Editor’s Note: For this week, we interviewed Lester Markovitz, a U.S. Marine who served in combat during the Vietnam War. He is one of several veterans who have applied to be among the 45 area Vietnam Era veterans who will be a part of “Roll to DC,” a five-day-four-night bus trip to Washington, D.C. in September to view the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and other memorials. Markovitz, 74, is a retired Marine corporal; he received the Purple Heart after being wounded in action during the Vietnam War. He is a Dorchester native and 1965 graduate of Dorchester High School. He and his wife, Enid, a Revere native, have been married for 37 years and moved to Saugus soon after their marriage to raise a family. They have a son (Jonathan) and a daughter (Amie) and five grandchildren. He is a member of the Saugus American Legion Cp. Scott J. Procopio Post 210. He serves as historian for the Post and helps cook the Friday morning breakfasts at Legion Hall. After serving in the military, he worked as a counselor at the Veterans Center in the South End of Boston, working out of the Jamaica Plains Veterans Hospital. Later, he worked for 30 years as a supervisor in the U.S. Post Office. Some highlights of this week’s interview follow.
Q: So, please tell me a little bit about yourself – why you enlisted in the service.
A: My older brother enlisted in the Air Force and I wanted to follow him. Later, at the last minute, I changed to the Marines.
Q: Why did you change?
A: I was with my friends and we were watching a John Wayne movie. I had made the statement that I always wanted to be a Marine, and then I switched and enlisted in the Marines.
I was down in Cuba and was already a lance corporal when I got my draft notice.
Q: You were already in the service. So, was Vietnam a choice or a mission you were assigned to?
A: I was trained in Cuba for Vietnam. We knew we were going there when we were being trained.
Q: And where in Vietnam did you serve?
A: I served in Da Nang and in that area, with Charlie Company 111 – the First Battalion of the First Marine Regiment of the First Marine Division.
Q: So, why would you like to go see the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, D.C.?
A: I’ve never seen “The Wall.” I’ve never seen any of the monuments in Washington. I’ve been to Washington once – by accident – driving through it. This is a “Bucket List” wish, and I’d like to go.
Q: So, what’s the main reason for this being on your “Bucket List”?
A: I am going to be 75 in a couple of weeks (May 9) and I’d like to see “The Wall” before it’s too late.
Q: Do you have some buddies who you served with whose names are on that wall?
A: Oh yes – a few men I served with who died serving their country. One of them was a friend who I grew up with. He was a buddy I had in my teens from Mattapan. The last time I saw him was in March of 1966 on Parris Island. We were having a cigarette together. I was wounded in August of 1967. I was medevaced to Chelsea Naval Hospital and that’s when I found out he was killed. They named a square after him in Mattapan.
Q: So, when did you decide you wanted to go on this “Roll to DC” trip?
A: I was at the Saugus Veterans Council meeting on Monday, the 7th of March. Jay Pinette, the Veterans Service Officer, presented this at the meeting. I texted my wife to see if I could get permission. “Can I go?” I asked. And she said, “Sure.” And that’s when I made up my mind.
Q: What are your expectations of the trip? What do you hope to get out of it?
A: Some peace of mind and to show some respect to those whose names are on the wall. I get to touch the names of people I knew and served with. Getting to see them and touch the wall – it’s going to be a special, moving and emotional experience for me.
Q: After your service, did you go to college?
A: I went to Boston University on the GI Bill. I attended in 1969, 1970 and 1971, and then I had to leave.
A: They treated me very badly – the teachers and the students. I left four courses short of getting my degree. I was totally alienated by teachers and students alike. I just couldn’t go to class anymore. The Marines got bad-mouthed during those days. So did the Army, but not as much so. The Marines got it more. We were “the Baby killers.” Teachers and students made Vietnam veterans like me feel ostracized.
Q: Anything else that you would like to share with our readers?
A: If I am fortunate enough to be a part of “Roll to DC.” I want to thank all of those people who made this trip possible for me to go on. I want to thank them very much. This is not a vacation for me: It’s a destination or a pilgrimage. Being a Vietnam combat veteran, I’ve never seen the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. I have friends whose names are on that wall. After coming home from the war, I’ve tried to lead a decent life in honor of the memory of the people I served with who gave their lives. And part of this trip is a chance to show respect for those who fought for their country and died.
About “Roll to DC”
Plans are underway to send about 45 Vietnam Era veterans from Saugus, Melrose and Wakefield on an expenses-paid trip to Washington, D.C., this fall so they can get to see the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. The five-day-four-night bus trip called “Roll to DC” will be held from September 11–15 and will include wreath-laying ceremonies at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and the Tomb of Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery, as well as other stops in the D.C. area. All attendees will be staying at The Presidential Inn at Joint Base Andrews.
For the purposes of this trip, the organizers will make no distinction between Veterans who served in-country, in-theater or who were stationed elsewhere during the Vietnam War period. Vietnam Era veterans in Saugus who are interested in applying for the trip, or who would like to obtain additional information about the trip, are asked to contact the Saugus Veterans Office by phone (781-231-4010) or in person on the first floor of Saugus Town Hall at 298 Central St., Saugus, Mass.
Applications will be accepted on a first come, first served basis. Applications cannot be accepted unless they include the following documentation:
- Copy of DD-214
- Copy of COVID-19 Vaccination Card (vaccines and booster are required)
- Copy of Current/Valid Picture ID/Driver’s License (front & back)
- Completed CORI Form
(Please note that some of these documents are required in order to enter and stay on Joint Base Andrews.)