Sunday, November 11, 2007

A moment at the Wall

Popessa is right--the Vietnam Memorial Wall is a remarkable monument in the United States, perhaps eclipsed only by its neighbor, the Lincoln Memorial. Even the Remington statue of the three soldiers, which stands adjacent to the Wall, has become an essential part of the landscape there. To some extent, it is a concession to the literal-minded, but it's no heroic pose: depending on the angle, the three soldiers look wary, resigned and/or terribly weary.

I had quite an encounter at the Wall in 2001, just a few weeks after the trade center attacks, when everyone was avoiding NY and DC in anticipation of another attack. It was a beautiful, sunny, even balmy fall morning, and I had skipped out on my conference to go to the Wall, since I always visit whenever i am in town. I had gone down into the monument, to the point where the Wall is at its tallest, and was preparing to take a picture. Suddenly, I caught my own reflection in the wall, since the sun was out, and I saw myself taking a picture of...myself. While I was contemplating this odd pose, I suddenly realized that I filled with names, and the names on that section were filled They were in me, and I was in them. From that time, i have always felt that because they became part of me that day, I had to try to tell their story, represent them somehow, to people who never knew them or their circumstances. The next spring, I took as my personal assignment the teaching of the Vietnam war at least every other year, even though it's pretty far from my expertise, and I've followed through. I always try to impress upon class members that they owe it to the Vietnam dead, in fact the dead of all wars, to choose leaders who will use military force as a last, rather than a first resort. So many conflicts in this century were political in nature and therefore required a political solution, Vietnam being only one example.

I almost felt that this moment at the wall was a Flanders' Fields moment...I didn't want to break faith with the people I saw in
myself, didn't want to break faith with those who died...and I think I have kept the faith, in my fashion.


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