WASHINGTON -- Immeasurable heartache seared into Linda Lorenz as she experienced an act no parent wants to endure; burying an only child.
Her son, Pfc. Hans J.R. Lorenz, died in 1966 as a result of an accident near Da Nang, Vietnam, making Linda one of the thousands of grieving parents who lost children during the Vietnam War. However, when the Vietnam Veterans Memorial was dedicated in 1982, her son’s name wasn’t inscribed on the monument.
For 20 years, she fought to have her son’s sacrifice recognized and was denied at every attempt. Her struggle ended happily when his name was engraved on the memorial May 17, but not until the burden was nearly too much to bear.
Hans Lorenz, who was attached to 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, received third-degree burns over most of his body from a gasoline explosion after serving in Vietnam two and a half months. He was flown to Oakland, Calif., where he fought for his life on a hospital bed for 11 days. He died April 26 after a bacterial infection sent him into cardiac arrest. He was 22.
“Hans wanted to join the Marines right after high school, but I told him, ‘No,’ so he joined the Canadian navy instead,” said Linda. “After he finished his two-year contract, he enlisted without telling me. The papers were already signed and he was of age, so there was nothing I could do.”
Linda moved from Ontario, Canada, to Ft. Worth, Texas, soon after her son’s burial. If his death wasn’t enough sadness to endure, Linda was unable to locate her son’s name on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial after its dedication. A reality which hundreds of other families also faced after discovering their loved ones weren’t carved on the monument’s black-granite walls.
“I looked at the first book that came out with all of the inscriptions on the Vietnam wall and couldn’t find his name,” said Linda. “I thought, my God, what should I do?”
Linda approached several government officials with her dilemma, but misinterpreted military regulations for the memorial brought all of her endeavors to a dead-end.
“I even went to the ex-Speaker of the House,” she said. “None of them were able to do anything though.”
Years passed while Linda continued to mourn the loss of her son. It wasn’t until a Canadian couple found her son’s grave and encouraged Linda to renew her efforts that she once again tried to have her son’s sacrifice recognized.
“My wife was surfing the Internet one night and she stumbled over his name in an online guestbook,” said Hal Laffin, an Ontario native. “We thought we should check it out since his name wasn't carved on the Washington or Canadian Vietnam Memorial. We took a drive up to Lakeview Cemetery, about a hundred miles away, and there he was. It was frustrating to have a guy in your backyard for so long and not have any information about him.”
The Laffins, who are involved in several veteran organizations, brought their discovery to the Canadian Vietnam Veterans Memorial Association and Ed Johnson, founder of Canada’s Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Everyone agreed Hans’ name should be included on the monument and it was added in May 2004.
“My friends wanted me to try and go further, but I said just let it be,” explained Linda. “I couldn’t take the rejection.”
In the end, her friends’ encouragement persuaded Linda to try once more. In 2004, she sent her third letter asking that Hans’ name be inscribed on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington. After receiving another rejection letter, she gave up hope that her son’s name would ever find its way on the wall.
The letter she received stated that an individual’s name can not be inscribed on the memorial unless their death occurred as a direct result of or aftermath or wounds received in combat. Therefore, Hans did not meet the established criteria for inclusion on the memorial.
“I knew there were more than 10,000 names on the wall who died from non-hostile causes, so there was no reason Hans’ name shouldn’t be added,” said Bruce Swander, a Vietnam veteran and historian. “Who knows how many people just like Linda Lorenz have sent in requests and were routinely denied during the past 15 years?”
Frustrated over the treatment Linda received, Swander created a brief which described the intent of the memorial as authorized by Congress and sent it to Vietnam veteran Wayne Gilchrest, R-Md. Swander’s goal was for Gilchrest to make a congressional inquiry into the issue.
The next year, Linda was greeted with words she never thought she’d hear.
“One of my friends called and said, ‘Guess what, it’s happening,’” explained Linda.
Unable to view the inscription process, Linda asked if someone could attend on her behalf. Maj. John L. Arsenault heard about her story and was present at the memorial to make the first charcoal rubbing of her son’s name. Four decades after he passed away, the Great Panes Glassworks Company sandblasted Hans J. R. Lorenz into section 6-east, line 111 of the monument. He was the 313th name added to the memorial since its Nov. 13, 1982 dedication.
“I’ve often wondered why I was spared because I should be on panel 29-west with a great deal of my platoon,” said Arsenault, a five-campaign Vietnam veteran. “For reasons I can’t explain, I was allowed to live. For 40 years, I’ve wondered why … maybe today was why.”
Hans was one of three Marines added to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial during a series of wall inscriptions May 16-18. The additions became official when they were read aloud during a Memorial Day Ceremony May 29. It was during this ceremony that Linda saw the Vietnam Veterans Memorial for the first time. Within moments of standing in front of the 10-foot-high wall, a 20-year dam of built-up sentiment crumbled, causing her to break down.
“It was overwhelming trying to hold all of the emotions back,” she said. “I laugh it off with my jokes, but it’s always in the background, day and night.”
Before Linda left the memorial grounds, she placed a dozen roses at the wall and whispered a few words to her fallen son. As she walked away, a light breeze blew the card off of the bouquet; it was addressed “To Hans.”
“When you find out you’ve lost your child, your life changes in the blink of an eye,” she said. “But I believe he was looking down on me today.”
Now 83 years old, Linda said she probably won’t make another trip to Washington’s Vietnam memorial because seeing Hans’ name on the wall was too much for her. Even with her closest friends, she still chokes up while talking about her son.
“What can I say … it’s a wound that will never heal,” she said.