The Wall ....OT asked me to post this for her George Jaenicke grjaenicke firstname.lastname@example.org
Something completely unexpected happened to me today.
For two months I've been telling the readers of my AMVETS newsletter of the arrival of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial "Moving Wall exhibit" in Muskegon, MI on June 23, 24 & 25, 2000. My wife Carol and I drove there to see it this afternoon.
I personally never served in Vietnam. I don't personally know anyone who died there though I've known several who came back as walking-wounded.
Veterans of World Wars I and II came home as heroes. Veterans of Korea came home quietly. Some Veterans Service Organizations instead of welcoming them to membership debated whether they had served in a "foreign war" or a "police action" even though over 33,000 died and 8,000 were MIA.
Over 58,000 young American men and women died in Vietnam. Many of those coming home changed out of their uniforms at airports so they wouldn't be spit upon and reviled by their fellow citizens. It might be fair to say that the Jane Fonda types in this country injured more American servicemen upon their return home than did the Viet Cong, in Vietnam. It was so bad that many returning Vietnam veterans went MIA only after they returned to their homeland. Some citizens thought the Vietnam War shamed the nation.
I think this nations greatest shame was the treatment those same citizens gave these returning veterans.
About five or six years ago I was in attendance at the Grand Haven Coast Guard Festival Parade at the end of July. It was a warm rainy day. We were standing near the end of the parade and the marchers and watchers were soaking wet but still game. Suddenly, we heard cheering from down the street. We couldn't yet see what was being cheered but the sound rolled closer and closer. Around the corner came a vehicle pulling a flat-bed trailer and on that trailer were men dressed and posed like the statues of the Vietnam soldiers at the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, DC. They had been standing, rock-like on that trailer for over 2 hours in the rain. As the crowds along the curbside caught sight of this tableau they erupted in cheers and clapping, a wave of noise and emotion that slowly advanced up the street like an advancing ocean tide. I am embarrassed to cry openly in public where people can see my distress. I'm glad it was raining on that day when I also yelled and cried. That day, in Grand Haven, MI was when this community and it's veterans started to heal the wounds left over from the Vietnam War.
Carol & I are planning a trip to the East Coast this fall. One of the places we want to visit is Washington, DC., and one of the places we want to see is "The Wall". So I decided to go to the "Moving Wall" exhibit in Muskegon this weekend to get a preview. I wanted to take a few pictures and perhaps get some information for an article in my AMVETS newsletter.
As we approached Muskegon, the clouds broke and the sun started to shine. A line of American Flags -- flapping briskly in the breeze --
flanked both sides of the road into Mona Lake Park where the exhibit had been set up. We found a parking place in the shade of a large maple tree, a short walk from the exhibit area. While there were several hundreds of people present, Carol and I were immediately impressed by the quiet. A sign near the wall said, "We consider this to be hallowed ground...."
Remarkably, that's the way this site was treated, as hallowed ground.
Everyone was there. Bikers in helmets and leathers, old ladies, kids on foot and in strollers, people dressed in pieces of their uniforms from all the wars they served in. Veterans in their hats and jackets emblazoned with the names of their veterans organizations and posts, young adults in their baggy pants and tank tops. Blacks, Whites, Hispanics and Vietnamese.
Everyone was there, quietly, reverently, respectful of where they were and of each other.
I stood there, looking at this throng of disparate people thanking God that I live in this wonderful nation that welcomes, all people of good will, to be a part. E Pluribus Unum, (from many, one). Nothing, not even the U.S.A. is perfect. But sometimes we get it right, and when we do, it's enough to make the strongest men cry.
That brings me back to that "completely unexpected" thing that happened to me today. I was getting set up to take a picture of a girl doing a tracing of a name on the wall. (You take a piece of paper and place it over the name and then run a pencil back and forth over the paper to make a tracing of the name). At the foot of the wall at the girl's feet, was a red rose, symbolic of someone who'd died. There was also a framed picture of a young man in uniform. Alongside the picture was a letter addressed to:
"Dear Uncle John." I'd gotten my picture framed and focused, the sun was bright, the young girl intent on her mission to capture a name from the wall was perfectly centered in the picture and then the world went blurry and I couldn't see clearly. I heard someone sob and it took me a moment to realize that I had made that sound.
I've read that, "No one goes to 'The Wall' and escapes unchanged."
I can't say that I really believed that before today. Whoever it was that said that for the first time, was absolutely right, at least in my case.
People leave a lot of things at the foot of "The Wall." Small American Flags, pictures of -- and letters to -- those memorialized on the wall, pieces of treasured uniforms and equipment, single flowers and bouquets, lighted candles, service medals & awards and shoulder patches. I guess it was those things that turned me from curious to emotional. Carol said later that it was also the reverent attention and peace she felt from all those that were gathered there. We never saw one instance of anyone acting out.
Even the little kids were quiet and attentive. Absolutely everyone behaved as though they were in the presence of something special and awe inspiring.
They were gathered together on hallowed ground.
Carol asked me, what will they do with all the things left at the wall?
So I asked a member of the Vietnam Veterans of America that was manning an information table. The V.V.A. has a permanent memorial in that park. It is a Huey Helicopter mounted on a tall pedestal. I'm afraid that when I asked him the question, I was still having trouble getting my voice under control.
He smiled and told me that he understood, it had taken him two days to get himself under control. All the things left at the wall except the flowers will be safely entombed in that helicopter memorial. After giving me the information this one-armed Vietnam Vet insisted on giving me a hug!
I haven't decided yet if, when we go to DC, I'll want to visit "The Wall." Perhaps I've had all the publicly displayed emotion I can stand.
I don't like to be a public Basket Case. After all, it wasn't really MY war.
Or was it? At the time, I was asked to re-up to defend Berlin when the Berlin Wall was being erected. For me, Vietnam came a little later.
But you know what? I am an AMERICAN. I am a service veteran. I too have witnessed the death of friends in the service. There but for the Grace of God could I have been.
My birthright is important to me. I am an American-German, Dutch, Irish, English person. I was born in America, so I am an American...
The rest of you that were born in this country are American-Africans and American-Mexicans (or American-Latinos if you prefer). Only those folks who were born somewhere else and immigrated to this country should be able to call themselves as Mexican-Americans, Afro-Americans, Italian-Americans.
And your kids born here, become American-whatevers. I guess I've always felt that way but it really came home to me today, at "The Wall." There was a Brotherhood of Americans present at the wall that encompassed every possible combination of national origin. And that is what the founding fathers envisioned for this nation over 200 years ago.
My tears were not tears of sadness, although they might have been.
Mine were tears of pride and joy at being an American, in the company of other Americans in peace and respect and understanding. Thank God....sometimes, we get it right.
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