a newspaper man adjusts his pen

Sunday, November 11, 2007

They still cry at the wall

WASHINGTON, DC – The walk downhill to the foot of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial takes you 10 feet below ground to a place heavy with grief.

The Wall, at its base, has become the Vietnam generation’s symbol of great sorrow for the 58,256 veterans who were killed or missing in the war.

It’s a special place for the people who go down there, a tour guide said Sunday to a handful of tourists who were about to take that walk on Veterans Day. By design, the walk back to the surface offers a chance for them to bury their sadness in something akin to a tomb.

Hundreds of thousands of people tried that Sunday when the nation marked the 25th anniversary of the black granite monument. By nightfall, there were nearly as many mementos leaning against the list of war dead, everything from flowers to heartfelt poems.

A large silver foil sculpture of a deer was among the many wreaths that stood attention on the lawn opposite the memorial. It was the work of Joel “Artist Bohmeal” Paplham, who calls himself a compassionate non-veteran from West Allis. Wis.

Someone else took the time to put together a framed collage of photographs and other such images associated with the war as a marijuana leaf and peace sign. A portrait of President Bush with red drops of paint across his forehead was even included in the design.

Vietnam War veterans, some wearing old war uniforms, stared silently into the names, only to see their reflections between the letters. The mirror affect makes it impossible to look at the names without reflecting on your own thoughts about war, the tour guide said. The experience sends a chill down the spine, tightens the muscles around the throat and puts a tear in the eye of most who make the journey.

Anyone who was alive and paying attention when Maya Ling Lin’s design was chosen for the $9 million memorial would remember the public outcry over her being a daughter of Chinese refugees living in America. People were angry because her family came from a land whose government had backed the enemy North Vietnamese Army.

Regardless, Linn has given us something incredibly special in our nation’s capitol, an honor roll that still brings together our collective sadness about what happened in Vietnam. But the guide was dreaming today when he suggested that the Vietnam generation has been able to drop off its pain over the war at the base of a wall.

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