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Ranger Rick: Reflections on Wall in D.C., Memorial Day

The first time I was in Washington D.C., I visited the Vietnam Wall.  I thought it would be a good thing to see since I was of age during the war and many of the names on that wall could have been me or someone I knew.

I don’t know why I wanted to see the wall, other than it happened during my generation’s time to serve, but I felt compelled to walk along that long wall to view the names because I wanted to pay tribute to those who served and paid the ultimate sacrifice.  I sure wasn’t prepared to experience what I saw.

There were school busses of high school age kids from suburban schools to view the monuments, including the Wall.  Of course, being young kids playing grab ass and teasing each other, they were on a fun field trip, not expecting to see something that would impact them as much as it did me.

The first person I noticed while approaching the wall was a gentleman in a suit, expensive shoes, tie loosened, and tracing a name from 1968 with his hand.  It must have been a friend he knew and the look on his face was one of deep sorrow and meaning, tears running down his face.  I’m sure he wondered why he was so lucky to have survived his time in Vietnam while his friend lost his.

We spoke only in hushed tones and I found out they did indeed serve together along with a few others on the Wall.  He was in D.C. on business and had felt compelled to see the Wall, though he didn’t think it would affect him so much.  It just came all flooding back to the memories of his friends and the days of drudgery and boredom one minute and firefights and fear the next moment.

He served because his country called.  He was drafted into a war he didn’t want, but he did his duty as most did back then.  You didn’t question it, you answered your country’s call to arms.

Some went to Canada to avoid serving.  I questioned that at the time, but after reflecting how the war was handled from Washington and micromanaged, I had doubts about our being there myself.  Taking hills with no military significance other than they were occupied by the enemy.  Once high casualties mounted and the objective taken, it would be abandoned days later.  For what?  An enemy body count and saying we took a military objective.

We stood there as the high school kids approached, their carefree attitudes changing as they saw the years and names on the panels.  They saw the man standing next to me distraught and realized he was a veteran paying his respects.  They commented on the other things next to the Wall; dog tags, boots, letters, field jackets, fatigue shirts, medals, and many other things left as tributes to the fallen.

I walked the length of the Wall and had tears in my eyes as I realized how many had died for a cause conjured up by politicians but fought by youngsters just out of high school and either significantly changed for life by their experiences or dead in a body bag shipped back home to grieving parents and family.

There are three days to honor those who served:

• Armed Forces Day is for those still in uniform.

• Veterans Day is for those who hung up their uniform.

• Memorial Day is for those who never made it out of their uniform.

I hope you took time yesterday to honor those who never made it back home from any conflict.  Luckily, all my family and loved ones who served made it back safely in a physical sense.  A few suffered years from the mental anguish they endured.  But such is war, it is never without consequences.

If politicians had to fight wars there wouldn’t be any.

The rotting of America from within continues… in earnest!

4 Comments

  • You offered us a beautiful piece today, RR.
    We took our boys to The Wall when they were young – about 10 and 12 I think. They knew we had opposed the war, and that their father had served 8 years in the Navy (reserves and active duty) during action off the coast of Vietnam on an ammunition ship.
    I didn’t expect my own visceral reaction to this memorial. The tears and constricted throat sneaked up on me, and I wept.
    I was reminded of the line “What if they held a war and no one came?”
    You are right that if politicians had to fight the wars there would be none.

    Thanks for honoring the fallen.

  • I served two tours with the Marine Corps. I had friends who offered to take me to the Wall but while I could not go there alone I wanted to be alone while there. Finally, my wife and son took me. I won’t go again. More than 58,000 Americans died in Vietnam but the real tragedy is that more than 150,000 veterans have committed suicide since the war has ended. An average of more than 20 per day. I don’t need a Memorial Day. I remember every day.

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