POULSBO — Tomorrow, at 7:54 a.m. Eastern time, Susan Clotfelter Blaker will read a list of 30 American soldiers killed in Vietnam at the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C.
The last names are common enough to be found in every phone book, such as Martin and Scott, and quirky enough to raise an eyebrow, like Wickline and Mahowald.
But the 10th name on the list, a Cobra helicopter pilot who was killed in action on June 16, 1969, is especially important to the Poulsbo resident: the last name is Clotfelter.
Mark Davis Clotfelter was 22 when he was killed in Vietnam, leaving behind, among others, his 14-year-old sister Susan.
Now she will take part in the reading of every name of the Vietnam Memorial Wall.
Blaker learned of the event, which will take 65 hours across a time frame of four days, through the web site of the Vietnam Veteran Memorial Fund, an organization associated with the wall.
She wrote the organization, volunteering to be one of the readers of the names, and requesting that two names be part of her list: her brother’s, and that of Michael Allen Mahowald, who was flying his first mission in Vietnam when he was shot down and killed along with Clotfelter.
Blaker was living in Florida when her brother earned his pilot’s license at community college, then enlisted in the Army.
While her brother was overseas, Clotfelter would write to him — she now jokes that she had time to because, “everyone else had a life” — and he would send back reel-to-reel recordings.
On one, the young pilot said, “We saw some good action today.”
After her brother was killed, Blaker researched his service record.
“I found out what he meant by ‘good action,’” she said. “I could see what a mess he was in.”
Though he was only in Vietnam for nine months, Clotfelter was shot down three times and earned three distinguished flying crosses.
Blaker’s father was also a veteran, and after he died, she realized she no longer had the ability to ask him about the war and his experiences there.
So, she has worked to find out more about her brother. Blaker looked up his service records, attended reunions of helicopter crews and sought out crew members who remembered her brother.
Now she volunteers with the family contacts committee of the Vietnam Helicopter Flight Crew Network, helping people like herself find out more about relatives who died in Vietnam.
Even after years of conducting research, she can still be surprised by what she finds out; after researching the 30 names on her list, she was shocked by their youth. Her brother was 22, and the oldest soldier on the list was 25.
She has been to the Vietnam Memorial several times but is looking forward to reading her 30 names on the morning before Veterans Day
“It’s important for people to realize that they’re not just a name; they’re a face,” Blaker remarked. “They had a family.”
There are 58,229 names on the wall.