The names are listed in a paper directory, dog-eared and dirty from thousands of hands searching through it for a name of a friend or family member who was lost. It’s chained to a plywood pedestal like a small town phone book at a gas station pay-phone, almost as an afterthought by the government that maybe some visitor might want to know where on the wall among the 58,000 names their special person is memorialized. But, they do want to know. They come from across the country to see and to feel and to remember. Some say they come for closure or to heal, but that is only a few. More come for respect and to belatedly honor the fallen. And some come out of guilt that they hadn’t gone or hadn’t done the right thing at the time.
The sidewalk along the brooding black marble wall slopes gradually, there are no steps along the way. It’s almost a metaphor for the gradualism that led us to failure. It marks the descent into the immorality of sending men to die for a cause that the nation wants to ignore. But when you reach the deepest point, the walk rises again and gradually, over time returns to the level of the street and the city. All things pass and maybe this represents a return to normalcy and patriotism and honor; belief in your country’s might and the principles that the other soaring white monuments of
commemorate. Maybe. Washington
Children visiting the Wall from the inner cities of
laugh and tussle on the grass, showing little of the solemnity that we might wish for this spot. They don’t know these many years later exactly what this is all about. They don’t make a great distinction between America Verdun and . But, that guy over there, the one in the dark suit with the sunglasses, he knows the difference. The gray-haired fellow coming down the walk with his grand-son holding his hand, he knows many of these names. The heavy-set fellow in the Vietnam West Point sweatshirt, sitting on the park bench with the cane by his side was there. The one in the tattered field jacket, with the beard and dirty matted long hair? No, probably not. Odds are he’s ten years too young and simply another poseur and “wannabe.” There are a lot of them these days. You can buy the jacket in any town and the medals can be found on eBay. But, that’s the stereotype; the homeless, drug or alcohol addicted hulk destroyed by the war. The reality is that the great majority of the survivors of the war are just quiet old men, living out their lives and remembering.
St. Martin's Press
New York City, 2006