Oliver North
WASHINGTON -- As a crowd of high-school students offloaded from the tour bus for a visit to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial aka "The Wall," he yelled, "There are no good wars!" Hemmed in on the crowded sidewalk, I tried to ignore his rant and noted the bus had a Pennsylvania license. The shouter was far too young to have fought in Vietnam, and he was wearing a dirty T-shirt, ragged jeans -- and Gucci loafers. He held a sheet of cardboard, hand-inscribed with the words "I'm the 99 percent" on one side and "Help me, I'm Homeless" on the other. While threading my way through the throng, I heard one of the clean-cut kids from the bus say, "If he's a Vietnam War veteran, shouldn't we help him?"

A well-intentioned youngster began digging through her purse to find some cash, but a U.S. National Park Service ranger approached and told the sign bearer, "Move along." The bedraggled petitioner complied, but only after spewing a string of four-letter expletives. The ranger, clearly discomfited by the foul language, looked at me and said, "That guy is a phony, right, colonel?"

I could only nod, point toward the memorial to my fallen and missing comrades, and say, "He wasn't one of us."

"The Wall" is like that. The V-shaped black granite panels with 58,282 names inscribed upon them attract visitors like no other place in our nation's capital. The memorial is the most visited site in Washington -- a city with more than 1,000 museums, monuments, parks and public buildings named for great people and events. In scores of visits to "The Wall" over the past three decades -- whether day or night, summer or winter, rain or shine -- I never have been alone. Others always have been there when I've arrived and departed -- maintaining a constant vigil.

This week, I came to meet a friend with whom I served in that long-ago, faraway war. Then, he was a U.S. Navy medical corpsman, and I was a rifle platoon commander. In "Kilo" Company, 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marines, those of us who saw him in the midst of carnage knew him to be quiet, competent and courageous. Though he saved many of our lives with his skill and bravery -- and has a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart to confirm both -- I don't recall knowing his given name, John, until after the war. To us, he was simply "Doc Fowler" -- the man who headed into the gunfire when the call went out: "Corpsman up!"


Oliver North

Oliver North is a nationally syndicated columnist, the host of War Stories on the Fox News Channel, the author of the new novel Heroes Proved and the co-founder of Freedom Alliance, an organization that provides college scholarships to the children of U.S. military personnel killed or permanently disabled in the line of duty. Join Oliver North in Israel by going to www.olivernorthisrael.com.