Monday, November 14, 2011

Daughters, Sisters, Friends

I took my family to the Vietnam Wall on Friday, November 11, 2011.

There were a lot of "relatives" and "friends" along. I use the quotes because while the Vietnam Vets had their brother Vets with whom to share the occasion, I am not a Vet. I am a daughter of a name on the Wall. I couldn't share stories of war, of injuries, of death. I did know what SOS meant as a breakfast meal.

I did find other daughters, who I find are now my sisters. We had never met before Friday, but we found we had stories to share; similar stories of war and of death. Who knew? When you're the only person you know who has a Father killed in a war, you're the only person you know - there's typically no clubhouse.

As for the friends I mentioned in the title of this post . . . I have two new ones as well. One is my bus seatmate. A man about my age, did his duty in Vietnam and moved on with his life. Friday was the first time he had ever seen the Wall. I don't know if he was scared; he was sometimes quiet and sometimes very talkative. We sat together during the ceremony and made the occasional comment to one another. He reminds me of me, my husband, my father. The second new friend is a high school classmate. I have not seen her in over 40 years, but she made the over one hour drive into D.C. to attend the ceremony and meet me at the wall. If that's not friendship, then I don't know what is.

There are good good people in this world.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

No One Wall is Big Enough

to list even one name of a soldier killed in war . . . any war. I'm talking about several walls, some large, some small, but each carrying the names of men and women killed in Vietnam.

The photo above is from a Wall here in Chicago, just south of the river, almost touching the river; lots of green, lots of traffic noises, and the occasional jogger. Today it was the scene of a celebration of remembrance - for the men and women of Illinois who made the "ultimate sacrifice." There are more than 2900 from Illinois and 900 of those from Chicago.

Today's celebration, The Call for Photos, is a collaboration between The History Channel and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund. This initiative has as its goal a photograph for every name on the Vietnam Wall - over 58,000 of them. These photographs along with other memorabilia will be housed at the soon-to-be-built Education Center at the Wall.

Readers of this blog and those of you who know me probably know by now that my Father was killed in Vietnam in 1967. His name is on Panel 25E, Line 94. I wasn't much interested in Vietnam until I got closer to the age he was when he was killed. Then, it became imperative to find a way to make sense of someone my age dying in a war; I use art and writing - it probably makes less sense now than it did. I'm almost 20 years older than my Dad was when he was killed. One of the speakers at the ceremony today was born the year I graduated from high school; his Father fought and came home. It wasn't until after the son had served three tours in Iraq that he could sit and have a beer with his father and understand. The son said that he still doesn't feel like he gave as much to his country as his father did. He's a nice young man, I met him, he's the same age my Father was . . . time has its own sense of humor and irony.

So, along with the art, I've been involved with a group called Sons and Daughters in Touch. These are all kids, and now grand kids, who are related to a name on the Wall. In Houston in 1992 there was a huge celebration. It was close to the 20th anniversary of the end of the war and the 10th anniversary of the Wall. I got to ride in a parade, I got to represent a lot of kids. I heard people cheering for the same men and women who were disregarded when they came home from Vietnam. Now we're closing in on the 40th anniversary of the end of the war and the 30th anniversary of the Wall.

I'm still not quite sure how I got involved in today's event except that I answered a notice for The Call for Photos and someone called me back. To be honest, I didn't know there was a Wall here in Chicago until three weeks ago when this all began to unfold. But if I can share my photos and my stories I will. Today there were lots of those around. A group of maybe 30 people, mostly Vets, and me with a caring friend, sat in the pouring rain to listen to speakers, mostly politicians - but interestingly enough, most of them Vets. They got to sit under a tent, we sat under enormous umbrellas provided by The History Channel.

I was impressed and moved by a lot today - the Chicago Army Recruiting Battalion Color Guard who presented colors (they didn't have large umbrellas) and the 85th Army Band from Arlington Heights who played The National Anthem (no umbrellas) - but ultimately by a woman who sat in the back row of speakers. She was an Army nurse. She served in Vietnam. She was at the field hospital in Pleiku where my father first went after he was injured. I showed her a photograph and told her I didn't expect her to remember. She was silent for a moment before she told me that every soldier who came through her hospital was loved.