Traveling Wall offers sobering images, lessons

The Wall asks us to consider the cost of war, not by numbers, but by names

by Kathleen Merryman

Angling out of the earth in the National Mall in Washington, it makes no statement on the rightness or wrongness of the path the nation took through the Vietnam War. It simply lists the names of the 58,195 men and women who laid their bones down on that path.

The statement on The Wall’s Web site underlines that point: The Vietnam Veterans Memorial is a place where everyone, regardless of opinion, can come together and remember and honor those who served.

Because so many people can’t or don’t get to the National Mall, veterans groups have found a way to bring The Wall to them. The American Veterans Traveling Tribute, made of aluminum and four-fifths the size of the granite original, travels by trailer from one host venue to another.

“Can I help you find a name? Stephen Rutherford asks. Would you like to make a rubbing of a name? Rutherford and the other veterans who brought it are volunteering to welcome them.

His wife, Mary Rutherford, and their daughter, Senior Airman Miki Rutherford, on leave from Nellis AFB, Nev., work in the tent filled with paintings and prints young men rising up from scarred ground on golden wings. Patrols, wading single-file through beautiful, deadly rice paddies.

On opening day, Logan Kesler, 13, skipped Mount Baker Middle School, and Jesse McIntyre, 15, did not go to Emerald Ridge High School. Instead, they set up tables and ran errands. Jesse had a stake in the event. He had played his guitar in front of Puyallup’s Top Foods and raised $450 to help bring the smaller Wall to Auburn.

I’m just doing what I can to get the veterans recognized, he said.

His father, veteran Jeff McIntyre, had spent the previous night at the site and welcomed homeless veterans when they stopped by to see it.

The expanse of names awes him.

You look at one name, and that one person had a mother and a father, aunts, uncles, maybe kids, he said. For every name there, there are probably 50 people who loved that person. If you add it up, it’s unbelievable. All the sacrifices. Don’t forget them. Don’t ever forget them.

What we take from the Wall should go beyond not forgetting. It should include learning.

On some fronts, we have.

Once again, we are engaged in a war on which public opinion is deeply divided.

Today, at least, we are more civil to our returning troops.

Rick Bulman remembered flying in to Travis Air Force Base, being shuttled to San Francisco International Airport, then hitch-hiking home. No ceremony. No military welcome.

Returns now are marked by solemn, joyful ceremonies. On Fort Lewis and McChord Air Force Base, the military formally thanks the returning men and women. It invites their families to join them. That’s the way it should be.

Ordinary residents, too, have learned from hurtful behavior that has backfired through history.

When I left and was in the airport, people spat at me and yelled Baby killer,’ Jeff McIntyre recalled.

Those were isolated incidents in the larger protest movement, but they have come to symbolize it.

Demonstrations against the war in Iraq focus on policy and on bringing the troops home safe and well.

Already, McIntyre said, veterans are planning a memorial for those killed in Iraq. At least 2,000 more names to be mourned and honored.


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Posted by on November 5, 2005, With Reads Filed under Veterans. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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