Veteran wears memorial bracelet in honor of friend who died in Vietnam

Bob Graves

PADUCAH, KY- The Wall That Heals is coming to Paducah from Oct. 25 through 28. There are 58,318 names on this traveling replica Vietnam Memorial. They are the men and women who never came home.

Bob Graves served from 1970 to 1971. He survived his tour, but several of his Officer Candidate School (OCS) classmates did not. Bob thinks about one of them every day.

The weight of war was heavy on many young men during Vietnam.

“You were young, but you were old,” Bob explained.

He said he didn’t know what he was in store for until he was assigned after completing OCS.

“I was the only one that was going to what they called III Corps. Well, I was pretty naïve. I thought, III Corps, that’s pretty cool. That’s Saigon or Biên Hòa, which were two big cities, and pretty safe assignment I thought. So, they sent a helicopter up, and picked me up at the school. My own helicopter for a little second lieutenant.,” Bob explained. “I met the colonel and he said how glad he was to see me, that I was replacing a lieutenant that got killed the previous week. So, that was, I thought perhaps I was going to get a desk job, and my desk job turned out to be something different.”

“When he told you you were replacing someone that had died the week before,” I asked.

Bob shows a picture of the compound he and his fellow soldiers called home for the year they were in Vietnam.

“Yeah, that wasn’t a very comforting feeling,” Bob replied. “You know, it’s like, what, what did I get into?”

Bob was part of a Mobile Advisory Team (MAT). They were small group of five men, living in Vietnamese villages.

“This is, you can see the road there, and a little village,” Bob said, holding a picture of where they lived. “This was our compound, and we lived inside this building.”

They were a tight-knit team and very resourceful.

“We built our own outhouse. We built our own shower. We scrounged, we stole things,” Bob said. “I mean, I know that’s hard to believe, but for five guys we had three jeeps, and a 1500 gallon water truck. We had all kinds of weapons that we traded people for.”

Earnest J. Hardimon

“You have a survivor instinct, you know,” Bob explained. “You think you’re invincible. And some people were. Some people weren’t.”

Earnest J. Hardimon was not. Bob was roommates with Ernie at OCS.

“He had enlisted in the Army when he was 18 years old. He had worked his way up. He was a staff sergeant, drill sergeant. He was married and had a four-year-old girl,” Bob said.

They served in Vietnam at the same time, but not together. Bob wears a memorial bracelet for Ernie.

“Has he had an impact on your life?” I asked.

This is the memorial bracelet that Bob wears for his friend Ernie, who was killed in Vietnam.

“Yeah, because I think about him every day,” he said. “You know, why him? You just wonder why certain guys got killed, you know? And what would there life be.”

Bob’s life has been full. He and his wife Marj, also a Vietnam veteran, have been married for 46 years.

He has two daughters and several grandchildren. His daughter Ashley Johnson says he almost never talks about Ernie or Vietnam.

“I think it’s hard for him to go through that pain, which obviously he carries with him every day, wearing the bracelet,” Ashley said.

Bob stands with his daughter Ashley Johnson (right) and Local 6’s Jennifer Horbelt (left).

“Have you seen his name on the wall?” Jennifer asked.

“Oh yes. Every time,” Bob said. “It’s panel 9 west, line 64.”

Bob knows what it means to see The Wall That Heals.

“It’s just overwhelming, all the names on there,” Bob said. “I mean, there’s 58,000 names.”

Each of them represents a son, a brother, a daughter, a sister, a father, a soul, remembered for what they gave: their lives.

Bob Graves extended interview: