A publication of Vietnam Veterans of America, Inc. ®
An organization chartered by the U.S. Congress

August 2000/September 2000

"My Life Is Complete": Virginia Warren's Visit to The Wall

By Jim Belshaw

Thirty-three years after her son died rushing to the aid of a fallen Marine, Virginia Warren touched him and felt him reaching back, touching her. She knows it in her soul. She had heard that this kind of thing happened to the loved ones of others who touched the names. Now it had happened to her.

She walked past the names of others who had died, the thousands who had been caressed by so many fingertips over the years, and then she reached up and touched his name--Galen E. Warren, Panel 20E, Line 70.

"It felt like something I had to do in my lifetime and I'm glad I did it," she said. "I feel like my life is complete because I went there. I honored my son by going to The Wall and touching his name. And you know, they say when you touch The Wall, those men there touch you back, and I believe it. They touch you back. I felt it."

She is 85. Until the first week of August, she had never been to The Wall. She had never seen her son’s name on it, chiseled into the granite with the 58,000 others.

Galen Warren was a Navy corpsman. He died on May 20, 1967, in Quang Tri Province near the DMZ. He was 21 years old. His mother said when he left for Vietnam, he didn't talk about dying. "When he went to Vietnam he didn't say, `I hope I don't get killed.’ He said, `They need me and I hope I do a good job.’ "

Shortly after he died, Virginia Warren volunteered to be a hostess at a Seattle YMCA. She says now that her motives were selfish, that benevolence may have grown out of it but in the beginning, selflessness didn't motivate her. She had her own reasons for offering her time.

"I wondered who these fellows were my son was willing to die for," she said. "I found out who they were. They were wonderful and I loved them, and my son loved them and I found out why."

She still has boxes of letters from those young soldiers. She still hears from some of them. She took the soldiers to the mountains and the beaches, and she took them to her church. When they came back from Vietnam with shattered bodies, she went to see them in the hospitals. She found out that not only did she need them, but they needed her, too. She is taking a creative writing course and intends to write about those young men.

It was another writer, Erik Lacitis, a Seattle Times columnist, who started her on her journey to The Wall. He first wrote about her around Memorial Day, then again when she went to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

"Virginia is here because, although it doesn't happen often, sometimes one sentence, deep in a newspaper article, makes a difference," Lacitis wrote from the Nation’s Capital when he accompanied her there.

A Southwest Airlines customer service representative saw the sentence when it appeared in May. The airline provided free airfare for Virginia and her surviving son, Terry, 56. The Marriott Wardman Park Hotel in Washington gave the Warrens a suite and $100 in food vouchers.

Then the Sno-King VVA Chapter 423 learned of that sentence deep in a newspaper article.

"The Sno-King [Snohomish-King Counties] chapter is an active and effective community service organization," chapter president Bob Weslander said. "The chapter offered to receive donations to cover expenses and we gave Virginia checks for $300. More money came in after they left that wasn't needed. There is a lot of community support here. The relationship we've enjoyed in the community has made possible things we could never do by ourselves. One line in a newspaper column is picked up and some exciting things can happen."

Washington State Council President Jimmy Grissom talked to AVVA President Nancy Switzer.

"I called [VVA executive director] Ed Croucher, and he got in contact with a chapter member in Washington [Jim Beckette, Chapter 461 president, Montgomery County, Maryland]," Switzer said. "I called Gold Star Mothers to see if they could greet her and they were ecstatic that we called. I wanted someone to be there who could relate to her. We couldn't be there physically to put our arms around her, but we wanted to do something for her."

Croucher drove to Baltimore to meet Virginia Warren's 10:30 p.m. Southwest flight and drove her and Terry to Washington. The next day, Croucher's wife, Chris, and Jim Beckette took the Warrens to The Wall.

"A lot of tears came to her eyes as she walked toward The Wall," Beckette said. "Terry just broke down. When they were putting their hands on The Wall up on his name, Terry said the spirit of Galen would be a part of her just from touching it. I think their being at The Wall meant so much to them. I saw a lot of relief in them, even in the way they carried themselves. I felt a comfort in doing it. I wanted them to know that we really cared and that we're all one large group, no matter where we're at. We're all one family."

As Virginia Warren walked with other Gold Star Mothers past the thousands of names, she thought of the loss associated with only one, then tried to multiply it in her mind, tried to see how far out the ripples of such a loss might be felt.

Galen was going to be a doctor. How many lives would he have touched? How many lives would the others on The Wall have touched?

"I thought about how much we lost with just one name, how much our country lost with 58,000," she said. "We lost so much, and all of those men lost so much, too. My son addressed his last letter to us, `The Warren Family, Minus One.' I'm so glad he knew we loved him and he loved us. Everyone has been so good to us. I tell veterans I lost a son, but God gave me all of you to love. I know veterans all over town because I'm not afraid to ask if they're a veteran, and if they are, I hug them. I always hug a veteran."


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