Visiting the Vietnam War Memorial
“If you are able, save for them a place inside of you and save one backward glance when you are leaving for the places they can no longer go.
“Be not ashamed to say you loved them, though you may or may not have always. Take what they have taught you with their dying and keep it with your own.
“And in that time when men decide and feel safe to call the war insane, take one moment to embrace those gentle heroes you left behind.”
Major Michael Davis O’Donnell
Listed as KIA February 7, 1978
I remember because it’s impossible to forget.
I remember that when Maya Lin’s design for the wall was unveiled in 1981, it generated a lot of controversy for it was nothing like any memorial the public had ever seen. I liked it immediately and was relieved when it wasn’t changed or belittled by the close placement of other statuary. The Vietnam War was nothing like any war the public had ever seen, in part because we saw it on television in our living rooms, tallied successes and failures in body counts, and reacted and ultimately protested when–after initially supporting Hồ Chí Minh’s fight against French colonial rule–the U. S. became in involved in a new North-South civil war that seemed to have no end.
The body count is displayed on this wall and cannot be ignored. The wall was dedicated in 1982 and has, in the years since, become a site that draws people to it, where people see the names of the dead whom they knew and simultaneously see themselves reflected back by the mirror finish of the black granite. The wall currently has 58,318 names on it arranged in calendar order to match their dates of death.
I finally visited the wall last June on a family trip to Washington, D.C. I knew one name on the wall, an old friend from high school. I didn’t trace the name as many people do. I couldn’t. As you can see in the photograph, Mike’s name looked back at me while I was taking the picture. Perhaps, if I read them all, I would find other names I know, but I can’t. My consciousness isn’t deep enough for such knowledge.
The wall’s impact was overwhelming.