On Monday I had the opportunity to visit the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington D.C. A fresh blanket of snow covered the National Mall and very few visitors were at the memorial. The wall was, as expected, a powerful reminder of the loss that the Vietnam War brought to many families and to our great nation.
As a light snow filled the air, I looked at line after line of names on the black granite memorial. I took my time and read many of the names. As I would look at their names I tried to imagine who they were, where they came from and what they had witnessed during their battles. They gave the ultimate sacrifice for our country at such a tumultuous time in our nation's history.
It was a haunting and powerful moment, standing there looking at the names of those we lost as I also reflected on my recent trip to Vietnam. During that trip I looked at the people I passed, rural areas I toured and city blocks I visited always thinking about the history of that nation. To visit Ho Chi Minh City (then Saigon) and walk the streets where the Tet Offensive raged and buddist monks performed self-immolation in protest was a powerful experience. I've met many veterans here in the U.S. that will forever be scarred by the war. I often look through a box of old Polaroids my father-in-law, took during his time of service in Saigon.
Much of the war has been forgotten by the people of Vietnam. Nearly four decades have passed and many of the scars of the war have been covered up. I asked about how Americans were viewed today by the Vietnamese and I was told that not many of the younger generations know or talk much about the war. There are museums and memorials (I visited several) that detail the North Vietnamese heroes from the war but it seemed, for the most part, that between the throngs of scooters that packed the streets and the people going about their daily routines war had never touched their lives.
I guess for me it makes memorials like the Vietnam Memorial or any of the other war memorials in Washington D.C that much more important. It is important that we never forget those that fought and died for this great country. Many lessons can be learned by remembering the names of those we lost during a polarizing time in our nation's history.
It was fitting, as I left the memorial, to see the American Flag reflected among the lines of names listed on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
To read more about my trip to Vietnam follow this link: Caring half a world away.
Reflections at the wall