A few years ago, My school took a trip to Washington, D. C. We got to visit many historical monuments that were even more breathtaking in person, but the experience at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial will forever be embedded in my mind. It was a beautiful day in Washington, D. C. our school had just walked over from the Lincoln Memorial and we were approaching the Vietnam Memorial Wall. I did not have very high expectations because I didn’t know anybody who fought or died in the war, and the simplistic design didn’t really draw much attention. At the moment I was even unaware that Maya
Lin was the artist behind this piece of art. There was a clearing in the trees and everyone’s chatting quickly came to a halt. The black V shaped wall contrasted greatly with the cleanly cut grass. The closer we got, more details of the wall were revealed. The monument wall did not rise out of the ground like all the others we had looked at that day, but rather sink below the level of the lawn behind it. The two, 247 foot walls that intersected at an angle, resembled the image as if someone had just taken a knife and gashed it into the earth.
As we started walking down, the all only started out a few inches high, but as we walked down towards the middle, the walls quickly grew taller. The reflective black granite had over 58,000 names engraved on it. There were flowers scatter all over the base of the memorial and people lined the wall paying their respect to their fallen allies. I quickly fell behind the rest of the group. There were more and more names on each panel and I could no longer read them all. It would be impossible to evaluate each name.
It was hard to think that every single name carved into the stone cold granite had a amily; someone who they cared about also and they sacrificed that so that people like me have the opportunity to visit our my nation’s capital. My eyes began to water as I realized just how massive the human loss was of the Vietnam War. I couldn’t hold back my tears. I knelt down at the center where the two walls met. I looked up, and through my blurred vision, the list of names looked endless. On the very top of the wall, there was little flags fluttering in the gentle breeze.
I sat for a moment of silence, completely overwhelmed by my emotions. There was no wind because I was below the ground level, but I could feel the oldness of the granite absorb into my body. The massive black wings engulfed me. It was horrific to think about the violent deaths and suffering many of these young men and women had to go through. I continued scanning the names on the wall and one caught my eye. It read PFC DAN BULLOCK. I stopped and stared at the name. I remembered hearing that he was the youngest American serviceman killed in action during the Vietnam War.
Bullock was only 15 years old and he altered the date on his birth certificate so he could enlist. Out of the millions of people who walk past the most visited monument in Washington D. C. , it is unlikely that many people’s eyes will even find his name. And out of the ones who see it how many will know he was killed by small arms fire just 3 weeks after arriving at Vietnam? Its chilling to think that every name on the wall has a story and a reason that they were fighting. I continue to stare at the name.
I could see my reflection through the polished granite right where his name was engraved, and couldn’t help but imagine myself in his position. Too young to even drive, would I sacrifice my life for the safety of millions of people I haven’t even met. Its very hard to imagine. After you make the ultimate sacrifice for your country, all you are remembered bye, is a little scratch, among 58,306 other indents in stone cold granite might be even a little harder to contemplate. But in reality, over 58,000 people made this sacrifice for us. I continued walking along the wall scanning the thousands of names.
Every once in awhile my eyes would pause on a name. My mind would run wild imagining all the possible thing that person could have been. Where they a husband or wife that desired with all their heart to get back to their family? Or maybe son who took the place of his father so he didn’t have to fight. Occasionally I would see a sealed letter at the base, or another token of someone’s love. There were men and women, their heads bent down, touching the cold hard granite, some muttering words I couldn’t quite make out, as if they were having their last words with a loved one.
I will never know what their relationship with the named carved into the granite. They could be a son or daughter, who deeply loved them; or maybe a son or daughter who has just heard stories about their father because he left when they were too young to remember. 8,307 names. I could only imagine the agony some of these individuals faced, or the suffering and heartbreak there friends and family have have from an unbearable sense of loss. Finally I gathered the strength to stand up and face the wall.
I was in the very middle of this massive wound. I had walked almost 250 feet and the names on the list kept growing longer and longer. I felt like the names were just screaming waiting to be recognized. I looked to the left. I could see part of the Lincoln Memorial, and I knew Abe was still sitting there larger than life, lighting up from he flashes of the hundred of tourists around him dying to get him in frame, just as he was earlier that day. And to the right, the Washington Monument, still standing tall, visible from miles in any direction.
The walls reached out in both directions towards these monuments as if they were connected. Like it was bound to the Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial. I knew that the wall was different from all of the others. It wasn’t created to capture your eye. You can hardly see it from 50 feet away since it descends into the ground. Its purpose is so we have a monument so we never forget the onor, courage, bravery, devotion, and sacrifice of the thousands of fallen soldiers.
My head finally breaks back over the level of the wall. A cool breeze blasts me in the face waking me back into the world. My school down the narrow path with student playing, many of them probably already forgetting the significance and impact this wall had on them just moments earlier. I looked back; the wall no longer looked like a fresh gash into the earth, It looked more peaceful and harmonious. Now I can see its just a wound, and like anything else, it will heal in time.