Tuesday, August 3, 2010

The Vietnam War Memorial in DC reminds the nation of the price of freedom

Washington, DC is a city of memorials and museums but none seem to impact citizens of the nation as deeply as the Vietnam War Memorial.  The memorial's star player is that of the Wall that memorializes the 58,000 lives lost in the conflict in Vietnam.  What many people do not realize is that the Wall is not the only part of the memorial to fallen soldiers of Vietnam.  To the south of the wall lie two statue memorials known as the Three Servicemen and the Vietnam Women's memorial.

I had been to Washington, D.C. many times before I took the time to visit the Vietnam memorials.  When I finally did, it was when I brought my father out here to see this beautiful area in which I dreamed of living.  I knew that the history here and respect paid to the past would be of great interest to him so I brought him for his birthday.  As it turned out, I hadn't realized until the week before we left Oregon that our visit would coincide with Veteran's Day.  What a treat!  Especially considering that my Father is a Vietnam veteran.

Like many tourists who come to visit the memorial, and specifically the Wall, we had a name we were looking for among the thousands of names etched into the granite.  I couldn't help it when the lump in my throat formed as I watched my Father's fingers skim the stone as he searched for the name.  I couldn't imagine the thoughts and images of memories that must have been running through his mind as he hunted for the name of his friend and fellow soldier but we silently bonded as I saw the tears begin to pool in his eyes.  They never dropped down his face and he didn't clear the floodgates of the mounting pressure with a swipe of his hand.  No, he held them in place just as he had held all of the tragedy he had seen as a young man.  My Father isn't a crier.  In fact, up to that point in time I'd only seen him cry once in my life.  I am not as strong as my Father and seeing him in such a state of vulnerability but remaining strong caused me to lose my own composure.

I revisited the Wall the week before Memorial day this year to get photos to write an article on the memorial.  I saw droves of students on field trips and families coming to pay their respects to the fallen.  None of the tourists I watched and captured with my camera impacted me the way my Father had on our visit.  But, then I saw a veteran who had come to find the name of his fallen friend, to give his thanks and to honor him with a memento to show the respect he still held inside for him.  The shy girl in me knew if I passed up the moment to break out of my shell and ask the man if I could photograph him that I would regret it, so I asked.  Thankfully, I was able to stay detached and get the shot I wanted but his actions lingered in my mind and as I walked along the football field length of the wall and came close to the section where my father's friend is honored the tears came rushing back to my eyes as they had three years earlier.  Only this time, I honored my father as well and never let them leave the gates.