They Gave Their All

Back many years ago, in a land far, far away, a young man, brother of a friend, was killed when his helicopter crashed into the jungles of Vietnam. His funeral was filled with other young people, some of us too young yet to serve, others waiting for their draft numbers to be called, and still others breathing with relief, knowing that their lives would not be disrupted by enemy fire or shrapnel or anti-aircraft missiles.

Dougie was tall and handsome. The kind of son any mother would be proud to call her own; the kind of young man any girl would be proud to bring home. His death put an end, not only to his dreams, but the dreams of his family and friends.

When the Vietnam Memorial was created, I found myself writing the poem below. I sent a copy to Dougie's sister, promising her that would bring a copy to put under Dougie's name at the memorial. It took me twenty years, but I finally got to Washington, D.C.

On a warm summer afternoon, surrounded by bird song, I walked the length of the wall until I found Dougie's name, one among too many. After tracing his name, I placed the poem at the bottom of the black slab, wishing I could have done more.

Today, as I stood with friends and family at the town commons, I remembered Dougie. I remembered other friends and classmates who returned home...the walking wounded. I remember how they sometimes hid the fact that they had served, hoping to avoid the disdain so prevalent back then.

Unlike the service people today who come home to welcomes by their communities and who are thanked by strangers with tears in their eyes, the men and women who served in Vietnam were seldom welcomed or thanked for their dedication. For the first time ever, I witnessed people, some strangers, hugging and shaking the hand of a veteran from the Vietnam War. His eyes were filled with tears, as community members too young to know the horrors of Vietnam thanked him for his service.

It was then that I decided to share the poem I wrote for Dougie. It is my way of saying, "Thank you," to all the service people who have given their lives.

God bless you all!


THE WALL

The letters of your name
Are but a small portion of an alphabet
of a million letters...
All etched neatly
On this polished rock.

There is no joy here...
But there is love.

It has permeated the ground
Wrapping around those standing here
As they view the endless list of names
Whose faces are their own.

Wall will crumble.
Flowers left behind will wilt.
Photos will fade into yesterday.
Only the love lasts forever.

LMNR © 03-92

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