Somewhere I have an essay on how I was introduced to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, when I was in DC for one of the Spring APS Meetings in the early 1990s, but I can't find it. The friend from college whom I was visiting, still playing clarinet in the Air Force, took me on a quickie tour of some of the area landmarks. But the Wall hadn't been in place when I had the odd day in Washington between trains during college. So I wanted to see it -- we ended up going twice. The first time was at night. If you've never been there, you cannot imagine descending into the earth and seeing the growing list of names suspended in the air against the reflection of the polished stone panels, towering overhead. And then coming out of it, reborn. We went back the next day, because I wanted to see it in light. And with people. A very different but also moving experience.
I remember the controversy over Maya Lin's design. It didn't fit with some people's traditional view of what a war memorial should be. Thankfully, her main design survived intact, because Vietnam didn't need a white marble column or other traditional war memorial.
So while I grew up in the Vietnam War era, I was too young to serve. But as I knew of people who were touched directly by the war -- and well as studying history and warfare more than most -- I have felt a personal connection to the Vietnam Memorial since I visited it about twenty years ago.
The National Memorial Day Concert
Tonight PBS ran a ninety minute program from near the U.S. Capitol with music and stories honoring those who have served, are serving and those who have given life and limb in their nation's service. It was through the story of a fatherless young woman and a friend of her father who came forward twenty years after his death, that I learned about an organization Sons and Daughters In Touch.
Every year members gather at The Wall on Father's Day. A thousand long stemmed rose are left: "Red roses represent those killed in action in Vietnam and yellow roses are for those who remain missing." Every five years they wash the Wall, a cathartic act of renewal.
I did not know this existed, but I am so thrilled for the families that it does.
And What Of The Future?
This year of 2011 has seen the last of the remaining World War I veterans and we are rapidly losing our World War II vets. Eventually a time will come where the surviving veterans and families of the Vietnam War will be gone. And what will be the relationship with the Vietnam Memorial? Of course there will be those families searching for ancestors, and historians searching for answers. And the polished black granite will still hold its power over visitors.
But it won't be the same.