War Memorials

vietnam war memoria;Photo by Caleb Fisher on Unsplash

On a cool, cloudy and misty spring morning I walked the length of the Vietnam Veterans War Memorial in Washington D.C. My seven year old daughter accompanied me on the solemn, slow stroll. The wall, inscribed with 50,000 names of soldiers killed in the war and listed in chronological order, increases in height until you reach the midpoint and then the wall begins a gradual descent.

This is a reminiscence I wrote in 2016 about a visit twenty years earlier to Washington D.C. My father was a Vietnam War Vet. Gratefully, he returned from the war alive. Many did not. Let's always remember to honor the memories of our loved ones and to recognize the price veterans have paid.

The architect, Maya Lin, was criticized by many when her memorial was first created. But time and her simple design have helped to heal many. I found the experience of traversing the distance of the wall to be very moving. The enormity of life lost and the sacrifices made by so many filled my eyes with tears. I knew my daughter didn’t really understand what we were visiting, but she sensed the significance. War is not glorious, but certainly we must remember and pay tribute to those who’ve served our country, especially those who have made the ultimate sacrifice. That is what Memorial Day is about.

There are many war memorials in the United States. A few, such as the Vietnam Wall, are in Washington D.C. On the National Mall you can find the World War II Memorial and the Korean War Veterans Memorial. In New Mexico where I live there is a Memorial Park in Albuquerque and also a very impressive Vietnam Vets Memorial and Chapel in Angel Fire.

Memorials are created to help us remember. They are visible testimonials. When we reflect on the lives of people killed in war it is important to recognize the importance of service. Perhaps someday wars will end and we will have lasting peace. So many men and women have given their lives in pursuit of this, to fight to keep us free. The average life expectancy these days is around 80 years. Not so for many soldiers who died in the prime of their lives. Warriors have to be prepared to die at any time.

A story on CBS Sunday Morning related the experience of John Colone, a Vietnam Vet who was shot four times in 1968. Everyone in his unit believed he was dead. They put him in a body bag and sent him to the morgue. Lucky for him, a very attentive attendant, Lt. Curtis Washington, had the habit of checking each soldier. He would take a pen to the feet and swipe it along the bottom, a reflex check. When he did it to Colone he heard an audible gasp. And he realized the man was alive. In essence, he brought him back from the dead!

John Colone doesn’t take his second chance for granted. For years he has spent a great deal of his own money each Memorial Day to have fresh flowers placed on the graves of Vietnam Veterans. He started with the men from his unit, but eventually began to include more, over 100 others. He has often questioned why he lived when so many others died. His annual act of honoring fallen soldiers is his way of showing appreciation for his fellow comrades in arms. And he hopes others will follow his lead and adopt a veteran on Memorial Day. He simply asks that you would clean their grave site and place some fresh flowers. It is a simple, yet fitting tribute.