Before the delegates to American Legion Boys Nation joined him, National Chaplain Father Philip Salois had a moment to himself Sunday night at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
He reached out and ran his hand across the names of his fallen comrades — Terrance Bowell, Salois’ lieutenant in the war; and right below Bowell’s name, Herbert W. Klug, Salois’ squadmate who died trying to help Salois rescue Bowell and others from an ambush.
A Boys Nation senator joined Salois, then another, then more, a few asking questions about Salois’ friends and the others who gave their lives, their names memorialized along the wall.
“It puts everything into perspective. You really don’t understand how fortunate you are, (me) not being from a military family at all, and realizing what they have gone through, what the families have gone through,” said Ashrit Verma of New Jersey. “Especially with them just touching it, almost as if they’re able to see, maybe not physically, but some sort of spiritual embodiment of the fallen soldiers.
“… I’m speechless, to be honest.”
Sunday’s time at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial came hours after Salois shared the story of his Vietnam experience, and the loss of his comrades, during the annual Boys Nation memorial service.
“I know that they’re helping me every day to plod on, to keep going,” Salois said during the service at Marymount University in Arlington, Va., which hosts Boys Nation.
“I didn’t mourn for my two buddies until many years later, because when you’re in a battlefield, when you’re in the middle of war, the middle of an ambush, you don’t have time to cry, you don’t have time to have feelings, you don’t have time to mourn their loss,” Salois said. “You talk about it a little bit, but you’ve got to shut down, and that’s what happened to me. I shut down and I didn’t really go back to see the family (of Klug) until 20 years later, and I felt I needed to do that to complete my own healing, as well as help the family heal.”
Boys Nation Senator Parker Rossignol of Florida said listening to Salois was an emotional experience.
“Walking down there by yourself is nothing like walking by it with a veteran,” Rossignol said of the group’s visit to the Vietnam memorial. “You really see it from a whole entirely different angle, them pointing at the wall and seeing their friends, their neighbors, their classmates that died; you just realize the personal connection they have with people in this one location, and how many died all at the same time, same day, same month.”
Boys Nation will honor the fallen again on Monday, when Nebraska’s Evan Jolley and South Dakota's Isaac Buchholtz participate in a wreath laying at the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery.
President pro tempore Mason Moore of Idaho appointed Nationalist Andrew Gary of Louisiana as chief clerk; Federalist Ashrit Verma of New Jersey as assistant clerk; Federalist John Pellegrin of California as senate chaplain; and Federalist Jeremiah Phillips of Washington as sergeant-at-arms.
Secretary of the senate Manish Raj of Wisconsin appointed Nationalist Isaac Buchholtz of South Dakota as assistant.
The two parties began the process of selecting their candidates for president and vice president through the convention process.
The senators also had dinner with state and national Legion officers at Post 136 in Greenbelt, Md., Sunday night before the trip to the National Mall.
Follow the happenings at American Legion Boys Nation 2019 here on legion.org and on social media using the hashtag #BoysNation2019.