The Traveling Vietnam Wall has come to our city and for those of us who cannot get to Washington, DC, it is an awesome event. My husband and I went to see it on Friday morning. It was about 10amand there were a few people there but not many because it was a work day. I was amazed at how quiet it was. The few people that were there spoke in whispers and even the high school football team practicing on a field not too far away was not loud enough to be distracting. The length and
shape of the wall was an overwhelming sight. I was so taken aback by this that the thought of what the real wall looked like in DC in comparison just blew me away. And then there were the names...all those names.
My husband held my hand as we walked along the wall just completely mezmerised by the number of names on each panel. All those young men and women (there are 9 women on the wall) who gave their lives for our country. It is heart wrenching. Those of us who lived thru those years remember so many who received that ominous draft notice even on the day they graduated from high school. My husband joined the Navy during the Vietnam War (and yes, it was a war). He was assigned to an aircraft carrier, the USS Forrestal. In 1967, the Forrestal was off the coast of North Vietnam when bombs (originally from WWII) stored in the carrier exploded, tearing thru a good portion of it and killing 134 Navy personnel. My husband was one of the lucky ones. He survived that awful day in July, 1967 with no injuries. When we reached that panel on the Vietnam Wall where the names of his 134 shipmates were printed, my husband did something I have only seen him do 3 times in the 40+ years that I have known him....he cried. He squeezed my hand as his fingers touched the names. Without a word, we walked back to the car.
We have not spoken about that morning and I doubt we will. Vietnam is not a subject my husband chooses to talk about. The only experience he has ever shared with me is when he came home on the plane and the officer in charge told all of them to remove their uniforms and change into civies. People in the US were very unhappy about the war and soldiers and sailors returning home were being treated shamefully. The officer was trying to make their homecoming easier.
Watching the local news Saturday night, they covered a parade which took place down the main street. It was led by bands and flags. Behind that were 100+ Vietnam vets walking to the traveling wall and lining the street were the citizens of our city clapping and cheering these veterans who never received this welcome when they came home over 40 years ago. Amidst the crowd of Vietnam vets were young veterans from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. One of these young men was interviewed by a news reporter. He said, "It doesn't matter if the war was popular or not. These men and women fought for their country and they deserved the kind of homecoming we in the service get today. This is a long time coming and I am proud to walk with them."
So whether you believe in a war or not, please remember that there are men and women who are doing their jobs in the most dangerous situations. They are doing it because of their duty and love of country and they should be celebrated for it for all time.