Names on a Memorial: The Power of Information Arrangement

Today’s post honors Phillip Gibbs and James Green, killed shortly after midnight on May 15, 1970 by police at Jackson State College in Mississippi.  On May 4 of that year, Allison Krause, Jeffrey Miller, Sandra Scheuer, and William Schroeder were killed by the Ohio National Guard at Kent State University.

This post will also be the Memorial Day essay for Discover the Region, where some of my writings will now be published.

Like all language, organized information persuades.  It “directs our thinking,” as biologist Stephen Jay Gould wrote about classification.  Information arrangement shapes perception and interaction.  Names on memorials are examples of organized information where arrangement defines a visitor’s experience.  The thoughtful chronology of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial builds a space for individual remembrance.  A World War I memorial does the same, but with a different arrangement strategy, reflecting the difference in the two wars.  In contrast, the random arrangement proposed for the World Trade Center memorial almost derailed the project.  Yet, in another context, random builds community at the Memorial Temples of Burning Man.

By listing names on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial (VVM) in chronological order, designer Maya Lin gave surviving Vietnam Vets personal spaces for contemplation, spaces that make the VVM our most powerful memorial.  Names are arranged by date of casualty, not date of death.  Those who died later of wounds received in battle are listed on the day of the battle along with their buddies who died that day or went missing.  When a surviving soldier visits the VVM, he need only remember one name to look up in the index.  He finds the panel and sees the names of his friends who died in a battle he fought.  They remain together where he can visit them and remember his own experience.

Architect EdwinLutyens influenced Lin with his World War I Memorial to the Missing of the Somme.  This open structure of 16 huge columns, with intersecting arches and a truncated tower in Thiepval, France lists more than 72,000 names on its huge columns, names of British soldiers missing from a single battle.  Like the VVM, the memorial gives survivors an individual place of remembrance, but the two use different arrangements to achieve the same goal.  The VVM honors over 58,000 dead or missing during a 20 year war.  The Somme memorial lists those missing from a five month battle, most from a one day massacre when British troops surged into waiting German lines.

In World War I, Britain recruited Pals Battalions.  Men who signed up together could serve the entire war with their buddies.  Cities and towns mustered their own fighting units, sending them off to France with names like the Sheffield City Battalion.  On July 1, 1916, many of these towns lost nearly a generation of young men.

The names on the Somme memorial are arranged by British Army Order of Precedence.  That’s how military units appear on the parade ground.  These units came from individual towns, so the arrangement has the effect of organizing missing soldiers by their home towns.  Even today, with only a few remaining World War I vets, relatives and neighbors have their own place of remembrance.

Michael Arad, designer of New York’s National September 11 Memorial, ignored individual places of remembrance when he selected random as the arrangement.  This would have dispersed names from each company all over the monument.  Instead of a personal place to remember fallen coworkers, survivors would have had to hike to see each name.  The arrangement infuriated surviving families and they eventually refused to contribute to the memorial fund.  At that point, the design committee reconsidered and offered “meaningful adjacencies.”  Families can now place their loved one’s name within a group or next to an individual.  Many names will appear with the companies they worked for, but they might also be with special friends.  In one case, a married couple who worked at different companies will now be forever together on the memorial.

The designers of the National September 11 Memorial paid dearly for an arrangement error, losing money, prestige and the community’s good will.  They went from simplistic random to perhaps the most complex arrangement on any memorial with individualized name placement and multiple types of groupings.  If the designers had originally selected an obvious arrangement, such as geographic by floor, survivors would have had their places of remembrance.  They would not have needed strong family associations to fight against the arrangement and ultimately to fight for a more detailed names design.

In the right context, however, even random can build private spaces of remembrance.  David Best did this at Nevada’s Burning Man art festivals.  His Memorial Temples in 2001, 2002, 2003, and 2004 reflect the Somme memorial as arched open structures, topped with a tower and filled with names.  Burners inscribe the names they want to remember anywhere on the memorial.  The effect is random, but each inscription describes a private remembrance.  For the week of the festival, Burners have a personal place to grieve, a place they have chosen.  When the Temple burns on Sunday, individual memories and the combined memories of all Burners float into the evening sky.

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Names on a Memorial: Lutyens at Burning Man

Memorial Day honors those who died serving our country, but we may also visit a grandmother’s grave. Throughout the year, there are opportunities to keep her memory alive. One of the most distinctive is Burning Man, a festival for building and experiencing art in the desert, with or without clothing.

Each September, Burners transform a flat empty playa near Gerlach into Black Rock City, Nevada’s third largest urban environment. After a week it disappears with the mantra, “Leave No Trace.” Nothing on the playa reveals Black Rock City’s existence until the next year. Climaxing the festival, a giant wooden Man burns the Saturday night before Labor Day in a bacchanalian rite of dance, performance art, and flames.

I attended Burning Man for six years. I have also researched name arrangement on memorials, including the Memorial to the Missing of the Somme in Thiepval, France, designed by Edwin Lutyens. When I first saw a photo of the WWI Memorial, it reminded me of Burning Man. Thiepval was an influence on Maya Lin for her Vietnam Veterans Memorial. David Best may also have studied Lutyens before building the Temple of Tears, Temple of Joy and Temple of Honor.

The Thiepval Memorial is a truncated tower with sixteen piers supporting intersected arches that increase in size for a two-story effect. In the interior, these piers hold names of 72,000 primarily British missing soldiers. Best’s Temples also featured arches, towers, multiple stories, and interior names. Constructed of scraps from manufacturing 3D dinosaur puzzles, similar to cookie dough scraps, they were feathery shrines of light and memory.

Best’s first Temple at the 2000 Burning Man, Temple of the Mind, designed with Jack Haye, was a ramshackle building not reflecting Thiepval. But in 2001, Best and Haye got serious. Their Temple of Tears (or Temple of Memory) featured a truncated tower and two arches, one on top of the other, giving the appearance of two stories. Burners wrote memorial inscriptions inside. Sunday night it made a glorious blaze of memories and dinosaur templates.

In 2002, Best, with Haye, continued building upon his own work in addition to Lutyens. The Temple of Joy had the truncated tower, the multiple story effect, and interior names, but no arches. His Temple of Honor in 2003 brought the arches back, retaining the two-story idea, with an elongated tower. Temple of Stars, Best’s final Temple in 2004, reflected only his own work, with a single story, tall tower and no arches. As always, Burners inscribed their memories into the interior. Mark Grieve designed the Temples of Dreams in 2005 and the Temple of Hope in 2006 without reference to Lutyens.

The Thiepval Memorial organizes names of the missing by regiments, rank and alphabetical order. Because British fighting units mustered into the Pals Battalions of their towns and neighborhoods, the Memorial keeps friends and relatives together. At Burning Man, the names are random, an ill advised organizational structure for memorials. Michael Arad, designer of the proposed World Trade Center Memorial, tried random. When surviving families vilified the suggestion as insulting, he reluctantly changed his easy-way-out random to a display that honors victims as friends and co-workers.

But random at Burning Man is only an appearance. Burners each carefully select a place on the Temple for their memories. They choose that place for a reason. Perhaps it reminds them of their loved ones; perhaps it’s easy to get to or a challenge to reach. Each memory remains in its sacred space until the burn on Sunday night.

Some say the Temple is a superior burn to the Man. After all, the Man always looks the same, but the Temple changes each year. The burning of the Man is an invitation to party. The Temple burn glows with memories and the reverence is real, regardless of what Burners wear or do not wear.

This year the Man is green, an obvious 2007 theme for a festival that leaves no trace. Check it out. You don’t need clothes, although costumes are a big part of the experience. Bring a tent, a shade structure, and lots of sunscreen and water. Bring those who now live only in your heart. When the Temple burns, it will carry your love into the sky.

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Names on a Memorial: Twelve Columns

(This post marks the fourth anniversary of the second Iraq war, which began this week in 2003.)

After months of researching the Memorial to the Missing of the Somme at Thiepval, I have found two books with photographs that clearly display the name structure on each pier face.  As mentioned in my post, Comrades in Vietnam and the Somme, regiments are listed by British Army order of precedence.  The photos each show a pier face with twelve columns divided into six sets of two columns.  At the top of each set is the regiment whose names appear in the columns below.

If the regiment’s names completely fill one set of two columns, they are read as usual from top to bottom, left column, then right column.  The names are divided by rank, in alphabetical order within the ranks.  If regimental casualties require more than two columns, the names continue from the bottom of the right column to the top left of the next set of columns.  If they do not fill these two columns, the names are divided equally between the left and right side, with the next regiment appearing below.  A diagram showing the arrangement design follows this post.

Courage Remembered, a book about the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, has one of the photos.  The authors state that a point of interest when viewing a memorial is the “layout of the names” (p. 109).  Yet they do not describe the arrangement.  The other photo is in The Immortal Heritage, by Fabian Ware, the Commission’s founder, who also does not discuss the arrangement.  The Memorial to the Missing of the Somme is a 214 page book devoted to this one memorial.  Its author Gavin Stamp does not even mention that the names are listed by regiment in order of precedence, let alone describe the complex organizational structure on the piers, although he does provide minute details about Edwin Lutyens’ architecture.

Can you imagine requiring four months of research to discover that the names on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial are in order of casualty?  There the name arrangement is a primary descriptive feature.  Maya Lin put the names first and her design became one of the world’s most admired memorials.

Lutyen’s architecture, with its interweaving arches, is certainly beautiful, but so is the complex and elegant name structure.  The purpose of the Somme Memorial is to honor Commonwealth soldiers whose bodies were never found.  Architecture overwhelms its own mission when we admire the picture frame and not the picture.

A1 A28 A59 A80 B17 B21 E13 E44 E76 E88 G1 G26
LT A29 A60 A81 B18 B22 E14 E45 E77 E89 G2 G27
A2 A30 A61 A82 B19 B23 E15 E46 E78 E90 SGT M G28
A3 A31 A62 A83 B20 B24 E16 E47 E79 E91 G3 G29
A4 A32 A63 A84 REGIMENT C E17 E48 E80 E92 SGT G30
A5 A33 A64 A85 LT PVT E18 E49 E81 E93 G4 G31
2ND LT A34 A65 A86 C1 C10 E19 E50 E82 E94 CPL G32
A6 A35 A66 A87 CPL C11 E20 E51 E83 E95 G5 G33
A7 A36 A67 A88 C2 C12 E21 E52 E84 E96 G6 G34
A8 A37 A68 A89 C3 C13 E22 E53 E85 E97 G7 G35
SGT M A38 A69 A90 C4 C14 CPL E54 E86 E98 G8 G36
A9 A39 A70 A91 PVT C15 E23 E55 E87 E99 G9 G37
A10 A40 A71 A92 C5 C16 E24 E56 REGIMENT F G10 G38
A11 A41 A72 A93 C6 C17 E25 E57 SGT M PVT G11 G39
SGT A42 A73 A94 C7 C18 E26 E58 F1 F18 G12 G40
A12 A43 A74 A95 C8 C19 E27 E59 F2 F19 G13 G41
A13 A44 A75 A96 C9 C20 E28 E60 F3 F20 G14 G42
A14 A45 A76 A97 REGIMENT D E29 E61 F4 F21 G15 G43
A15 L CPL A77 A98 PVT PVT E30 E62 F5 F22 G16 G44
L SGT A46 A78 A99 D1 D5 E31 E63 L CPL F23 G17 G45
A16 A47 A79 A100 D2 D6 E32 PVT F6 F24 G18 G46
A17 A48 REGIMENT B D3 D7 E33 E64 F7 F25 G19 G47
A18 A49 LT CPL D4 D8 E34 E65 F8 F26 G20 G48
A19 A50 B1 B8 REGIMENT E E35 E66 F9 F27 G21 G49
CPL A51 B2 B9 CAPT SGT E36 E67 F10 F28 G22 G50
A20 A52 2ND LT B10 E1 E6 E37 E68 F11 F29 G23 G51
A21 A53 B3 B11 LT E7 E38 E69 CPL F30 G24 G52
A22 A54 SGT M B12 E2 L SGT L CPL E70 F12 F31 G25 G53
A23 A55 B4 B13 2ND LT E8 E39 E71 F13 F32 REGIMENT H
A24 A56 SGT B14 E3 E9 E40 E72 F14 F33 CAPT LT
A25 A57 B5 B15 E4 E10 E41 E73 F15 F34 H1 H3
A26 PVT B6 PVT SGT M E11 E42 E74 F16 F35 LT SGT M
A27 A58 B7 B16 E5 E12 E43 E75 F17 F36 H2 H4

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Mar 2007

Names on a Memorial: Honor for the Individual

Britain started planning memorials before World War I ended.  The Thiepval memorial’s designer, Edwin Lutyens visited the Somme during the battle, which lasted for several months after the massacre on the first day.  His visit was sponsored by the newly established Imperial War Graves Commission under the direction of Fabian Ware.  It was Ware who insisted that casualties be named individually, either in a separate grave or on memorials for the missing.

Prior to World War I, soldiers were not usually memorialized individually.  There are several theories about why this changed.  One is the improved status of soldiers.  The men at the Somme were volunteers.  They were not mercenaries nor had they been bashed over the head in a tavern and dragged into the army.  The war and their motives for fighting in it were considered honorable (Mosse, 1990).

Entire British towns drummed up regiments only to see a generation lost on the battlefield.  These towns all built memorials.  There are even memorials to men who lived on single streets (Boorman, 1988).  This level of individualized honor may have helped the British absorb the loss and share the sorrow (Dyer, 1994).

In Monument Builders, Edwin Heathcote articulates one more reason – guilt.  He calls the war a pointless endeavor.  This applies especially to the Battle of the Somme.  Young inexperienced soldiers followed their leaders into a massacre.  The British ultimately won the war, but perhaps more troops would have returned home to their families if the Battle of the Somme had not been so poorly executed.

When it was all over, the British weren’t quite ready to blame the generals.  They even erected monuments to General Haig.  It’s hard to tell a nation that their fathers, sons, husbands, and brothers died for inept leadership.  We all want to believe sacrifice is warranted.  So they put the names of the dead and missing on cemeteries and memorials in foreign battlefields and they put the names of local heroes on monuments throughout the towns of Britain.

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Feb 2007

Names on a Memorial: Follow the Leader

World War I erupted because Germany, which had invaded France in 1870 for the Franco-Prussian War, wanted to do it again.  The assassination of Archduke Ferdinand, heir to the Austrian throne, and his wife, provided the perfect excuse.  When Germany started getting belligerent, Russia made obvious moves toward a preemptive strike.  On August 1, 1914, Germany declared war on Russia.  On August 3, they invaded Belgium, heading for France.  Britain declared war on Germany and Austria, and started recruiting. One of the big draws was the “Pals” battalions.  Soldiers who signed up together got to fight together.  Units based on geography guaranteed that many towns lost a generation of young men.

At the Somme on the Western Front, both sides burrowed into an elaborate system of trenches with a no man’s land in between.  Britain’s generals, Sir Douglas Haig and Sir Henry Rawlinson, planned a surge to divert German attention from Verdun.  They called it the “The Big Push” and set it on July 1, 1916 at 7:30am, giving Germans full light for their aim.  Announced in advance with poorly timed explosions and the cessation of a week long bombardment, “The Big Push” found Germans in full battle preparation as inexperienced British troops marched into the shooting gallery.  The first half hour claimed 2000.  At the end of the day, 21,000 Britons were dead or missing, and 35,000 wounded (Stamp, 2006).

Then both sides settled back into their trenches and continued fighting until winter arrived four months later, with a loss of 300,000 on all sides (Gilbert, 2006).  So many died, it was impossible to identify individual corpses due to massive wounds, decomposition, or the lack of anyone left alive to recognize bodies.  Ninety years later, skeletons are still found.  Seven German soldiers were uncovered during construction of the Thiepval Visitor’s Center, which opened in 2004 (Stamp, 2006).

Despite its huge losses, Britain was declared winner of the campaign.  The Battle of the Somme did divert German attention from Verdun, and with American help, France and Britain won the war.  Everyone went home and built monuments and rested up.

Twenty years later the next round started when German soldiers followed a corporal, who had been wounded at the Somme, into Czechoslovakia and new levels of efficient brutality.

(The primary resource for this post is The Somme Then and Now: A Visual History, by Duncan Youel and David Edgell, 2006.)

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Feb 2007

Names on a Memorial: A Path Among the Missing

(These essays in the “Names on a Memorial” series are sometimes published on significant days of mourning.  The previous post, Comrades in Vietnam and the Somme, was on Martin Luther King’s birthday.  February 4 is the birthday of my grandmother Margaret Hardeman Applegate.  Her husband and my grandfather, Julian Eugene Applegate, served with the U.S. Marines in WWI at Belleau Wood in France.  Severely injured on the first day of battle, he spent the rest of the war in a Parisian hospital.  My grandmother met him after he came home.)

The names on the Memorial to the Missing of the Somme in Thiepval are arranged on 16 piers in British Army Order of Precedence.  The path among the piers emphasizes Edwin Lutyens’ magnificent architecture and the inspirational view, along a trail of adjacent panels that generally keeps regiment names in proximity.  If the names in a regiment encompass two panels, most visitors need only turn a corner or cross an aisle. Thiepval memorializes 163 units; five require three panels to list their missing.

A map of the Memorial shows 16 piers in four rows of four, with two rows to the south, two to the north, and a wide middle aisle with east and west steps leading to the central Stone of Remembrance.  The Stone, also designed by Lutyens, is placed in all larger military cemeteries of the British Commonwealth.  It looks like an altar and Lutyens wanted to call it that, but his friend James M. Barrie, author of Peter Pan and Wendy, convinced him that Presbyterians would prefer the word “Stone” (Stamp, 2006, p. 78).

The entrance to the Memorial is on the east.  The west side features a terrace and a sunset view of the cemetery.  The base is approximately 8 feet high, with the panels above at about twice that.  The exterior panels on the east and west are viewed from the ground or the terrace, so the highest names are about 24 feet above where the visitor stands.  There are no names on the exterior north and south panels.  In the interior, you can stand next to the panels and touch the lower names, but many names are too high to reach.

Order of precedence creates a path of names within the Memorial.  The piers and faces in path order are listed after this post.  Using the map, you can easily follow the trail.  It begins at the south side of the front exterior (1A, 8A).  Visitors enter the Memorial and walk up to the Stone of Remembrance and down to the west.  Cross the main aisle, walk up to the Stone of Remembrance again and down to the east.  Exit the Memorial to view the names at the north side of the exterior front (9A, 16A).  To get to the next panel (8C), visitors must return to the entrance, crossing one pier and the central aisle and again climbing the first flight of stairs.  The interior panels are fully contiguous, leading ultimately to a panel near the front (9C).  For the final panels, visitors again walk up to the Stone of Remembrance and down to the west.  Exit the Memorial onto the terrace, cross one pier to the north and then walk south along the terrace with the four final panels (13C, 12C, 5C, 4C) to the east and the cemetery view to the west.

This path of names demonstrates decisions of arrangement design.  Assuming that Lutyens’s architecture was non-negotiable, the Thiepval arrangement serves three goals:  (1) the path should follow order of precedence, (2) the path should keep regiment names together on contiguous panels, and (3) the path should enhance the architecture.  The design of 16 piers only allows two of these goals to be fully met.  Order of precedence was the priority, so a decision was made between keeping regiment names together or enhancing the architecture.

The designers of the path chose to enhance the architecture.  The path begins at the front of the Memorial, includes three walks alongside the Stone of Remembrance, twice exits the Memorial, and ends at the west terrace with a sunset view of the cemetery.  In making that decision, the path designers disrupted the names of two regiments.

The Royal Fusiliers of the City of London Regiment are one of the five units with names on three faces of the Memorial piers (9A, 16A, 8C).  Their names begin with the second walk along the front exterior of the Memorial.  Then visitors must cross one pier, re-enter the Memorial, cross the central aisle and climb the first flight of stairs to get to the third panel.  Near the end, the names of the London Scottish 14th Battalion London Regiment (9C, 13C) are disrupted by a third walk along the Stone of Remembrance, completely traversing the Memorial from front to back and arriving at the terrace cemetery view.

As an expert in information arrangement, I, of course, believe that keeping the names contiguous is far more important than admiring magnificent architecture, but a primary skill of arrangement is working within parameters to meet the collection’s goals.  The goal of the Thiepval Memorial is to mourn the dead and inspire the living.

Lutyens’ WWI architecture eloquently serves this goal.  His Cenotaph at Whitehall in London is inscribed with the years 1914 and 1919 and a simple phrase selected by Rudyard Kipling, “The Glorious Dead.”  At Thiepval, the massive size, the Stone of Remembrance, and the stirring view all honor sacrifice in war.  By promoting an emotional architectural experience, the path of names contributes to this theme, perhaps inspiring future generations to fight again.  And they did fight again.  The Cenotaph was later inscribed with the dates 1939 and 1945.

Path of Names at the Memorial to the Missing of the Somme, Thiepval (See map:

1A, 8A     South front exterior of the Memorial

8D, 7D, 6D, 5D     Enter the Memorial, then up the stairs on the south side of the Stone of Remembrance and down the stairs to the west.

12B     Cross the central aisle on the west side

11B, 10B, 9B     Up stairs on the north side of the Stone and down to the east

9A, 16A     Exit to the north front exterior

8C     Cross one pier to the south, re-enter the Memorial, continue south across the central aisle, climbing the first flight of stairs

8B, 1D, 1C, 2A, 2D, 2C, 3A, 3D, 3C, 4A, 4D, 5B, 5A, 6C, 6B, 6A, 7C, 7B, 7A     Interior of south piers

10A     Cross the center aisle to the north

10D, 10C, 11A, 11D, 11C, 12A, 12D, 13B, 13A, 14C, 14B, 14A, 15C, 15B, 15A, 16C, 16B, 9D, 9C     Interior of north piers

13C     Up the stairs on the north side of the Stone, then down to the west, exit onto the terrace, and cross one pier to the north.

12C, 5C, 4C     Walk south along the terrace overlooking the cemetery to the west

(I am grateful to Peter Francis, Media & PR Manager of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, for providing the map and the list of regimental locations on the Memorial.)

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Feb 2007

Names on a Memorial: Comrades in Vietnam and the Somme

While writing her proposal essay for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial (VVM) competition, Maya Lin was influenced by the Memorial to the Missing of the Somme in Thiepval, France.  Designed by architect Edwin Lutyens, this WWI memorial honors 72,000 Britons, Indians and South Africans who went missing from the Somme battlefield, primarily during five months in 1916.  The VVM honors 58,000 dead and missing during 20 years from 1956 to 1975. Lin’s essay emphasizes placement of the VVM within the context of the National Mall.  I believe she was inspired by Thiepval’s site on a hill overlooking a cemetery.  Lutyen’s memorial magnificently overwhelms the French countryside.  While the VVM is overwhelming only when you get close to it, Lin’s work tends to be site specific, so it is natural that she would emphasize placement in her essay.

Lutyens’ Thiepval design interweaves six arches on a square of sixteen piers, spanning the length and width of the building.  The arches increase in size as they decrease in number.  Two north-south arches are intersected by two taller east-west arches, intersected by one even larger north-south arch, and finally intersected by the tallest east-west arch rising almost to the height of the edifice.

The names of the missing are engraved on the 16 piers.  They are organized by British Army Order of Precedence, which determines how regiments appear on the parade ground.  Within each regiment, names are listed by rank and within each rank, in alphabetical order.  Like the VVM, the Thiepval memorial requires an index to locate individual names.

Also like the VVM, the arrangement places comrades close to each other.  Prior to Vietnam, military personnel were often mustered into local regiments and sent off to war. In WWI, British towns sacrificed a generation of young men into fighting squads with names like Kensington Battalion and Cheshire Regiment.  Organizing the missing of the Somme by unit not only combines those who fought together, but also those who lived together in their civilian towns.  Military survivors remember comrades.  Townspeople remember neighbors.

In traditional wars, like WWI, military personnel mustered together and fought together throughout the entire conflict.  Survivors returned home at the same time and, if they won, they had a parade.  Vietnam changed that.  Individuals were sent at different times, stayed for a few years and returned alone.  No parade and no comradeship within the entire regiment.  Vietnam veterans remember those who served at the same time, not those who served in their unit several years before they arrived.  For Vietnam veterans, chronology, not unit, gathers comrades together.

(My thanks to Peter Francis, Media & PR Manager of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, for his invaluable help in my research on the Thiepval memorial.)

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