‘We have our freedom’

The Moving Wall evokes memories, emotions for survivors

Men check out wall

Navajo Times | Donovan Quintero
Arlin Tootsie Sr. looks for a name on the wall last Friday during the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, The Moving Wall, opening ceremony at Twin Arrows Casino Resort.


TWIN ARROWS, Ariz.

It was raining in Gallup 50 years ago when the late Michael Howard Bia boarded a Greyhound bus for Albuquerque to catch a flight to Fort Lewis, Washington.

As his parents waved him off to the Vietnam War, he embraced his then-girlfriend, Lula M. Bia, held her tightly and told her he loved her very much.

Men's hands touching inscriptions of names

Navajo Times | Donovan Quintero
A father and his son read the names of fallen military personnel who gave the ultimate sacrifice during the Vietnam War last Friday during the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, The Moving Wall, opening ceremony at Twin Arrows Casino Resort.

“I want you to take care of yourself, your family,” Michael Bia told his girlfriend. “And take care of my sisters, your sisters, your mom, your dad, and take care of my mom and my dad.”

Lula gave a nod and said to him, “Yes, I will, I will, I will.”

At Fort Lewis, an Army base, Michael called Lula and talked about the same thing.

“He never said he was afraid or anything,” Lula said. “He never mentioned that to me. He had to do what he had to do because he was drafted.

“He was going to be the best soldier he could be,” Lula continued, “and I knew that’s what he was going to do.”

Pfc. Michael Bia fought and died for the 101st Airborne Division on June 6, 1968. He was killed during a firefight in Thua Thien-Hue, Vietnam, where his division was tasked with liberating the province after the Tet Offensive earlier that year.

Michael’s division waged three weeks of house-to-house combat. They moved out into the surrounding region of the province after the victory over North Vietnamese forces.

A patrol of three Jeeps set out from a fire support base near the province on the evening of June 6, 1968. They were to assist U.S. Navy Seabees in defense of a pipeline.

NVA forces exploded a Claymore landmine – used to repel assaults and initiate ambushes – while the patrol was on the road, killing New Jersey native Samuel Boyd Jr. who was driving one of the Jeeps and passenger Bia who was manning an M60 machine gun.

Women in red traditional dresses salute

Navajo Times | Donovan Quintero
Haulapai Tribe Veterans Organization member Rochelle Kennedy, a U.S. Navy veteran, salutes the playing of the national anthem last Friday during the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, The Moving Wall, opening ceremony at Twin Arrows Casino Resort.

“I wasn’t really informed by the U.S. government about the details of how he was killed,” explained Lula, who had married Michael in March 1968 during his two-week leave. “All I had known was that he was killed by a single gunshot in an ambush. That’s all I knew for many, many years – 40 years.”

This past Saturday, torrential rain forced people under a tent outside the Twin Arrows Navajo Casino Resort, where visitors like Lula Bia searched through a database of names engraved on The Moving Wall, a half-size replica of the Vietnam Memorial.

The rain “lightens up my heart,” Lula, a retired teacher, said in a phone interview from her home in St. Michaels, Arizona.

“That means that our Diné soldiers are looking down upon us, protecting us, especially during this time where things are uncertain with our U.S. government and our (country’s) president,” she said.


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Categories: News

About Author

Krista Allen

Krista Allen is the Western Agency Bureau reporter for the Navajo Times. She covers the western half of the Navajo Nation, including Page, Tuba City, Kaibeto, Cameron, Tonalea and Shonto. She can be reached at kallen@navajotimes.com.