By Bill Petros
People lay roses on the wall at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Red roses are for those killed in combat, yellow for those missing in action, and white for those who have recently died.
WASHINGTON - Every Father's Day, Mike Cruden comes to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial to lay down a red rose in memory of his Marine father.
More than 100 people, including retired general George Casey, the 36th chief of staff of the Army, joined Cruden, 48, of Bayonne, N.J., on Sunday at an annual ceremony to recognize their fallen dads.
"I was 3 when my father died, and my sister was born while my father was in Vietnam, so she never even met him," Cruden said, holding back tears. "I always hated Father's Day. Everyone is buying their dads cards and ties. I never could."
Those at the ceremony quietly laid 2,000 roses along the base of the memorial wall - red roses for those killed in combat, yellow for those missing in action and white for those who have died recently.
"Everyone has a different story about their fathers," Cruden said. "This gives us, the kids, the chance to share stories and support each other. A lot of us are invisible."
Each rose was attached to a card, some with a personal message for a name on the wall.
Vietnam War veteran Steve Nelson placed a rose at the wall. "A guy in my unit, he had a baby girl," Nelson recalled. "He was so happy. Then the poor guy got killed. The message in this card reminds me of him."
People in the audience choked up as family members and friends read a few of the messages into a microphone: "I know you would have been a wonderful father." ... "Dad, I bring to you today your youngest grandson." ... "I need your help. I need my daddy."
Other visitors joined in, placing roses at the memorial, touching them to the names in the granite and reading the messages on the cards.
"This is a tribute to the men who have children and to the children who grew up without a father," National Park Service volunteer Michael McMahon said. "How many men didn't come home that left children behind?"
Colleen Shine was 8 years old when her father disappeared in Vietnam. After a 24-year search, his remains were found and her family was able to have a funeral.
"It was 24 years later that my mom knew she was a widow, not a wife," Shine said. "When I started, I laid a yellow rose. Now I lay a red rose. There is a lot more peace now."
Two families who attended the ceremony will have funerals at Arlington National Cemetery on Thursday. The remains of Air Force Col. Patrick M. Fallon and Air Force Capt. Clyde W. Campbell were identified recently. They had been missing in action since 1969.