I touched a wall and the wall touched me. As a veteran and a student, I have had the opportunity to experience the Traveling Vietnam Memorial Wall. I went to remember my fallen brothers and sisters who died in the Vietnam era. To many, it’s just a wall—something we touch out of respect—but to others it’s a place to remember family, friends and the brothers and sisters who fought for our right to be Americans.
It was a once in a lifetime experience for many veterans and family members. On this day at the wall in Spokane, I met other veterans from the Vietnam era who lost several of their combat buddies. A connection built on experiences obtained in our military service. I stared at the beginning of the wall. It stands two feet tall at the first panel, and grows to eight feet tall in the middle; it is made of 24 individual panels that display a daily log of despair in a time when death was real and protests were known to take place in America. Only one name appeared on the first panel, it was the first fallen. As I went to the next panel, more names were added, and they grew as the dates progressed. One name appeared on the first, then twenty on the next panel, and in the middle—at the height of the war—there were more than 150 names per panel. As I walked along the panels, people were kneeling and praying, older veterans were talking to newer veterans, all still struggling with the question of “why?”
Panel after panel this was taking place. Upon reaching the middle I saw one rifle, one boot and the ethos dog tag called Fallen Solder Battle Cross before me. At that moment, I left a feeling I cannot explain, but I know has been felt by many veterans across our nation. As I continued down the panels, names started to ring a bell, and distant family members became apparent. I became still and thought, “I am related.” I went to the information desk and got a pencil and paper for rubbings of my family’s names. I got a total of three rubbings, but after I came home I found out I had several more relatives on the wall.
Truly humbled and proud to have served, I continued to discover things, like a letter written by a man returning a harmonica after 46 years to a cousin who was killed in action in ‘67. As I reached the end one of the panels, I came across one of the guards as he was rubbing his buddy’s name, just like I had. After being lost in the names of my fellow veterans, I looked up and saw a young boy sitting alone. I waited several minutes and did not see his family approach. I went to the boy and asked if he was ok, he looked at me and simply replied. “I’m ok, I’m just waiting for my dad to return.” At that moment and place, I noticed the parallel of the current conflict to the conflict of the wall: children waiting for mothers and fathers to return.
I went to the wall to pay homage to the fallen and to congregate with other veterans. In return the fallen touched me. Not only did family appear, but a child’s voice summed up what is happening now in the world.
Please remember those who gave all and those who are still missing. To all veterans and family members, I shall never forget and I will always remember your sacrifices.