Monday, 3 October 2011

"The Moving Wall" . . . An Experience I Will Never Forget!

On Thursday, September 29th, I had the priviledge of being in Santa Barbara attending my writing class on the same day "The Moving Wall" arrived at Chase Palm Park . . . was this a coincidence?

Members of the Vietnam Veterans of America, Chapter 218 of Santa Barbara, proudly honored the service and sacrifice of the 11 million men and women who served during the Vietnam War by bringing "The Moving Wall" to their fair city.

"When the soldiers came home from Vietnam, there were no parades, no celebrations.  So they built the Vietnam Memorial for themselves."         - General Wm. C. Westmoreland 

"The Moving Wall" is a replica of the original memorial on permanent display in Washington DC, where carved in granite are 58,226 names of brave Americans honored and remembered forever. We honor the courageous service of America's 2.8 million Vietnam Veterans - especially the 58,226 men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice in serving their country for the enduring cause of freedom.

I pulled into the parking lot, took a ticket from the meter and found an empty parking space closest to the Memorial, though I still had a distance to walk. I sat in the car lost in thought. Questions filled my head. This was the closest I've come to "it" since the day I buried my husband's ashes in Houston National Cemetery, after which they folded his flag and presented it to me.  Could I do this with grace and dignity like Jacqueline Kennedy, or would I melt into a blubbering puddle?

I followed a sidewalk to the street and headed toward the monument. A photographer toting a heavy camera passed by. Towering palms scattered the patchy green grass. The sight of The Wall off in the distance, the sky and the ocean it's backdrop, enfolded me like a loving grandparent I'd never met. I felt timid, yet I knew I belonged . . .

They walk as if on hallowed ground. They touch the stone. They speak with the dead. They come to mourn and to remember, memory mixing with grief, making an old ritual new, creating in this time another timeless moment.   - 25th Anniversary Commemorative

In the distance, the long narrow black wall appeared to rise out of the ground where people stood like toy soldiers set in groups of two or three. Flags of many countries rose high against the hazy afternoon sky, furling in unison. A large khaki tent stood guard off to the right. As I drew near, the black panels began to reveal meticulous white lettering. Snapping flags overhead muffled the soft murmurs of family members, some clutching framed  photographs to their chest, as they stood solemnly talking with counselors near The Wall.

It was surreal . . . until it hit me.

The avalanche of names washed over me. Dear God, so many names. Too many names. Each called from the wall. I could hardly breathe. 58,226 names including 8 women. The Vietnam war. They all died in battle. This was all that was left of these warriors who were part of us, never again to feel the sun on their faces, or taste the salty air from an ocean breeze.

A train echoed from afar. A lean-muscled man riding a bicycle pulled up. His fluorescent green jacket and trimmed white beard reflect off the shiny black wall like a mirror. He straddled the bike as his eyes eagerly searched the names. One woman wandered a distance from the wall. Maybe fearful as I was to get too close. Afraid of being swallowed alive by the reality before us.

The Wall elicits a physical response. It has inspired visitors to represent their own grief, loss, rage, and despair. Contributing their private representations to public space they cross a boundary between the private and the public, the nation and the citizen, powerfully claiming the memorial as their own.   - 25th Anniversary Commemorative

The Vietnam war. So many names. So many died in battle. Yet many more returned home wounded to the core still fighting the battle. Their never-ending battle. Day and night the mortars still blaze, the screams, the cries still echo in the din. These returning soldiers who found themselves shunned and abandoned by a great many civilians who were not able to separate the war from the warrior.

As a writer, how can I not say what I feel? How my heart still aches for my husband . . . and all the names on this wall. It aches for all the people who loved and cherished the people who were these names, and feel the pain they still bare. I reached out and touched one name . . . Leon B Smith II in raised white letters. My heart hurt. Then I noticed a sign that read, "Do Not Touch the Wall."

I spent a large part of the afternoon sitting on the grass, a distance from the wall, journaling, taking pictures and thinking. How can these families heal? I wrote a book which allowed me to put my heart on paper. I may have found healing . . . but I can never forget.

Occasionally, I'd wander up to the wall and walk it's length looking at the volumes of names which loving parents carefully chose for their precious newborn as they envisioned the bright future their baby would grow into.

And never dreaming the name they chose would one day stand as part of the history of our country . . .

Lesson Learned . . . or my two cents
The human heart can be shattered in a million pieces . . . yet you still must go on living.

A few Vietnam war facts you may not know::
  • The Vietnam War was the longest war in history  1955-1975
  • There are still nearly 2000 POW (Prisoners of War) - MIA's (Missing in Action) who have not been accounted for, who never came home from the Vietnam War.
  • The U.S. fighting in Vietnam was called a conflict because Congress never voted to officially declare it a war.
  • 265,000 women served during the Vietnam war. Over 10,000 were stationed in combat zones alongside their brother soldiers. All were volunteers. The names of those who gave their lives are etched in stone forever, there were 8 of them . . . Carol, Elizabeth, Eleanor, Hedwig, Pamela, Annie, Sharon and Mary.


  1. I'm glad you got to see this; having seen the original in DC I would be interested to see the traveling version. Seems to me that on the "real" wall the lettering is carved in, but I could be misremembering.

    I will never forget the slight, wedge of black wall, with a few names, that grew and grew. It hit me like a punch in the stomach all those names, all those men (and women), every one of them having mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, wives and girlfriends. They weren't just names, they were people, each with his/her own story.

    I am sorry, and honor your husband for his service. My bro-in-law served, and has never been the same.

  2. Sheree - Thank you for stopping by and your comment. I know where your heart is. LOL

  3. Bev - It was a given, rain or shine. The Wall in DC is, in fact, carved in stone. The Moving Wall had to weigh less to be portable. It's made of aluminum panels mounted on aluminum framing supported with steel tubular bracing. The names are raised on the surface so people can pencil-rub the name of their warrior.

    Someday I hope to travel to see the one in DC. I'm sure it will hit me the same way.

    I'm sorry to learn your brother-in-law is dealing with the aftermath of this war. I feel for your entire family because I know it affects everyone in his life. Thank you for coming by.

  4. Nancy this was the most moving blog. Thank you so much for sharing it. Johanna

  5. Sweet Johanna,
    Your comment touched me, thank you.
    I miss you

  6. Touched by it all. And the ladies mentioned at the end. x

  7. I value your words, Tiff. Each is precious, thank you. And ladies were especially for you.

  8. Thank youfor sharing.

    Found you through the tuesday blog hop, glad I did.


  9. whoa...I should really read more about our history! your little tidbits were interesting for sure. I'm following from today's blog hop..
    come by and say hello :)
    {tara} from Undeserving Grace

  10. Wow, wow, wow. This is powerful, and beautifully written...and as always, filled with information. I always learn something when I read your blog. Thanks for sharing so much with us.

  11. Renee - Welcome. And I am so glad you found me. Blog hops are a great way to meet new writers and make new friends. I hope to see you again.

  12. Undeserving grace - aren't we all. I'm thrilled you chose me out of so many to visit. Thank you. Will stop by to see you tomorrow when I'm not working. I do hope you come again. Most of my blogs are on a happier note.

  13. Becky - thank you again for your kindness. I do like sharing new ideas or what I've learned with other writers and friends. You always put a smile on my face!

  14. Thanks for sharing this touchy post with us. I re tweeted it. Following you back from my Get Connected Tuesday Blog Hop. Thanks for linking up.

  15. I felt like I was right there, Nancy. I had my hand clutching my chest from how vividly you wrote about it.

    My Mom had to accept a folded flag at two funerals: one for my Dad, the other for my brother, who were both in the Air Force. I have so much empathy for vet families.

  16. I'm happy you stopped by from the Tuesday Blog Hop, Nekky. Thank you for re tweeting it! And please come by again.

  17. Oh, Scrollwork, how kind your words are. This is how I write, it's a gift. My book is written the same way except it includes dialogue. I want people to experience the dynamics of PTSD.

    My heart pains for you and your mom, and what you both went through. Where did you find healing, or did you? Please come back . . .

  18. I can't imagine your feelings at the instant you realized. I tend to believe things like this happen for a reason and are not necessarily a random unconnected event, but that's me. In your case, a reminder to hold fast and keep moving forward with your book?! It feels this way. My Uncle Ted, is a Vet. He wasn't the same when he came home, and it's only years later he has made something resembling peace with his past. Hugs to you, Nancy.

  19. Brenda, I'm come to learn to believe things happen for a reason, but it took a few of life's lessons for me to get there. I now know each new day is a gift so many do not get. I am holding fast, moving forward with my book, having finally decided which side of the fence is best, for me! Your Uncle Ted touched me, as there are so many out there who have never found peace. God only knows if they ever will.