Randy Marchant, a Colfax resident and Vietnam veteran, recently related his experiences at the Memorial Day ceremony in Colfax. Part of his message detailed his experiences at the Arlington National Cemetery in Washington D.C. and how they shaped his views on the service.
“I was just getting to my barracks at Ft. Myer. I got up to my assigned room, and laid down my things before I started looking around. Immediately I saw this large window letting in sun, and I crossed to it,” Marchant said. “I got to that window, and when I looked out, I was shocked. There was row after row of these white headstones stretching on.”
Arlington National Cemetery’s 624-acre spread is the final resting place for more than 400,000 of the nation’s casualties and deceased veterans dating back as far as the Civil War.
Marchant described his first exposure to Arlington as “aweing,” as he stood there contemplating exactly how many soldiers had been buried in the massive cemetery.
“I didn’t want to walk through it for a while … I remember thinking ‘I don’t know anyone here,’ and how strange it would be … I just walked around the outside of it for the first weekend that I was at Ft. Myer.”
Eventually Marchant did enter the cemetery, recalling his continuing curiosity the first time he saw one of the funeral processions coming through and how he stood in respect of the fallen soldier along the pathway.
“It played a big part in my decision to re-enlist, seeing all of these people coming back from Vietnam,” Marchant said. “I’d go back and forth in my head about what I wanted to do, but I kept wanting to go.”
He had already served a 13-month deployment in Korea where he worked as a motor messenger, relaying classified materials from Seoul to the Korean Demilitarized Zone. Ft. Myer was his first post upon his return, and he worked there for six months with telecommunications.
At last he got the posting that he desired, being sent to Vietnam in January of 1972, but it was not long-lived. Five weeks later, Marchant was then reassigned to a nine-man communications detachment in Thailand, and seven months later he would be assigned as an acting sergeant of a similar three-man installation.
Marchant’s military career ended with a medical release on April 6, 1976, and yet his service was far from over.
After receiving a degree in Journalism from DMACC, Marchant worked several jobs before finally landing at a position with the Veteran’s Affairs Medical Center in Des Moines.
His career working with veterans lasted 23 years, and during this time, he was able to help people suffering mental problems, having issues readjusting to civilian life and coping with the traumas of their time in the military.
In 2010, Marchant’s military experiences came full circle as he had the opportunity to visit Arlington National Cemetery once more.
Marchant had been part of organizing three Freedom Flights for the VA Medical Center, and on the third, it was suggested that Marchant travel along with the patients.
The group of nine, including Marchant, used the three-day trip as a therapeutic opportunity. After each day of visiting war memorials and cemeteries, the patients were to discuss their experiences and feelings.
Marchant can still recall their time at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
“We got there, and everyone had a name or two that they were looking up on the wall … I found mine fairly quickly, and then I was just watching everyone else,” Marchant said. “I went to help one guy from our group, and I asked him how he was coming along. He pulled out this list and he told me, ‘well, I’ve found two, but I’ve got 19 more.’ I spent the day with him, and for each name he had stories that he told. It was truly incredible.”
Soon after, he retired from the VA, but Marchant still stays involved with the veteran community. He is an active member of his local AmVets and American Legion posts, serving as an Adjutant on both.
“I have absolutely no regrets for my service, and I think it’s a good opportunity for anyone,” Marchant said. “If I still had my health and was able, I’d sign up today.”