Share the Wall

By John Stiles

I’d been to the Vietnam Wall before on a number of occasions. And I’d pretty much considered myself immune to its renowned effects. Believe me; it had nothing to do with any macho pretense. I’d had my moments on that path in the shadow of the Lincoln Memorial, especially the first couple of times I’d made the pilgrimage, which all of us who survived that war are want to do.

But upon my last visit, a couple of weeks back; it finally reached out and grabbed me by the insides.

Perhaps I should start by confessing that I don’t remember any of the more than 58,000 names chipped in black granite on those 140 panels that seem to spring out of the earth at either end of a stone path and meet in the middle at an almost gentle angle.

It’s a sort of emotional defense mechanism on my part, a convenient mental block. Because there are indeed some names inscribed on panels 2- through about 4-East that I should know. But for me they will always be "Hey, Mac," "Buddy," "Pal" or some other long since forgotten nickname. Every time one of the many volunteers who seem to always be patrolling the monument’s walkway comes up and welcomes me "home," we must all be so easy to spot with our gray hair and tell-tale thousand-yard stares, and offers to help me find a name I tell a not so little white lie and thank them with a nervous "I’ve already passed it several panels back." This last time, as I walked about halfway up the eastern slope a piece of paper suddenly caught my eye. And, since bits of paper, either folded and stuffed in the cracks or lying propped against the structure are so common at this place they have become almost a part of the architecture, it’s surprising that this particular note caused me to stop, bend down and take a closer look.

It was a standard piece of 8 and half by 11 typing paper that contained a computer generated picture of a young man standing on a front porch, dressed in current military camouflage and a few neatly printed lines. "My son never asked what his country could do for him, just what could he do for his country."

"He made the ultimate sacrifice"

"No: WMD"

"No: Connection to 9/11"

"No: Imminent threat"


As my wife and I took our long walk back to the hotel, tears welling up inside and obviously moved by this scrap of paper, the thought occurred to me that this parent’s choice of the Vietnam Wall to voice this kind of sentiment couldn’t have been more appropriate. After all, the Vietnam War pretty much set the standard for such sentiments. And, sadly, until the Iraqi conflict has its own monument to join the myriad of others commemorating the deaths of far too many taking up more and more space along The Mall in Washington, I for one certainly don’t mind if these brave young Americans share mine for now. Because theirs is, God knows how many years in our future. Come to think of it, I couldn’t tell you the name of the young man being memorialized in that moving tribute, either. But then I’m certain that except for the family that placed it there, it could stand for any the more than 800 and counting who have made the exact same sacrifice for pretty much the same reasons.