A tall thin man with a gaunt expression made his way to The Wall and stood there for some time. I asked if I could help him find someone. He shook his head no and said, “they’re all here…all but me.”
“Can you help me find someone?” an elderly man asked. After escorting him to the volunteer tent, he returned with materials for a rubbing. His weathered hands shook. “May I help you, sir?” I asked. “Thank you,” he said as I proceeded to do ‘the rubbing’ for him. “He was my son” he said in a shaky voice, and thanked me for the rubbing.
Some didn’t understand what The Moving Wall was all about. One young woman asked, “are these the names of all those who fought in the Vietnam War?” “No” I replied, “these are the names of those who fell during the Vietnam War.” “So many?” she asked. She had no idea. Nearly 40,000 of those who fell were 22 years old or younger.
A woman on her knees, openly sobbed at the wall. Through tears, she said, “He was my first love. We were supposed to get married but he got drafted and didn’t want to get married until he came home.”
Members of the Ocklawaha Chapter, Daughters of the American Revolution served as volunteers at The Moving Wall this Spring. Each member felt honored to be of service. “Forty-two years have passed and the grief that is felt by all is palpable,” said Frankie Goebel. “It was a humbling experience” said Gayle Everett.
Often a Vietnam Veteran just wanted to talk, eager for anyone to listen to their stories. They talked about their friends, a funny story or two about boot camp and some talked about the day “I got out and my buddies didn’t.” Pam Beightol said, “it was difficult to know what to say to a man who has experienced this kind of loss. All I could do was listen.”
Freedom isn’t free. Those brave young soldiers whose names are on The Wall paid the ultimate price for that freedom. However, the survivors of this War are still paying. They are paying with their tears, their broken dreams and with hearts filled with indescribable grief. They are the survivors. The fathers, mothers, siblings, friends and sweethearts of those names on The Wall. Let us never forget them.