Seeing Through “The Wall”

Photo by Elvert Barnes PhotographyI stood next to veterans, friends and families – their faces showing pride and pain.  Their comrades and loved ones graduated from high school and shipped out; some bound for glory, and some never to return again.  Instead of a victor’s parade, the survivors came home and were “welcomed” by an unexpected nightmare trio of ignorance, hate and isolation.

The line shuffled forward.  My mind raced with unexpected emotions.  Why did I so deeply care? I wasn’t even there.  Too young to understand the context, I scanned the names of the mortal cost – at least one fatality for every ten of the participants in the Exercise in Innocence Lost.  Why should I care? I wasn’t even there.  Not even born at its beginning – only 14 at its “end”.  But, a few years older and Vietnam is exactly where I might have been.  The significance of my escape chilled my bones.  Gratitude for my deliverance welled up in my eyes.

How could I express my condolence?  How could I fight indifference?  Artists and angels knew these questions would come when angry hearts and pointing fingers were replaced with broken hearts and healing embraces.  Bands of brothers and sisters stood hand in hand and arm in arm asking “Who?” and “Why?”  Now a tall, long, shining black slab stood before us as a remembrance of those souls who fought in Southeast Asia against an enemy we still don’t fully understand to protect a people who, for many, now ironically call America their home.

These soldiers swore on sacred oath to serve with honor and pride, and to the end, by that oath, they fought and died.  Their faithful commitment was echoed, like the bugles playing taps in the distance, in the hearts and on the tear stained faces of surviving friends and family.  As they stood thinking of how their loved ones had died serving a government that had lied, we all struggled to make sense of the senseless.  I watched as some laid dog tags, stuffed teddy bears and flowers at the base of the wall.  Others placed their fingers on the wall and traced the engraved names over and over again.  A few placed paper over names and made graphite tracings to take home with them.

Looking at the wall and seeing the reflections of the surviving brothers and sisters, I felt like I could almost see through to the other side.  Was that a reflection of my hands on the wall, or their hands touching mine?  If I said “Thank You” or “I’m sorry”, could they hear me.  Would that be enough?  I felt like so much more should be said.  I had so many questions.  We may never understand why they had to go to Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos at all, but now I know why I was there that day, and I understand what I share with those who stood with me, and with those whose names are on “The Wall”.

© 2014 Curt Savage Media

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