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Spalding favourite John Ward looks at Remembrance and remembers a chance meeting with a Vietnam veteran in New York


By Spalding Today Columnist


Once again the Remembrance Day event draws close as we show our respects to those who perished and those who survived in two World Wars in the last century on a given November date that signifies the end of hostilities for both conflicts plus others since.

The total loss of human life was enormous that has left scars even to this day, but as my granddad once said that in wars there are no winners due their very being and he should know due to being in one and losing so many friends through it.

However another eye-opener of sorts was while on a visit to New York in the not too distant past.

John Ward in New York (20910016)
John Ward in New York (20910016)

I was invited there to help promote a book on assorted chat shows, when I came across somebody that gave another insight into another military conflict that he took part in although quite some time after the Second World War that became better known as the then Vietnam war.

With a break between assorted interview slots, I was visiting Central Park in the city to see the ‘Strawberry Fields’ area there that is dedicated to John Lennon with a large mosaic with the word ‘Imagine’, the title of his song of the same name in its centre, and where I met Gary.

We individually chose the same bench as we sat there watching the world go by as it really is peaceful there and hard to believe such a place could be situated near the heart of such a large city.

The Imagine memorial for John Lennon in New York.
The Imagine memorial for John Lennon in New York.

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Once introductions were over, he explained he was there to see his daughter, son-in-law and grandchildren for the first time in the city where they now lived but had stopped off as he was early to see this amazing area beforehand that also has plants, shrubs from all over the world that have been donated.

In conversation, we both agreed that it was so peaceful; to see the various people also visiting was quite moving for assorted reasons and if I am to be honest, it felt like a religious event in some respects and quite emotional to see the various people both able bodied and those handicapped in assorted ways who struggled to be there.

At the time it was close to our Remembrance Day event ‘back home’ that was mere days away then as I mentioned it in passing to which Gary who told me of his ‘Nam time’ that supposedly ended in 1973 but for many it was still going on in various ways as he related in his own case or situation.

John Ward took this picture while in New York
John Ward took this picture while in New York

At the time that he went off to war he was ‘elderly’ as he was 23 - most of his comrades it seems were late teenagers as he explained - and while he did not agree with his country’s involvement, he volunteered like thousands of others as he was led to believe it was ‘for the good and peace of the world’.

He went there, did his best under extreme circumstances that defy words but did come back from a ‘hell on earth’ as he put it - many of his friends didn’t. But rather than be feted as heroes as his father was in WW2 on his return home, this time they were basically snubbed but worse was to come as his own wife turned against him for going, then left him taking their daughter with her with their subsequent divorce followed.

In the intervening years, his daughter had grown up, got married but now had daughters of her own and was living in New York with her husband as his job meant moving there. So this was the very first time they would all be meeting up as they were put in touch via a mutual, distant family friend.

He had never remarried apparently in the intervening years as he just carried on as he felt he didn’t want to ‘let anybody else down’ as he put it, so the profound effect of this conflict was still with him then after all the years between.

After a while of nattering away, he said it was time to go to meet his newly discovered family as arranged as I explained my reason for being in NY.

I jokingly said that afterwards I would be rehearsing the ‘We’ll meet again’ song as made famous by Dame Vera Lynn for the forthcoming Remembrance Day event back home.

I explained the national event was held on the Sunday closest to November 11 as that was the day we paid our respects to the fallen and also give thanks for those who also survived such horrors, as while it took years to recover, these atrocious events still leave wounds both physically and mentally.

However we as a nation still pay our respects to those who suffered but not to forget that these acts are hopefully not repeated, although sadly now on an almost daily basis we see or hear of conflicts still going on to this day somewhere in the world. Possibly John Lennon’s wish to ‘Give Peace A Chance’ is long overdue now.

He commented my reference to ‘back home’ had a different significance to him and others who served in ‘Nam’ as he then asked if I had something he could write on.

I had my list of studio schedules in my pocket as he wrote on the edge a few words - ‘Gary Puckett - ‘Home’ and I thought the name rings a bell but then it hit me as was it not Gary Puckett and the Union Gap the American singing group who had a string of hit records in the 1960s but - was this that Gary?

No as it happened as they two different people but he explained that Gary Puckett and the Union Gap had recorded a song called ‘Home’ that was a sort of ‘unofficial anthem’ of those who took part in the Vietnam conflict.

While it may sound rather sentimental, or even dare I say ‘corny’, to those not familiar with the conflict, it had gained a certain ‘feel good’ status among those who took part and caring families.

He suggested if I got the chance to listen to it, please think of a total stranger in Central Park to whom it meant a great deal as we shook hands, then wished each other the best for the future, hopefully a peaceful one.

Later that day I asked one of the production assistants at one of the studios if it was possible they had this title in their sound library, which they did, as together we sat in that otherwise empty studio and both heard it for the first time.

She was quite obviously moved by it and asked how I knew of it as I explained my meeting with Gary, a total stranger, who enlightened me about it and its significance at least to him and his comrades.

If you are not already aware of it, it can be heard or seen online by inputting ‘Home’ by Gary Puckett and no; I won’t be getting any commission!

Possibly it might not be to everybody’s taste or mindset but I will say that even around this amazing world we live in that while conflicts take their toll, people do sadly pay the price in more ways than one or that can be seen.



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