 11, Randy O’Dell, a Specialist E4 veteran of the Vietnam War and a Dublin Middle School teacher, will head to D.C. to present an account of his time in Vietnam.
O’Dell gives his presentation to DMS students during the school’s Veterans Day celebration each year. With an always-outstanding reception, his wife thought his speech should be taken to a more public forum.
She made contacts in Washington and got his name on a list of potential speakers and, weeks later, O’Dell found out he was one of six asked to speak in remembrance of the day.
“This is very special to me,” said O’Dell. “For years Vietnam veterans … didn’t have the most welcome home. Probably the least of any war that’s been fought.”
O’Dell’s speech is not a normal account of events that happened during the war. He tries to make the experience more personal.
“I saw a lot of stuff, a lot of my friends got killed … In my talk I just open my heart and I let people see inside of me, what it was like to be 19 years old, to be drafted and to be told that you have to go. What I had to leave. What I experienced when I was over there. I let them see what it’s like for a normal person to go to a war zone,” he said.
His speech takes audiences through an air strike and a firefight, where he lost a close friend. “I had a really good friend (who got killed in a firefight) from North Carolina and when I came home for a number of years I went to visit (his) parents,” said O’Dell. “All up and down the hallway there were pictures of him. And you could see the hurt in that mom and dad’s eyes. He was probably 20 years old when he died.”
O’Dell pointed out that he has no intentions of getting publicity for himself. He speech has always been about honoring those lost in the Vietnam War and, to him, it always will be.
“I’m doing it for all of those who didn’t come home because I’m home along with quit a few others, but the ones who didn’t make it home – they’re the real heroes. It helps me to know I’m doing it for them,” he said.
He added, “I want people to walk with me on a day-to-day basis over there and just see what it was like and see what people had to go through. I’m trying to honor those on the wall. My best friend, he went to school where I did, he was school body association president. He was killed in Vietnam in 1969. His name is on the wall. I’m doing this to honor him.”
The first time O’Dell gave his speech to the eighth graders at DMS, it was truly a memorable experience.
“Initially when I was asked to speak here about 10 or 15 years ago, it was one of the best things that ever happened to me,” he said. “It did as much for me as it did the kids. The first time I spoke, you could hear a pin drop and when I finished, the kids all stood up and they applauded. To me that was like the best kind of medicine you could give.”
O’Dell will be giving his speech at the Vietnam War Memorial Wall at approximately 2:30 p.m. He will also give his speech on Wednesday, Nov. 10 at DMS.