War and Love: A Story for July 4

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IT IS A GREAT SLAB of stone from India, black, polished, and reflective in the early morning light that spackles the ground of the National Mall in Washington, D.C. It is two hundred and forty-six feet long and nine feet high. It was built, so the visionaries say, to close a wound and heal it. For some, it has. For some, the wound will forever bleed. It’s a wall to remember on July 4. It’s a wall to remember young men and women who fought for independence in a war no one understood.

I saw the Vietnam Memorial Wall years ago, not long after its foundation was buried in the ground, buried in an open grave. I ran my fingers across the names. My eyes scanned the rest.

I looked for certain names. I did not find them all.

I prayed again for the ones carved in stone. I silently rejoiced when the names were missing. On the Vietnam Wall, missing is good. Missing means they were alive. At least, they were alive in 1982.

Vietnam was our war, my generation’s war. We didn’t want it. We didn’t understand it. We grew frustrated with it. In time, we no longer believed in it.

And America no longer believed in the troops on the ground.

A nation looks back in shame.

Boys died. Good boys died.

Good women, the number was eight, died right alongside of them.

My friends died.

Why?

We never knew. I will never be able to explain it to those 58,272 boys and girls whose names are carved in stone.

I will never be able to explain it to those twelve hundred boys who were prisoners of war, who were missing in action, who did not come home when the last shots were fired and the last helicopter left Vietnam in defeat.

Their names remain in stone.

It’s as though they walked off the edge of the earth. Theirs are the holes in our lives that time does not fill.

Their lives were worth so much. They lost them so early.

Why?

No one ever told us.

Death stalked the fields of Southeast Asia. The grief came home. The grief has not healed. Deep within the hearts of so many, the wound still bleeds.

One of the saddest stories I recall is reading about the boy who walked across the National Mall one morning not long after the wall had been jammed into the earth.

His shoulders were straight. His eyes were clear.

He marched to the mall and found his father’s name.

He knelt down on one knee and placed a note beneath a rock at the base of the slab.

The note was addressed to his father. It said, “Dear Dad, I graduated from high school today.”

A glorious day. A glorious moment. It would not be shared with a hug. It would be shared only with a note.

The boy reached out, and there was only the wind reaching back.

 

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