My first visit to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., was — fittingly — at night. I came with a few colleagues; we ended up drifting away from one another as the black wall drew us in.
I was alone, looking for a name of a Marine mentioned in Michael Herr’s excellent book “Dispatches1” when some guy and I crossed paths. He glanced at me, stopped, and said simply, “John.” And I said, “Robert,” the first name of the Marine I was looking for. He reached out and we shook hands and he walked off into the night, leaving me with a sacred moment.
The Vietnam War haunts me as it does America. I read whatever I can about it and volunteer for graphics such as this one, a look at the Tet Offensive 50 years later. It ran in an April 2018 USA Today tabloid publication about the war.
The writing was the biggest challenge, I think. I was careful to explain the context of the offensive, how it was a military victory but a public relations loss from which the Johnson administration never recovered.
This graphic was well-received and was resurrected in October for another USAT publication.
1 — I later discovered the Marine I was looking for, Robert Mayhew, was a composite character created by Herr, based on several soldiers he met while covering the war for Esquire. Curiously, there was a Sgt. Robert Olan Mayhew from Elk Garden, W. Va., who was KIA in Vietnam on Feb. 8, 1969. Sometimes I think about writing about him.