I am sitting here writing this post and I really do not know where to start. This past weekend I was a volunteer at the travelling Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall when it came to Raleigh, NC. For those of you who have not seen it it is a 3/4 scale replica of the actual wall in DC. It is set up in such a manner that the placement of a name on the wall matches exactly with the location on the DC wall. That alone is an amazing feat.
The real reason I am sitting here is to tell you just a part of the eye watering, heart wrenching, proud to be an American, humbling experience this was. I have never in my life been so humbled as I was there. I was not prepared for the emotional experience that this became! I could sit here for days and tell you about the people and their stories, but neither of us has that kind of time today. I am going to pick just a few and relate them as best I can. I am not going to give their names solely out of respect for them and their loved ones, it has been hard enough.
The first person I want to tell you about is a woman who is still alive. She is a surviving Vietnam Veteran and one of a handful of "enlisted women" there, not as a nurse. I was shocked to say the least to find this out. She is full of life and a real fireball! I had the privilege of talking to her several hours over the course of the day. Thanks to her I now know that out of the over 58,000 names on that wall there are nine of them that are women! What a joy it was to meet her, I know that our paths are going to cross again in the near future.
Then there is the person who came to look up the name of their father and get a tracing. They were directed to the correct section of the wall and as they searched for and found the name there was already a person tracing that exact name. In a small quiet voice they asked the man what his connection was. He explained that he was that soldiers commanding officer. I know that an hour later they were still grasping hands crying and talking as they were both helping each other bring closure to that part of their lives.
Last but not least I want to tell you about the elderly couple that touched me the most. Their story ripped my heart from my chest and I am still brought to tears writing this. They lost their one and only son in Viet Nam in 1962 the year that I was born. He was a fighter pilot and was in country for less then two weeks when he was shot down. He was then listed MIA and remained this way for 33 1/2 years! I stood there with them for over an hour as they told the story of their son, a hero. They were so proud so full of joy and grief. I walked with them to an area that was recording the stories of all veterans for the Library of Congress and listened. The hardest part for me was how the father would not accept that "his boy" had died. For 33 1/2 years he was continually expecting him to come back to him and walk through the door. His son never made it. He is now with God as his remains rest in Arlington National Cemetery, buried as a National Hero!
When you meet a Veteran no matter what age, war time or peace walk up to them THANK THEM and let them know we care. Support Our Troops! There are many ways to do this and don't forget about their families at home whom a lot of them are struggling to make ends meet.