This story was updated May 13, 2013 at 11:11 a.m.
May 3 was a “dream come true” for 65-year-old Doug Cadieux, who finally was able to honor the memory of his friend, John after 44 years.
Cadieux, a Vietnam War veteran from Rocklin, Calif., ventured into Washington, D.C., with members of Silver Spring-based Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 641 to visit the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and see John’s name for the first time.
“I had a heck of a time last night getting to sleep in anticipation of coming,” said Cadieux, who served in the Air Force from 1969 to 1970.
He traveled to the area for the weekend with his wife, Joyce, after winning a radio contest. A close family friend called into 98 Rock in Sacramento as part of the station’s Christmas giveaway. When the family friend told the couple they were going to the wall, Cadieux said he and his wife “fell apart.”
“It was on my bucket list of what I gotta do before I kick,” he said. “And when they called up and told us we won this thing, I swear to goodness, I darn near fell over.”
On the drive to the wall May 3, Cadieux said he was fine — until the wall came into sight.
“We got to the top of the hill and I couldn’t come down for a bit,” he said. “The closer we got, the more emotional it got.”
Finally seeing the wall, he said, was “overwhelming.”
Joyce Cadieux, 64, said the car company Hyundai put up money for them to come to the area for two days. The VVA — the only national Vietnam veterans organization congressionally chartered and dedicated to Vietnam-era veterans and their families — paid for an additional two days. The Sheraton in Silver Spring gave them a free welcome dinner May 2.
Silver Spring resident Jim Tyson is a life member of the VVA and a member of the National Capital Wall Washing Crew, which washes the wall on the first Saturday of every month.
Tyson, who escorted the couple May 3, said that on his first visit when the memorial first opened, he only made it a third of the way down the wall before having to turn around and leave. It took him 20 years to finally make it back.
Tyson, who served in the Army between 1971 and 1974, said it is a huge honor to “take a brother” to the wall for the first time.
“When we get the chance to honor a brother and honor a fallen brother, that’s our mission and that’s exactly why we took the reins on this one,” he said. “It touches your heart. ... Just when I thought I couldn’t have any more tears, he and I shed a few tears today.”
It was 1969 and Cadieux had only been in Vietnam for a matter of hours before his group came under attack — twice. He joined fellow countrymen for a party to welcome new guys like himself and bid farewell to those heading home.
That’s when he met 25-year-old Walter J. Dart Jr., who was known as John.
John wasn’t drinking with the rest. He was heading home in two days, but was supposed to pull guard duty that night.
“I said: ‘What, are you out of your mind?,’” Cadieux remembered telling him. To which he remembered John replying: “Do what you do and live through it. ... I’m supposed to be on guard, I’m going on guard.”
And as a man of his word, John went on guard duty with one day left in-country, Cadieux said. At 4 that afternoon, a rocket hit the building, killing John.
From then on, Cadieux said he took John’s advice.
“I’m probably one of the luckiest men in the world,” Cadieux said. “I got through something that was an experience that I’ll never forget, and I would do it again in a heartbeat.”
He said all of the men whose names grace the wall — some as young as 17, 18 and 19 years old — will be “forever young.”
Cadieux stood alongside the members of the VVA on May 4 to wash section W23 of the wall, the section that features the name Walter J. Dart Jr.
“John’s gonna be 25 in my mind forever,” Cadieux said. “The brotherhood goes on forever. There isn’t one of these men on this wall that I wouldn’t die for.”