The Boys of Del Valle Park
The Boys of Del Valle Park
by Dennis Lander, Vietnam Veteran
We climbed aboard that huge winged rocket,
And rode it to the sky.
Our minds would soar for hours and hours,
We’re never gonna die.
With pitch and yaw, dives and rolls,
We’d blast bad guys to heaven.
We’d crash and burn and walk away,
Heck, we’re only seven.
But jets give way to bats and balls,
To hoop and football too.
“We’ve got great potential,” they’d say,
“The rest is up to you.”
How quick time travels from innocent days,
Of running in the sun.
‘Til the day your daddy tells you,
“It’s your duty son.”
“Be strong, be tough and be a man.”
I’d listen to them say.
“But wait a minute everyone,
I thought it was only play.”
And so it goes we’re back today,
With no mournful song to sing.
That same great jet above us now,
Shades us with its wings.
Together again but now we rest,
A brass plaque is our home.
But we’re not complaining, we’re quite
Content, to lie here all alone.
So moms and dads bring the kids on by,
And read a name or two.
Remember that these precious children
Sure think the world of you.
Tell them the truth about us,
Don’t shirk, don’t squirm, don’t lie,
And tell them that the toys boys
Could someday make men die.
And think of us if not out loud,
But when it’s quiet and dark.
After all we’re your kids you know,
The Boys of Del Valle park.
Vietnam memorial honors Lakewood's fallen sons
Click on a photo to be taken to that veteran's history page.
For many Lakewood residents, the Vietnam War shattered the pattern of suburban life. Dennis Lander, who is a Vietnam veteran, remembered that Vietnam “was just a current event” discussed in abstract terms in civics and government classes. After graduation, Vietnam suddenly became a real issue for many of Lakewood’s sons.
In 1967, the city established a Vietnam memorial as an addition to the city’s Korean War monument at Del Valle Park. By 1972, more than 30 names had been placed on a memorial plaque at the monument, a sad reminder of the war's cost to Lakewood’s second generation.
When Lander and the other Vietnam veterans returned home, there was none of the fanfare that his father’s generation had received after World War II, and even his family did not talk about his time away.
Times and attitudes finally changed. On Veteran’s Day in 1992, nearly 250 Lakewood residents, most of them family members of Vietnam veterans, gathered around the Del Valle Park memorial for the dedication of a plaque inscribed with Lander’s poem, “The Boys of Del Valle Park.” The poem, which is still read at Lakewood’s Memorial Day program, recalls that the boys who played on the park’s Korean War-era jet later went off to fight in Vietnam.
The dedication became an emotional community event as families, high school friends, and young and old veterans reunited with people they hadn’t seen for 20 years or more. “It wasn’t really about the poem anymore, although that was the catalyst for it,” Lander later noted.
The outpouring of emotion acted as a catharsis after years of silence about the Vietnam War. “That day was kind of the first time the community really got together to recognize those guys, it was just something you didn’t do back in the 1970s,” said Lander. “The poem started a dialogue. It gave the community permission to go ahead and talk about (Vietnam) or go ahead and feel bad about it or go ahead and feel happy about it or feel something about it.”
Excerpted from The Lakewood Story, copyright 2004 and 2014 by the City of Lakewood.