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Posts Tagged ‘memorial day’

It was the fall of 1982 and my husband and I were visiting Aunt Vera and Uncle Joe at their home in Virginia, just outside Washington D.C..  Uncle Joe was a lawyer who sported a snow-white beard and was so full of the exuberance of life that he spoke loudly and tended to burst into song in a glorious tenor voice at any time. Visiting him was an adventure, and we loved it. Aunt Vera was a wonderful cook, but one night we all went out for dinner and a tour of the city in Uncle Joe’s baby blue Cadillac.  He told us they had just erected something called the Vietnam Veterans Memorial nearby, and thought we might be interested in taking a look.  I remember that it was a short walk through the park as twilight was turning into night, and there were a few stars to light our way along the path.  We were greeted by a group of Vietnam veterans, who handed us each a flashlight and apologized that the lights weren’t up yet. These veterans stood vigil every night for their fallen or captured comrades.  There was a lot of controversy during the planning and construction of the memorial.  Many people complained that is was ugly, unconventional, and unsightly.  We had open minds and full stomachs, but stopped our after-dinner chatter as we approached.  There was almost an aura about the whole area that invoked silence.  It felt like a sacred place, but unlike any church that I had ever been in.  The black stone sculpture, ten feet tall and about 500 feet long, was made with a special granite that reflects almost like a mirror.  During the daylight, you can see a reflection of yourself as the background for the 58,261 names that are etched into the stone.  It has been said that the image fuses the past with the present. That night, with just a flashlight’s single bulb, there was no reflection except for the light against the names.  Names as high and as wide as my flashlight’s beam could reach.  Fathers, sons, sisters, and brothers. Soldiers and nurses. Friends. I was surrounded by others and suddenly felt small and very alone. My flashlight moved slowly, back and forth, up and down, stopping occasionally on an individual name. I thought of the POW/MIA bracelet that I wore every day as a teenager, now buried and nearly forgotten at the bottom of my jewelry box. I found his name and slowly rubbed my fingers over the letters, tracing each one, saying both hello and goodbye to an old friend I never knew.  I searched for and found the names of hometown boys who never came home. My cheeks were wet, yet I don’t remember crying.  We thanked the veterans as we left that night, all of us forever changed by the experience.  58,261 Americans.  “Thank you” doesn’t begin to cover it.

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