‘Helicopters for Turner Square’

I read a Memorial Day Facebook post about Michael J. Monahan of Dracut, a Keith Academy graduate and Boston College student who enlisted in the Marines and was killed at Quang Tri in South Vietnam in 1966. He was a radio operator, nineteen years old. There’s a playground on Pleasant Street in Dracut dedicated to him. I was reminded of Daniel Turner of Dracut, whom I knew only from his being around my old neighborhood. Six years older than me, he was a sergeant in the Air Force when he died in Gia Dinh Province in 1969, a “ground casualty,” according to the official record. I wrote the following sketch when I was living in Dana Point, California, in 1984, not far from the Marines’ legendary Camp Pendleton.


Michael Monahan (web photo courtesy of Harold Lupton)

I was spared having to choose to fight in Vietnam or not, accepting the order to report for military service or somehow refusing and, what?, fleeing to Canada or going to prison as a conscientious objector. But I’ve been haunted by my good luck. I’ve always felt I got a second chance and should make the best of it. And I think about those of my generation who did what they had to do. War and foreign policy are not abstractions when they pull someone out of his or her neighborhood and ship him or her far away to a war place. Our editor-in-chief of this blog, Dick, does an excellent job reminding us of who does the serving and fighting and dying.—PM

daniel turner

Helicopters for Turner Square

Iron chops the sky up and down this coast, from Camp Pendleton to the Marine air base at El Toro. Maybe it’s the palm trees or because I’m picturing the surf sliding into Vietnam on the other hem of this ocean, but I can’t help thinking these helicopters are from the war, the ones that carried wounded kids out of fire zones long enough ago that movies of the war seem old. I didn’t go, but can’t get rid of it. I keep reading Casey’s Obscenities and Herr’s Dispatches, drawn to the mayhem. I wonder if young Daniel Turner from my home back east was stationed in California before shipping out. A quiet guy who lived up the hill from my house, his name now tops a steel post set in a grassy patch at Hildreth Street and New Boston Road where I caught the high school bus. Now it’s a hero square: Turner Square. That’s what we do at home. In high school I was too cautious to join the walk-out protest when U.S. troops went into Cambodia big-time. The draft was suspended the year I would have been called to go. I still don’t know what I would have done if the call had come. Several years later, planes lifted orphans out of South Vietnam as the world watched everything go bad on TV. At a Concord church, I helped pack baby food, diapers, and formula all day, and then trucked the goods to Logan Airport for a charter flight. When I finally visited the black Wall in hot and steamy white-stone Washington and felt the incisions in its mirror-face, I searched for Sergeant Turner’s name among the names that hold up all the signs at all the intersections. His dates are 31 Jan 48, 17 Aug 69. Daniel R. Turner. He’s on Panel 19 West, Row 57. Exactly the same letters as on the neighborhood sign.

Paul Marion (c) 1984, 2016