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I recently had a conversation with an old friend about the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C., that starkly simple, yet compelling monument designed by Mia Lin. It reminded me of my own visit to see the Vietnam Memorial in Washington D.C. in June of 1988, twenty years after coming home from that war. It took me four days to get up the nerve to approach that wall. As I finally drew near and saw "The Wall" for the first time, tears, tears that I had held back for two decades, came suddenly and uncontrollably. I was blinded by them. My knees shook. I didn't know what to do next.
There was a book there with the names of the fallen and where they were located on the wall, but I stood before it dumbfounded. You see, my way of dealing with those memories of the Marines and Corpsmen I served with, whose wounds were too great and beyond my abilities to heal, is that I have forgotten their names. I can still see their faces, even remember some of their last words, but I have not allowed myself to remember their names. That's how I chose to protect myself from that unspeakable pain.
Finally, I simply walked down the length of that wall with all of those names scarred into its black granite surface, it reflected my own image back at me, and I wept, openly, freely. At that time there were Vietnam vets who volunteered to help their brothers get through the emotional struggles that ambushed them when they finally got up the courage to visit that powerful memorial. One of these kind men stepped up beside me and asked if I wanted company. I couldn't answer him. He said nothing more. He simply stood next to me silently, a comforting presence, and let me simply mourn. After a while, I nodded my thanks and walked away. I never looked back.
I still mourn those men I had the privilege to serve with at Khe Sanh and Quang Tri. I was one of the many lucky ones who came back to supportive families, even if the majority of our peers at that time treated us like pariahs. I got an education on the GI Bill, married a patient and compassionate woman and had two beautiful daughters, who each married good men, one of them a Marine and Iraq War veteran. We have a beautiful granddaughter now to watch grow in her innocence. Life is good. Most of my brothers-in-arms from that war, despite its unpopularity, made good citizens, dedicated workers, and solid family men. The same will be true of those returning from our current wars.
Now that Memorial Day has passed, we at The Veterans Site ask that you continue to thank our returning veterans by welcoming them home. Support them with your friendship, and even more importantly honor them with employment . They will prove to be true assets to society in their time as well.