Mackinzie Ham was announced as the winner of the 2021 POW/MIA Remembrance Essay Contest as “The Moving Wall” arrived in Goldsboro on Wednesday. Ham is an 18-year-old freshman at Wayne Community College where she is an Associate in Science major. A Goldsboro resident, she is a graduate of Eastern Wayne High School. She currently works at Faith Christian Preschool as a co-teacher but plans a career as a labor-and-delivery nurse.
Her prize for this essay is an F-15 tail flash plaque designed for this event that is decorated with the POW/MIA logo and theme, the Air Force Sergeants Association logo, and the Wayne Community College logo and $500 cash.
A President’s Special Merit Award will go to Jonathan Perez. Perez is a recent graduate of James Hunt High School in Wilson. He is lives in Kenly and is an Associate in Arts major at WCC. His essay is titled “They Are Never Forgotten.” He will receive a certificate and $100 prize.
The essay contest is sponsored by Chapter 371 0f the Air Force Sergeants Association.
Read Ham’s winning essay submission below.
By Mackinzie Ham
Winning submission in the 2021 POW/MIA Remembrance Essay Contest sponsored by Chapter 371 of the Air Force Sergeants Association
Have you ever wondered what it is like to lose a family member who is doing everything he or she can to make sure our country is free? My family experienced this horrible pain 55 years ago when my great uncle, Donald Edward Daniels, was the first of 31 soldiers from Wayne County to lose his life in the Vietnam War. He lost his life on February 14, 1966, Valentine’s Day, when he was only 19 years old. Finding out this news was devastating to my family because he had just decided to go into the Army.
Donald was part of the 25th Infantry Division, 1st Battalion, 5th Infantry, C Company and was only one month into his tour of duty when he was killed trying to help two wounded comrades. When he went forward to try to help the two wounded soldiers, the rest of his unit was returning to their lines. As he was going forward to help them, he was shot at the tip of his heart by a sniper in a tree. He always put others’ lives before his own just like any soldier would.
No man in uniform delivered the news about his death to my family. A taxi cab driver pulled past my Nana’s house and tossed the telegram out of the window into her yard. Some news reporters came to Nana’s house and interviewed her on the whole situation. “My mama went screaming and hollering and fell to the foot of her bed,” my grandmother recalled. It was devastating news for my family. My great grandmother is the one who held it together for the most part, but losing him was one of the hardest things my family had to go through.
When my uncle decided to go into the Army, his only reason was that it was just something he wanted to do. We all believe that maybe my great grandpa’s experience in World War II had something to do with it. When My uncle joined the Army, two men could join at the same time through “the buddy plan.” This plan guaranteed that the two people joining together would be assigned to the same unit. Donald’s close friend, Kenny Ray Herring, who wanted to be part of this experience too, joined with him, but Donald failed his physical the first time. Since he failed, he had to wait a few months before he could try again, meaning he and his friend got separated. Kenny Ray was shipped to Germany while Donald was assigned to the 25th Infantry Division. Donald wasn’t completely sure if he wanted to make the Army his career, but the Vietnam War didn’t give him a chance to decide. It was his career and a life-ending one at that. He may have died in Vietnam but his legacy still lives on to this day in our family and in Wayne County. He died for our freedom and we know that he probably wouldn’t have changed his mind on saving those wounded soldiers even if he knew the outcome.
Donald Edward Daniels will always be a hero, a legacy, and part of Wayne County’s history. Everyone goes into the Army knowing his or her life is at stake at all times, but you never know when that could happen or if it ever will. There are still living veterans from Vietnam who went through horrible pain, probably much worse than death itself. Many veterans have really bad PTSD, got hit with Agent Orange, and even lost limbs, all of which can be much worse than death to a certain degree, because they have to live with the pain for the rest of their lives. I would have loved to have met my Uncle Donald, but I have a really close family friend who is like a grandpa to me and he was also in the Vietnam War. He is still living and sometimes I feel like I got to have him in my life to fill in a special place for my Uncle Donald. His name is William Frazier and he fought in the Vietnam War at the same time my Uncle Donald did. While he was in the war he got sprayed with Agent Orange and still has terrible nightmares from his experiences. So always keep in mind that there are tons of veterans and selfless people who fought for our freedom and we will always remember them and what they did so that we can live our lives in freedom.