Thursday, March 29, 2012

Welcome Home Vietnam Vets Day: March 30


Washington D. C. is a city of beautiful buildings and soaring monuments. The capital dominates with its majestic dome and broad stairways. The Supreme Court similarly rises among the stately trees with strength in its columns and classic fa├žade. The memorials to the greats of our nations are white, broad and tall befitting the stature of the military and political leaders which they honor. But, the Wall is black and buried, a depression in the ground symbolizing the depression of the nation that did not win the war or respect the men who fought it. You can see the Washington Monument from miles away and you won’t need a map to find Lincoln or Jefferson or the World War II memorial, but you could walk within a hundred yards of the Wall and never see it. We seem to want to hide it, maybe hoping that an obligation has been fulfilled but no one wants to admit that the obligation existed in the first place.

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 Washington commemorate. Maybe.

Children visiting the Wall from the inner cities of America 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 Verdun and Vietnam. 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 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.


5 comments:

nzgarry said...

Mr R,
Firstly, regards to yourself and all veterans this day.
I recall my first visit to Washington as a newly arrived legal alien.
For some reason I found the Wall easy to find and was stunned by it. My impression was of a giant (stylised) Infantry firing pit. The precious little things left beneath the names, the statue, the people present, made it a living place.
The Wall, the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials are my favorites in that order though for different reasons.
I took my Wife, then again my Wife and Mom back subsequently to see it all again. And you know, those next two times I had a hell of a time finding that Wall.
But that is just as an Infantry firing pit should be. Bless you all.

foxone12 said...

Beautifully, artfully, and profoundly said. A testimony.

immagikman said...

There is only ONE Monument in DC, the rest are Memorials....just sayin.

bongobear said...

Well said, Ed.

immagikman said...

Was Plesently surprised how light traffic when I was down there today. Weather kinda sucked but could have been worse. I do like the WW II memorial as well.