FROM THE NEWS-LEDGER — APRIL 3, 2013 –
I put together a little section in the News-Ledger most weeks entitled “Across the Bridge” which is meant to give some publicity to events happening around the greater Sacramento area that some of our readers might want to attend. One such calendar announcement came across my desk this past week about the traveling three-quarter-scale replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. It will be on display this spring from May 23-27 at Mount Vernon Memorial Park in Fair Oaks and anyone who has never seen it before should definitely put it down on their list of things to do.
About 15-years ago my wife and I took our youngest son, Kyle, to see it when it was on display in Sacramento’s Capitol Park. It was actually just one of five traveling “Healing Walls” which were crisscrossing the country at that time, and it was making its first appearance in Sacramento. It was modeled after Maya Lin’s much-respected Washington D.C. Vietnam Veterans Memorial which commemorates the more than 58,000 American men and women who lost their lives in the Vietnam War.
The “Wall That Heals,” as it is called, is a smaller version of Ms. Lin’s creation which was erected with the following four design criteria: it had to be reflective and contemplative in character; harmonize with its surroundings; contain all the names of those who died in the Vietnam War; and make no political statement.
The scaled-down portable replicas are in constant demand throughout the country since not everyone can go all the way back to Washington D.C. to see the original. So the traveling replicas have become one of the best ways for many Americans to pay their respects to those who died in what was then this country’s longest military engagement. The traveling Walls have also proved helpful in educating people (especially young people) throughout the nation about the Vietnam War and its ongoing societal consequences.
When we arrived in Capitol Park, a number of politicians and military personnel were making speeches that I didn’t particularly want to hear, so my wife and I took our son over to the California Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial, which was nearby. I showed him the large map of Vietnam which is engraved into one of the walkways and he was impressed by the fact that he could stand right on top of a whole country. I pointed out some of the places where I had spent time while I was in Vietnam, but he didn’t seem too impressed. He was more interested in the life-size bronze statues depicting American soldiers firing their M16′s and throwing hand grenades.
As we made our way back over to the scaled-down Vietnam Veterans Memorial, my nine-year-old son seemed to quickly sense that it wasn’t a place where he should be running around and making a lot of noise. He looked at all the adults who were standing quietly in front of the shiny black panels with serious expressions on their faces and asked me, almost in a whisper, “Is your name on one of those things?”
“No,” I said, “but some people I knew are.”
“If your dad’s name was up there,” explained my wife, “you wouldn’t even be here. Those are the names of all the people who died in the Vietnam War.”
My son nodded, thought it all over for a few moments, and then asked a question only a nine-year-old can. “Dad, do they have a wall thing for everyone who didn’t die, too?”
“No,” I answered, “just for those who didn’t get to come home.”
“I’m glad you got to come home, Dad.”
“So, I am, son.”
A little later, a very nice and thoughtful volunteer working for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund (a non-profit organization which helps protect, preserve, and maintain the panels) explained to me how the `Healing Walls’ are set up. Names are inscribed in chronological order, including the numerous new names which have been added to the Wall since 1982. She assisted me in locating the names I had come to see, and I waited patiently for a place in front of panel 19-West to open up.
On line 3 was Michael Lawhon, and just below him, on line 6, was James Woods. As I thought back on how kind and gentle Mike was, and how big and indestructible Woody had seemed, my wife motioned for me to join her in reading a few of the notes and cards which had been left behind by earlier visitors.
One read: “Dear Dad – I never really got to know you, but I still miss you. I hope things are peaceful for you now. Your daughter.”
Part of another said:”You were a wonderful son. Rest well.”
On the back of a Valentine’s Day card were the words: “To Ed, my first real love. I still miss you terribly. Lovingly, Judy.”
The next day I returned to Capitol Park with my father, who had spent four long years in the Pacific Theater during WWII, and my brother and his three sons. As we were walking through the California Vietnam Veterans Memorial on our way to see the scaled-down version of the `Healing Wall’, my brother pointed out the engraved short quote which I have long felt best memorializes all those who served in Vietnam and all the wars that seemingly every new generation of Americans have to go fight and die in: “All gave some, some gave all.” I also thought of another short quote that I wish all the countries of the world and their politicians could somehow come to better understand: “War is mankind’s greatest shame.”
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Copyright News-Ledger 2013