Members of The Last Patrol were told they could expect muscle stiffness and sore legs, shin splints, pain and tingling in the feet, and blisters. They were told the temperature could spike to 90 degrees and the weather could turn rainy and humid. They were told that in certain areas it was illegal to walk across bridges, and they could be arrested.
These warnings were no match for The Last Patrol, a group of New Jersey Vietnam Veterans who walked from the nation’s capital to the would-be site of the New Jersey Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial in Holmdel to raise awareness, support, and funds for a memorial honoring Vietnam Veterans in New Jersey. Their drive and passion to accomplish their mission — to honor their comrades who gave their lives in Southeast Asia— was stronger than the blisters and heat.
It was May 1989. Eighteen people, 15 former servicemen and three medical staff, departed Washington, D.C., on a journey that would take them through Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania and New Jersey, with a goal of returning the names of the 1,486 men who gave their lives for their country. The group, named The Last Patrol after the efforts servicemen made to keep free those who desperately sought their freedom, made rubbings of all 1,486 names at the Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial in D.C., placed them in a wooden box, and brought them home. This was an important symbol for New Jersey Vietnam Veterans. It represented a WELCOME HOME for these brave men. (Note: After careful examination of records, it was discovered the actual number of New Jersey lives lost in Vietnam was 1,563.)
The Last Patrol’s journey began May 13. After leaving the Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial in D.C, the group headed to Maryland. On day three, the group made their way to the Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial in Baltimore and laid a wreath at the site. By day six, The Last Patrol had made it to Delaware. Day seven brought another wreath ceremony at the Delaware Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial site, and day eight brought a river. The group was transported across the Delaware River by boat, then continued on foot. They made their way to the Philadelphia Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial to lay a wreath and remember their fallen comrades. The next five days were full of walking, until finally The Last Patrol had reached its destination — the site of the New Jersey Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial in Holmdel at the Garden State Arts Center (Now PNC Bank Arts Center).
The group had covered anywhere from nine to 20 miles each day, walking for five to eight hours at a time. That’s the equivalent of a marathon a day! But The Last Patrol’s efforts were worth it.
On May 27, 1989, The Last Patrol was greeted with welcome arms by members of the community who had come to pay respect to the efforts of these men as well as to honor the fallen. A ceremony honored the group and remembered the ones who lost their lives in Vietnam. The message was simple — Welcome Home.
The New Jersey Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial Foundation will honor the 20th anniversary of The Last Patrol and the building of the Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial with a Remembrance Day Ceremony. The event will be May 7 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the memorial and will coincide with New Jersey Vietnam Veterans’ Remembrance Day, established in 1991 as a unique day in New Jersey to honor all those who served in the military during the Vietnam era. 2015 also marks the 40th anniversary of the end of the Vietnam War.
The New Jersey Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial Foundation offers a meaningful and engaging experience that recognizes the sacrifices, courage and valor of Vietnam veterans and that encourages and fosters a thorough understanding of the Vietnam era including the political, historical, social, cultural and military aspects which affected the United States, and especially New Jersey.
Stephanie Eichmeyer is a former journalist turned writer and public relations specialist. Her background includes non-profit work in health care and fundraising, as well as event planning, media and community relations and internal and external communications.