Having grown up in the 60’s and 70’s, I was very aware of the Vietnam War. I may not have understood the politics of it, but I was acutely aware of the turmoil that was going on in the country at the time. I do remember desperately wanting to be a “hippie” so that I could protest with them. At that age, most of our views come from our parents and although I wanted to be a hippie – when we made election signs at school, all of my signs were in support of Nixon – for no other reason except that my parents supported him. It wasn’t until I listened to some of my much older cousins talk and argue with my parents, their parents and aunts and uncles at a family picnic, did my opinion change about that.
We have done some traveling over the years and the one place that I had never been and really wanted to go, was Washington, DC. The only thing I wanted to see there was the Vietnam Wall. DC’s SPED class was lucky enough to “work/volunteer” when the Traveling Wall came to town, so I knew that this could be something relate-able for him if we were to travel to D.C..
On Memorial Day Weekend in 2010, we finally made the trip to Washington D.C.
Although we saw many sights when we were there, the wall was the only thing I cared about seeing. Being Memorial Day weekend we decided not to wait until Monday to go.
My reaction to seeing it, was so much more emotional than I expected. One really cannot stand in front of this wall without some sort of emotional reaction, but I got so very emotional that I had to leave. I was not ready for that, not at all. There are no words to explain what it feels like to stand there looking at all of those names, names I did not even know. It is not something I will ever be able to explain.
Because we were only there for minutes before I fell to pieces, we did go back again Monday. I do not know what it was I wanted to do, but I needed to be there longer than a few minutes. It was just as emotional the second time, but I was glad we went back.
Just last week, my mother received word that my Uncle “T”, her brother passed away. There were no calling hours and burial was at the convenience of the immediate family.
Uncle “T” (I am told that I gave him that name when I was very young because I could not pronounce his real name) was my favorite uncle when I was little and remained so over the years even after we lost touch with him.
I happen to have a freakish memory for things that I should have been too young to remember, but I do remember.
As I wrote in another post:
I was only 3 years old when JFK was assassinated. I do remember people sitting in our kitchen while I was in the living room watching the funeral. I am not sure that I knew who he was but I did know he must have been someone very important because the people in the kitchen were so sad. I distinctly remember looking out of our front window waiting to see the funeral procession go by – because when you are a kid, everything you see on TV is right outside your window, right?
The details of these very old memories may be a little bit out of order or possibly a combination of more than one day, that in my mind happened all at once, but I have been told that the memories are pretty accurate overall.
I remember my uncle…
He was the youngest child of 5.
I remember that he lived with us before my mother remarried (she remarried when I was 5). He baby-sat for my brother and I, often. I was closer to him than my other uncles.
I remember announcing in front of the uncle who was my Godfather, that I wanted Uncle “T” to be my Godfather.
I “think” I remember him joining the army and coming home, whether it was from boot camp or on leave, I do not know, but I was excited to see him.
I do not remember the actual wedding ceremony, but I do remember the wedding reception. I am guessing that I was 3 or 4. In-between being polka’d around in the arms of both uncles, I remember his new wife crying and crying at the reception.
I do not know if anyone knew before the crying but only days before, he had been notified that he would be shipping out.
I do believe I understood what that meant when I heard it.
I do not remember his leaving but I do remember him finally coming home.
Even at my young age, I could see he was not the same. He was not so quick with a smile as he had been. He was more sullen and kept to himself. I was young and really did not understand what an experience like that could do to a person. At that age, you understand the physical, not the mental or emotional.
He did not talk about it all that much. Maybe he did talk about it when children were not in earshot, I don’t know – but I do remember him telling one story.
He had a friend in his unit who played guitar. Every night this friend would go up on top of a hill and play. My uncle warned him and warned him every night not to go, but every night he went, until one night they heard gun fire and his guitar-playing friend was gone.
I knew he had been in the war and I knew what that meant, but being as young as I was I just did not picture him seeing death. Of course he did, probably so much more than I can imagine even now, but until that story, I did not understand that.
I know now that there was not very much help for Vets back then. I also know that my uncle probably would not be one to ask for help even if help were available.
He carried all of that, not always successfully throughout his life.
He went to Vietnam in service to his country.
He came home, alive and physically uninjured, but made the ultimate sacrifice to his country – the rest of his life. He never recovered.
His life would never be the same and that is a significant and ultimate sacrifice.
I was going to end this post by stating that many more names need to be added to that wall, when I found this:
In Memory Day Since the war in Vietnam came to an end, there has been a growing sense among many veterans and their families that those who served in this nation’s longest war have suffered and are continuing to suffer premature deaths related to their service. These deaths have been attributed to exposure to Agent Orange, post- traumatic stress disorder, and a growing list of other causes.
The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund’s In Memory Day program honors those who died as a result of the Vietnam War, but whose deaths do not fit the Department of Defense criteria for inclusion upon the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. Every year there is a ceremony to pay tribute to these men and women who sacrificed so much for their country. The ceremony is held on the third Monday in April — In Memory Day. – from The Wall USA
This Memorial Day, while remembering the fallen – those that did not make it home, please also remember those that did… many of whom are still falling.
Beautiful and heart wrenching post. Well said. We need to honor the Veterans of the Vietnam and Korean wars. They have not been recognized the way they should. Thank you for sharing your Uncle’s story❤️
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I know. And although I understand that Memorial Day is really about those that did not make it home, his death happening so close to the Holiday and my feeling that he really did not make it home , I felt it was appropriate.
Beautiful tribute. I’m glad that you didn’t physically lose your Uncle so early on but it is equally sad that you still lost the man that he was. There could be another whole wall for the names of those individuals.
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Yes, there really should be.