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No ‘Wall' too high for Honor Flight vet to honor pal

Posted by Pat Kinney on Tuesday, October 02, 2018

Photo caption: Burdette “Bud” Anderson of Waterloo, a U.S. Army veteran who served in Korea in the late 1960s, got a rubbing of the name of one of his friends killed in Vietnam, Gerald T. Fettkether of rural Jesup, from the Vietnam Veterans Memorial wall in Washington, D.C. on a recent Cedar Valley Honor Flight from the Waterloo Regional Airport.

WASHINGTON, D.C. -  Burdette “Bud” Anderson of Waterloo visited an old hunting and fishing buddy recently – in memory and in spirit.

I was with him.

Burdette’s buddy, Gerald T. Fettkether, who lived between Jesup and Gilbertville, is one of 58,000 names on a long black wall near the National Mall in Washington, D.C.

They started hunting, fishing and trapping together after high school graduation. “I was about 20 when I started going with him,”  he said.

Burdette served on the U.S. Army in the 1960s. So did Gerald. Burdette went to the demilitarized zone in Korea. Gerald went to Vietnam.

Burdette made it back home. Gerald didn’t. Burdette was in Korea when he heard Gerald had been killed in combat -- on Feb. 8, 1967.

On Sept. 25, Burdette was one of more than 90 veterans making a Cedar Valley Honor Flight from the Waterloo Regional Airport to visit Washington, D.C. military memorials. I volunteered to be his “guardian” for the day  when a family member was unable to go.

Burdette had one mission: take a rubbing of Gerald’s name from the Wall – the Vietnam Veterans Memorial – by rubbing a pencil over a piece of paper, leaving a reversed impression of the name.

“That’s the one thing I wanted to do,” he told me.

I told him I’d help.

We found Gerald’s name – at one of the highest places on one of the highest panels on the Wall. It was beyond the reach of either of us.

But many visitors to the Wall help each other out. That was the case with us.

A family from Washington state, south of Seattle, offered to help us. One of them was a burly young guy with linebacker’s shoulders who appeared to have lifted weights a few times in his life. And I’m barely 5-6 and weigh a buck and change.

“So I guess I could jump on your shoulders,” I said kiddingly.

“Hop on,” he said.

I had to think about it a minute. I hesitated. But Burdette had traveled too far. Disappointment on top of sorrow was not an option.

“No guts, no glory,” I said.

“That’s right,” the fella from Washington said.

I jumped on, other family members steadied me, and up I went.

“Hang on bud,” I said.

“I’m good,” my ride said.

I whipped out a page of my reporter’s notebook and started working with my pencil. I got two rubbings and a photo of Gerald’s name with my smart phone. Mission accomplished.

“You get a medal for that, “ I said to my new big buddy.

“It got a lot lighter all of a sudden” the fellow from Washington said. “No problem.” He had never served in the military. It was his way of thanking Burdette and Gerald “for all they did.”

Burdette had snapped a photo of the two us – from the rear, with his film camera.

“I got your good side.,” he joked.

But as we walked away from the Wall, I heard him clearing his throat and sniffeling. His reddened eyes were welled up with tears.

Burdette gave me a hug. I found myself hugging back, my own eyes welling up.

“I didn’t realize that Wall was so big,” he said. “There’s a lot of names on that Wall.”

I knew what it meant to Burdette. One of my late brothers has five friends on the Wall.

Somehow, when I was up on that big guy’s shoulders getting Gerald’s name for Burdette, I felt my big brother was holding me up, too.

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