Monday, May 28, 2012

The Wall



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.

"Palace Cobra" Chap. 14 
St . Martin's Press, NYC NY, 2006 

2 comments:

The Donald said...

I was fourteen when the last helicopters left the roof of the American Embassy.

Thank you, Maj. Rasimus, for your service. And for chronicling your experiences, and the stories of those who could not, so that future generations would not forget.

Murphy's Law said...

I was downtown today, but was fortunately too busy to hear or see Obama campaigning at The Wall.

However I did meet someone who knows you, Ed. General Steve Ritchie says that you're a hell of a great guy.