Monday, May 28, 2012

Keepers of the Memories

Our veterans tell the story of their dead. They carry the stories to us.

I once saw the Traveling Vietnam Memorial wall at Ocmulgee Indian Mounds. My husband, newly minted in the Marine Corps League, stayed with other veterans guarding the tribute the entire time it was here. The Indian Mounds wore the memorial like a holy salute to the dead.

I saw all kinds of Vietnam veterans at that monument whose reflections in the wall made the blackness come alive.  Every time I looked into those shiny black walls, I saw another veteran carrying another story of another who died whose  names grace its Wall.

I finally visited the real Vietnam Memorial in Washington DC. My experience at this wall was so different. The most overriding factor determining my perceptions was the refections in the wall weren't grieving veterans. It was my own curious face,my mother, brother, sister-in-law, niece and nephew. We didn't look anything like someone who carries on their soul a war for which an excuse has yet to be found.

The memorial for World War II was not so starkly insightful about who I am and am not. It was a gloriously large airy arena where we all wanted to hang out and bask in the grandeur of the views, the magnificence of the sculptures, the skillful transmission of the its largeness in world history.

We strolled back by the Vietnam memorial as we left. I explained my feelings to my niece. The Vietnam Memorial is like a scar on the land, reflecting back to us who we are. It announces with great solemnity that we acknowledge our dead, who fell in commission of the wars waged by our politicians. We acknowledge in its entire geometry the rise and fall of the American War, as the Vietnamese call it. It honors these men and still tells the truth of an unjust war, one that was waged on the Vietnamese people and our own young men, their families and friends.

We are connected to all of these memorials and to each of these names whether we realize it or not. I choose to honor the history and the men and women who sacrificed to create the republic for which I am a citizen. I am proud of our warriors. I am proud of the truth telling of our memorials in Washington. I have great respect for those who serve. Their stories are the reason we acknowledge and mourn with them the great losses and sacrifices they and their fallen comrades have made on behalf of the rest of us. Also I honor  those who have fallen in war anywhere at any time. May the nonsense of war cease.

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