Today at the Vietnam Memorial


Today, I had to fly to D.C. I had a very important meeting, with some very important people. They were 15 years old.

I went to Washington, D.C. on business, but had a couple of hours between the official business and fighting my way through airport security. Okay, that’s a lie, because I know how to pack, what will pass for “items” and breezed through the TSA check-point. Gaza, I’m looking at you.

But back to D.C. My official meeting was just a few blocks off the Mall. When it ended, I wandered down and down and down into the crevice of the Vietnam Memorial. It was field-trip day and at least three different schools were packed into the ravine. I tried to read the names. I really did, but a 15-year-old girl caught my eye. She was lovingly stroking a single letter on panel 59.

I stopped and pondered why this child, who is too young to know about Vietnam, loved that name so much. She just kept tooling her finger down the right side of the “H”.

I fought back the sniffles and wormed my way through the salmon. 5 panels up stream, I caught a glimpse of another lost soul placing her palm on the granite. She looked to her classmate for consolation. The only words I heard were, “If you have to cry, just cry. There’s no shame.” They hugged and the tears began to flow. Her hand never left the stone.

I walked up from that pit in wonderment. How could these children know? How were they attached to that wall? They were too young to know. They were to young to remember the Vietnam War. Who was that name on the wall? A father? A grand-father? An uncle? My uncle fought in WWII. It couldn’t be her uncle. My father fought in Vietnam. It couldn’t be her father. I couldn’t balance the age with the emotion.

Somehow, this kid was moved to tears over something that happened long before she was born. Maybe her Mother told her. Maybe it was her Aunt. Maybe we all have ties to each other in the end.

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13 Comments

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  1. Very touching essay and I agree we all have ties to each other.

  2. Wow! What an amazing and touching experience. Thanks for sharing it with us. :-)

  3. I always read & rarely comment because I am usually either laughing too hard or deeply disturbed,or both. This is lovely. I live near the D-Day Memorial and whenever I see D-Day veterans there I think about how few are left and what a short time we’ll have them. Your story inspires a new perspective. Thanks.

  4. You had me tearing up with this piece. I’ve been to the Wall, have lovingly fingered a few names there. It’s a powerful experience and a powerful memorial. And to think there was so much controversy over its style before it got built. That war shaped so many lives, mine included. I wasn’t prepared to walk down this Memory Lane today. I don’t know whether to thank you or kick you in the butt. I think I’ll do the former. We should never forget.

  5. This is one time you did not leave me laughing. I was brought to tears. Viet Nam Veterans will always have a special place in my heart. I worked with a group for years and their lives were changed so much by that war. Thankyou for paying tribute and writing such an excellent piece.
    Julie

  6. Beverly Bright March 6, 2008 — 16:28

    Thank you for your tribue to the Wall again. What it stands for touches a lot of us.

  7. I cry every time I walk thru the Holocaust memorial in Boston. Every time. I don’t know anyone who was in the Holocaust. My parents were babies during WWII. I don’t know why, but it moves me to tears. I think it’s something to do with the horror of losing such a vast amount of people. People who were mothers, fathers, friends, children. It’s heartbreaking.

  8. I’ve been to the memorial as well and I cried. I have an Uncle who was in the Vietnam War, but he survived and has never talked about it much. I think I cried because it’s so quiet within the memorial itself but right outside there is business as usual and traffic. It is such a contrast. For many young kids and even not quite so young war is something on the news, in papers, and history books. Seeing the memorials make it real.

  9. Randy,

    I remember standing inside the Valley of the Fallen in Spain when I was a teenager and standing in awe of the monument to the Spanish Civil War dead (who I can say with certainty I have no connection to). The quiet, the beauty, and the tragedy all intersect to overwhelm your emotions.

    Nice piece.

  10. My Dad told me how he was sent to war…he was just 18 years old. He survived but with a bullet in his back, and saw his brother getting killed. Perhaps these girls remembered somebody dear to them who was killed in a war.

    Every war is terrible.

  11. I’ve been there. It’s hard to not take a pause when you see all those names.

  12. Dad came back (well, most of him anyway), but many of his friends did not. Thanks for this post and Happy Veteran’s Day!

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