One of the perks of being a blogger (and you are totally allowed to laugh at this statement), is that every once in a while you get invited to some amazing things. Or you get to read some amazing book or sample a new product. As a matter of fact, there are some very nice perks to being a blogger– we’re kind of like the second-tier press, but I’m telling you: it’s pretty fun.
And, well, "fun" is a word that I’m going to use sparingly as I write this particular entry, because the better choice word for what I experienced yesterday is "sacred."
If you’ve ever been to DC within the past 25 years, chances are you’ve seen The Wall. You know, the Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial Wall which is located on the north lawn of the Mall, between the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument.
If you’ve never seen it, the first time you see it you might be a little confused. I know I was.
Because you see, from a certain angle, the Wall doesn’t look like much. As a matter of fact, if you stand on Constitution Avenue looking south, you might miss it altogether, were it not for the throngs of people congregating at what looks like the bottom of a hillock.
But as you get closer and approach the pristine black granite, and are hit with the utter simplicity of all those names carved upon its face, while the makeshift offerings that people leave behind pop out against the darkness, there are no words to describe the tangle of emotions that gather up in your throat.
Even if you are not a sentimental person, something in that place –be it the Wall itself or the memorials to the servicemen or servicewomen which stand nearby– will hit you very hard. And it should.
The documentary I saw yesterday was about the Vietnam Wall, and it was produced by the Smithsonian Channel on the occasion of the Wall’s 25th anniversary. You can watch the documentary in its entirety at the website on Sunday November 11th –Veterans Day. I highly recommend that you do: in these times of uncertainty and divisiveness as we enter the fifth year of a polarizing war, it is important to remember that all wars do is kill people. They kill fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, sons, daughters, grandchildren. They kill best friends and they maim or kill families.
And worst of all, in the case of the Vietnam war, they maim a country’s ability to come together and both mourn the dead and celebrate the living. Since the Vietnam war was not a very popular war, people stateside not only were aggressive and cruel to those who returned. There was no ticker tape and no marching band– there was only banishment, shame, guilt and oblivion.
A Vietnam veteran named Jan Scruggs decided to create a memorial so as to not forget. It was both a personal and an altruistic crusade, fraught with bureaucratic and controversial pitfalls. But on November 13th 1982, his mission was accomplished and the Wall was unveiled and dedicated.
Right away, the true purpose of the Wall –that of a healing talisman of sorts– became evident. Even before construction was over, someone asked permission to bury a posthumously-issued Purple Heart
in the Wall’s foundation; and the homemade and extemporaneous offerings didn’t stop there.
People come every year from far away to pay their respects, touch, kiss, make rubbings on, or just gaze at the impassive granite face. The Wall has become an altar of gratitude and brotherhood in a country that seems ambivalent about both. Twenty-five years later, a new generation is dealing with a polarizing war of their own, and seemingly forgetting the lessons of remembrance that places like the Wall have fought so hard to keep alive in everyone’s minds.
That Wall, that strange yet comforting shape rising to meet the heartsick pilgrim, is the true balm that was needed to mend a country even a little bit; to help ease those horrible wounds that still haunt many in their sleep; and the sanctuary in which to seek forgiveness for doing what was asked of them–even if it was against every fiber of their being.
The documentary is beautiful. I cannot do it justice, and I certainly cannot finish writing this with dry eyes.
I urge you to watch it if you can (again, the link for the Smithsonian Channel is here), and remember that the warrior just does as he or she is bid.
Please remember those who have served this November 11th.