Again this year I am thinking about the Vietnam War and those who died. CBS Sunday morning had a piece showing folks reacting to The Wall both past and present. I am reminded of my own encounters.
When Glen and I were first married in 1972 we visited DC a number of times so I was comfortable with the area. In 1984 I traveled to the area with a work friend and we spend our free time visiting various sites on the mall. He had never been there and was glad to have a guide as I was to provide guide services. As we walked we approached a busy area with this wall of black – that was all I initially noticed. I had to admit I did not know what we were drawing near as I had never seen it and had not considered exactly where we were.
The closer we got the slower I walked for it suddenly occurred to me what it was – The Wall. He moved quickly ahead as I reached out to touch the wall and realized my hand had landed on the name of someone I knew. Not a close friend, just someone from my high school. As I moved slowly along the wall my eyes and hands repeatedly touched names I knew until I collapsed in tears and just sat there sobbing.
With a much puzzled look on his face my friend found me there. Suddenly it dawned on him as I reached out to touch a particular name. He’d been just a kid. His brothers also had been too young to be in service. As he registered the difference in our ages and therefore our experiences he sat down next to me placing his arm over my shoulder. I explained that it was not so much a particular person as the numbers and the shock because I had not thought about the memorial being here. I had not been able to prepare myself for this experience.
Years later our family visited. Glen had not seen The Wall and, like me, knew many who had died. It was then I realized that being prepared made no difference as again I sat down and touching a name I sobbed.
I cry now for the loss but also for the recognition that those who served are finally getting. I am sorry to say it was not until a few years ago that anyone thanked Glen for his service. He did not die and sometimes felt tremendous survivor guilt. The day someone said ‘Thank you for your service’ was the day that guilt began to heal.
To all who have served our country – Thank you for your service.
To all who have died and their families – Thank you for your sacrifice.