Sunday, December 31, 2006

Reflecting on this day of milestone marker 3,000 US military deaths in Iraq - Who else has seen Vietnam Wall Memorial in DC

Who else has seen the actual Vietnam Memorial in Washington DC? I have, in DC, and the replica Vietnam Wall at the state capitol in Olympia, and the traveling Vietnam memorial replica wall - total of three times over the course of my 55 years. I know everyone who sees the wall is overcome by the sheer numbers of names engraved into the black walls. I know my experience of visiting the Vietnam Wall in DC was a visceral experience and personal experience for me....a vigil I dreaded to undertake, for it was the first time in my lifetime that I would see the actual real Wall.

My own history back to that era was firmly in a container with the lid tightly secured and tucked away in the cobwebs in my mental attic. Popular opinion back in that era was not favorable to returning Vietnam veterans or their families. It was safer for us as a family then to quickly put it away, leave it behind and try to move on....

You've heard that expression recently, I'm sure -- get over it and move on. That was one heard repetitiously after the last Presidential election. And yet, were it so simple to get over it and move on, would we be in another situation in Iraq not unlike the situation of Vietnam? I pull the container from my attic, brush off the cobwebs, loosen the lid and let the history wash over me.

I cannot be silent this time, I cannot let young wives and children endure what I endured in silence so long ago. I have something to say this time and I do, and it resonates with many, I know, I can tell by their reactions and actions. Others have something to say and it resonates with many, and eventually it will resonate strongly enough that the outcry of no more cannot be missed. But not yet, not this year, perhaps next year.

The Vietnam Wall Memorial in Washington D.C.

One walks by the first wall which is not so tall and one begins to take in the engraved names. You then walk to the next wall and the next and the walls grow increasingly higher with more engraved names filling out the growing spaces on the increasingly higher walls. By the time you are feeling hopelessly overcome and overwhelmed, you look down the length of the wall to see how much further you will have to walk and how many more walls and engraved names you will have to see before you have completed the walk. As the heighth of the walls reach peak height, the walls then begin decrease in size again until you have reached the last wall and the 'end of the Vietnam conflict' and can now exit the memorial walk of the walls.

That walk registered with me hard as I made that walk, holding my vigil candle, September 2005 in Washington DC. As I walked the walls, I remember thinking at that time, what will the Iraq memorial look like when it is built and how many names will have to be honored in that memorial. I remember reflecting back to when I was young and my then husband was drafted and sent to Vietnam.

I was a young military wife, pregnant with our first child, in my first 'real job', marking time anxiously, hoping he would come home alive to participate in the life of our first child - or even wounded and alive, but please, not dead, not killed in action. I felt empathy wash over me as I contemplated the young wives and children of the young men and women deployed in combat today in Iraq and Afghanistan. I could feel so strongly their youth and the acuteness of will the new memorial begin to encompass the magnitude of the loss is what was reeling in my mind. It is so much more than numbers.

What I didn't notice until reading David's story was that indeed the Vietnam Wall Memorial is designed to reflect back your own reflection. It occurs to me how appropriate that symbology was then in Vietnam war era and now in Iraq/Afghanistan era....we are each and every one of us complicit somehow and deep reflection is encumbant on each of us as we memorialize today at this milestone marker that as of today 3,000 U.S. troops have been killed - we go into the new year with that number as a marker. It is all we have because no other symbology is permitted at this by this Administration.

We have no way to acknowledge, reflect, mourn, honor except for what the civilian community provides in the way of vigils to try to grasp the overwhelming loss, to try to honor what has already been lost, to try to scream attention that the future memorial to honor the war dead in this era already has too many names...

But then today is the day before a new year, and traditional celebrations tonight ought to be a bit muted to reflect that today is also the day our country has reached another milestone in Iraq. Perhaps when the fireworks are shooting off from the Space Needle in Seattle after an evening of drink, merry-making and celebrating, some will remember to remember that for 3,000 families it is not a celebration. Rather it marks that our country will move into another new year the same way we did last year - with our military still in Iraq, adding more names to the future memorial that will mark this time.

Let us reflect and be reminded it is our own reflection we see in the Vietnam memorial - and we see our reflection because we are the living, mourning the dead. Perhaps it will strengthen resolve in each of us who reflect today that with a new year we must act to do something different so that we are not re writing this memorial next new year's eve.

"In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies but the silence of our friends." Martin Luther King Jr.

by Lietta Ruger on Sun Dec 31, 2006 at 01:13:38 PM PST


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