Midmorning Friday, Canyon Lake resident Donald Peters could be spotted in Anderson County — kneeling on a camera case to defend his knee from the gravel surrounding a replica of the Washington Vietnam Memorial Wall.
The traveling tribute — an 80 percent-sized replica of the memorial Wall in Washington — is in town this weekend as part of the American Veterans Traveling Tribute, a highlight of this year's Texas State Railroad Salute to the Armed Forces Event.
Forty-six years ago, Peters found himself in a starkly different location, stationed in the heart of a Communist-controlled South Vietnam. There, he was involved with the 9th Infantry Division of the United States Army, the only U.S. Army division activated and trained in the United States for active duty in South Vietnam.
His unit was charged with protecting the population against Communist insurgents, as well as ensuring success of the South Vietnamese government’s pacification program. And it was there, in the middle of a region battered and bruised by war, where fellow comrade — Robert W. Benson — died in Peters' arms.
On Friday, nearly half a century later, Peters kneeled in the gravel to rub lead over the name of his friend on a sheet of paper, a tradition known as "rubbing." He did the same for Thomas M. Kupiec, another fellow from his division, while his wife Dee looked on and snapped pictures with her digital camera. She said they wanted to frame the rubbed paper back home.
“Robert Benson was a gentleman that died in my arms, and this Kupiec was another gentleman, he died later, but not in the same instance,” Peters said. “They were both in my same unit.”
Peters said he and the men were there during the Tet Offensive, one of the largest military campaigns of the Vietnam War. In 1968, forces of the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army launched a wave of surprise attacks against military and civilian command centers of opposing forces, which included South Vietnam, the United States and their allies.