July 4, 2010

40 years to the day

I find myself again standing on the National Mall, but this time beside the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. When I was here last in 1970 I visited all the memorials, but this one wasn't here yet. Conflict was raging in the Southeast Asian jungles even as I stood among the memorials to other wars, waiting for the fireworks to begin.

This time was different for me., because of the wall.

The memorial was dedicated in late 1982 and includes the names of 58,267 servicemen and women who either lost their lives in that conflict or are listed as POW/MIA. Names have been added each year since 1982, with six added just this year. 1,200 are POW/MIA. Some day we may find some more bones, and that designation will change.

Also on the grounds is the Vietnam Women's Veterans memorial, which is the first memorial in our nation's capital dedicated to female veterans and their service in combat arenas. Eight of the names on the wall are women.

Visiting the memorial was difficult. There are books available to locate the names on the wall, listing section and line, but before going I already knew the sections I needed to visit and the line upon which I would gaze. 

As I stood there silently running my hand over one of them a volunteer walked up helpfully asking if I'd like to do a pencil impression of the name. No, but I thanked her for asking. The names have been impressed in my mind for many years. One name isn't even on the wall. He committed suicide the year the wall was dedicated. The war never ended for him, and there is no memorial for those folks.

As I walked away I people-watched some. Mostly young people, and many of them Asian. I found it curious that there were so few grizzled old coots such as myself, but I also noticed that the volunteers seemed to single us out with their offers of assistance. Most, however, were like me and politely refused the offer. 

I wondered about the youngsters, and what they were thinking as their folks led them through the garden of the dead. Some seemed interested, asking questions, while others actually were lecturing their peers about the meaning of the place. At the WW-II memorial I overheard a young teen explaining the progression of battles in the Pacific theatre to small cluster of girls her own age. She had it correct too.

Those few were very impressive, making me proud. Most, however, were probably there for the same reason I was those 40 years ago... simply waiting for sundown and the fireworks show.


Old NFO said...

I've been there too, and have the same feelings... It's NEVER easy... Thanks for your service.