58,278 Names Etched In Granite
A visit to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC is an emotive experience.
One need not be a military veteran nor even an American citizen to recognize the immense power of this extraordinary artwork, which pays tribute to those a generation ago who went to a faraway land and never returned home alive. It was our most tragic — and I might add senseless — military conflict.
I lived in Washington, DC for 12 years. During that time, many friends and relatives visited what remains a mesmerizing city. I always used those special occasions to travel around our capital, playing amateur guide to our nation’s most impressive monuments. For me, each accompanying visit was a reminder. A reinforcement of what patriotism really means.
The Lincoln Memorial, Washington Monument, the Iwo Jima Memorial, Arlington National Cemetery, the Jefferson Memorial and so many other attractions are powerful places to visit. They should be seen by everyone. In fact, I’ll go so far to say that every American has an obligation to make at least one trip to our nation’s capital to see and experience these sites firsthand. I’m not even sure one can really call himself or herself a true American without having stood next to these structures which represent the very essence of our nation.
However, one memorial above all the rest deserved to be seen. It moved me emotionally each and every time I visited — and always in a different way. I must have touched the granite wall perhaps two dozen times. Instead of becoming bored or indifferent to something I had laid eyes upon so many occasions before, each visit gave me a new perspective about our history, what personal sacrifice really means, and the value of life itself.
There are 58,278 names etched into the reflective black granite wall at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. It is horrifically beautiful. Sadly poetic.
These letters you see, perhaps a million of them, are not just letters. They are not merely names, to be casually passed by without contemplation.
The name count represents the total number of Americans lost in the Vietnam conflict, which took place between 1955 and 1975.
Each name on that wall was a real person — with hopes and dreams tragically cut short and ultimately unrealized. Who knows which of those brave men and women might have returned home to conduct important medical research and possibly discover an important breakthrough on a dreaded disease? Who knows which of those names might have written great works of literature of created beautiful music? Who knows which of those people no longer among us might have ultimately become a great statesman and provided critical leadership into a new century? Who knows how many of those men and women — husbands, wives, sons, daughters, mothers, fathers, friends all — would have returned back home after completing tours of duty to enrich the lives who now mourn their deaths?
But, they are all gone.
Today is Veterans Day.
Today, we honor those who proudly served our nation. Moreover, we remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice.
The Vietnam Veterans Memorial pays tribute to but one war of many during our history, which dearly cost this nation its most precious resource — its people. There were and are others, still. Most of those names were forgotten long ago. Their black granite epitaph does not exist.
No doubt, more memorials will be built in the future. More names will be etched. More grief will be created. More tears will be shed.
How many more walls like this one must we build?