Ending the month at the traveling Vietnam Wall

Earlier this month I wrote about my 1971 college Vietnam War era memories, and here I am concluding the month with another tie to the War. I actually thought about delaying this particular post until a little closer to Memorial Day, but decided against that– I was eager to share our field trip with you. I was so pleased that our schedules weren’t entirely jam-packed this week, making it possible for us to make our way over to Rose Hills Memorial Park & Mortuary (the largest memorial park in the world!) where the traveling replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. was displayed for one short week.

Each year the Dignity Memorial Vietnam Wall tours the country. The memorial was established in 1990 and since has been displayed in more than 200 cities across the country. I’m sure its been in the greater Los Angeles area before, but this time it was so close to home we wouldn’t miss it. Free and open to the public 24 hours a day, the replica is eight feet high and 240 feet long, inscribed with the names of more than 58,000 servicemen and women who died or are missing in Vietnam.

While looking for the name of a serviceman I wanted to honor we were approached by a volunteer, who in helping us asked if we would like to see the name of her brother. Of course we wanted to listen to her story, too.  She took us to the panel representing the earliest casualties, 1958. She then proceeded to tell us stories of mothers and fathers, sisters, brothers and friends who arrived to see the Wall for the first time this week. They were assisted in collecting a pencil rubbing of their loved ones’ names, and in many instances given comfort by a Veteran volunteer.  At the base of the wall personal notes, flowers and small American flags collected as evidence of how many visitors had come to honor a specific fallen serviceman or woman. More than one hundred names on the wall are associated with local young men who lost their lives in Vietnam.

Here are just a few facts I learned from our visit to the Wall:

  • The youngest man KIA is believed to be Dan Bullock , USMC, at 15 years old
  • At least 5 men killed in Vietnam were 16 years old
  • At least 12 men killed in Vietnam were 17 years old
  • At least 25,000 of those killed were 20 years old or younger
  • The oldest man killed was 62 years old
  • More than 17,000 of those killed were married
  • Those killed on their first day in Vietnam–997
  • Those killed on their last day in Vietnam–1,448
  • Number of Chaplains on the Wall –16
  • Number of Women on the Wall–8
There are thousands of individual and unique stories and really, the loss is unfathomable!

If you hear of a traveling Wall exhibit coming to your city, I hope you’ll take the time to visit. Even if you’ve been fortunate enough to visit the Wall in Washington, D.C., I think you’d be very moved by the flag ceremonies, special readings, prayers and musical offerings, as well as the opportunity to speak with the volunteers, many of whom are Vietnam veterans. It was a sobering, but very special experience for us. It certainly bookended my month.

…Debra

37 thoughts on “Ending the month at the traveling Vietnam Wall

    • It really is, Fiona. With all that continues to go on all over the world today, I just often feel very sobered–I can’t imagine what it would be like to have a young person in the U.S. military today, but I have great respect for our Veterans. In going to the “Wall” and reading those names, I mostly thought about their families. I’m glad I could share this with you. Debra

    • I wasn’t expecting anything nearly as authentic as this 2/3rd-sized replica! The entire area was set up to be very respectful, and I think this is an amazing effort to continue to make sure that all Veteran’s continue to be honored and respected! Thanks for stopping by today, Andra. I hope your weekend is restful! Debra

  1. I didn’t know there was a traveling exhibit. I had the opportunity to see the wall when I was in high school. I remember it having an impact on me even then. I can imagine it would all the more powerful now that I’m a bit older. I’ll have to keep my eyes out for this exhibit.

    • I was hoping to alert attention to the exhibit, Kristy. I think there may be more than one organization providing this experience, but anyone associated is invested in doing it well! I am sure that at some point you will have the opportunity to see it. The organization is also invested in supporting Veteran’s Affairs. Debra

    • Thank you so much for participating in the dialogue with the youtube addition, Frank. I was really hopeful that I’d alert others to have their ears tuned to hearing if the traveling Wall comes to their city. It is a very sobering experience…every time! Debra

    • You’re so right, Jen. During the war I was as young as those serving, and really didn’t think of “us” as so young. As the years have gone by and I have, of course, aged, I am deeply saddened at the youth that we all lost. I hope you might see this exhibit sometime, Jen. Debra

  2. Debra, I first viewed the traveling Vietnam Memorial Wall in the early 90′s. The community we were living in at the time, Elmhurst, was one of the first cities to host it. Tom and I went early one summer evening to pay our respects and I was interested in finding the name of a young man I knew from grade school and high school who was killed in the first year after high school graduation. 1969. I was aided in finding his name by a veteran, found several notes left there by classmates I knew, and left my own. While this wasn’t a best friend, he was someone who had been in my life for twelve years, so young, and I felt so terribly saddened when I learned of his death as a college freshman and felt I owed it to him and to his family to recognize his service and their sacrifice.

    As Tom and I turned to leave, we saw a friend standing nearby, his head bowed, alone. Something told us to wait. His wife wasn’t with him, nor anyone else. We saw Ron tremble a bit, rub his eyes, and back away. He saw us and said that these were his buddies. He saw them die. Though we had known each other for quite a few years, I never knew he had been to Viet Nam. Tom remembered he had, but Ron never talked of it. The next day, I mentioned it to his wife, who grew to become a very dear friend. She said others had seen Ron at the Wall, and on several days, and that he never told her he was going. I remember thinking about this and realizing that the Wall was giving him a chance to work through his grief, and was likely doing the same for others in the military.

    Years later, we visited the Wall in D.C. It was again a moving experience, but not quite the same as in our hometown, where our friends and neighbors and those in the area could gather and honor all those whose lives were lost, but could also honor their own.

    This was a wonderful post and a bookend to your earlier one, Debra. I apologize for writing nearly a blog of my own here, but, this moved me so, as did your encouragement of others to visit the traveling Wall if they are near it. Thank you.

    • I’m so glad you shared your experience, Penny! I think you’re right about the difference of being in your hometown versus Washington. I really cannot imagine what this moving Memorial means to someone like your friend Ron. There are some life experiences where I can at least “imagine” how a tragedy might impact me, but to watch buddies die in combat isn’t one of them! I know that this War Memorial is incredibly powerful, and I’ve actually thought of looking into making a small donation in support of this traveling exhibit. When the volunteer told us of the number of people she’d assisted this week who had indeed lost loved ones but never been able to go to D.C., it really occurred to me how important a traveling exhibit is. I’m glad I could share it with those who didn’t know of its existence, and thank you for sharing your very powerful memory. Each time I hear one of these stories I am just in awe. I feel very blessed that I haven’t been asked to sacrifice a husband or child to war. Whew! Debra

    • I’m glad I can spread the word, Karen. There are so many people, I would imagine, who would like to visit “again”–even if they’ve been to DC. I was so impressed with how this 2/3rd-sized traveling monument brings people to stop and reflect on the magnitude of the losses in life. It is a sobering experience, isn’t it? I’m glad to share about the traveling exhibit…you may know someone who would benefit from its easy access when it comes to your part of the country. I hope you have a good weekend, Karen. Debra

  3. I read your post and enjoyed it. I remember my uncle coming back from Vietnam and he couldn’t sleep in a bed. He was only comfortable on the floor and was very nervous about noise. He was still on high alert,but at least he made it back as so many others did not. Thank you I learned some new facts!

    • I’m so glad I could share about the exhibit, Terri. I am always so moved by stories such as you share about your uncle. Those of us who didn’t lose a loved one or have a loved one return with the effects of war have so little understanding of that sacrifice. I am informed, I care, and I keep alert to personal stories, yet the Vietnam War didn’t leave any particular mark on my life. I have so much respect for the men and women who served, as well as the families who were deeply, tragically affected. I’m glad I could share. I hope others will be alert when the memorial comes to their town. Debra

  4. Like so many others, I’ve had the wonderful, sad, sobering, life-changing opportunity to visit the wall in D.C. When seen life-size, it’s overwhelming; so many names representing so many men and women who served and behind all of those names families remained.
    Thank you so much for sharing this wonderful tribute created from such a tumultous time!

    • Thank you, Linda. It is indeed sobering…and I’m very aware of the loss in your family with this latest war. I wonder what kind of memorial will be planned for Afghanistan/Iraq. Seeing so many names is very shocking, isn’t it!! Debra

    • Sharyn, I’d previously heard of it, but somehow imagined it to be very small, and not at all impressive. I was so surprised. I hope to keep spreading the word a bit so that more people will have the opportunity to visit. Our interest seemed to mean a lot to the Veteran volunteers. I hope you have a good weekend, Sharyn. Debra

  5. The Wall visited Azusa within the last 4-5 years as those staff or faculty who served in VN were asked to be volunteers. I saw it in the evening; no matter, still sobering as you said.
    My former husband, a VN vet (’68-’71), told me that after visiting the Wall in D.C. in the late 80s to honor his fallen comrades, he felt he could finally wipe the spit from his face. He was the target of that “welcome” by many civilians on the first day he returned Stateside to a west coast airport. Times have changed for the better for our vets.

    • That certainly was a terrible time in history for our returning Veterans, Ellen. I am grateful we seem to have learned some lessons from that. The wall was a very moving experience…I don’t think it would be any less moving no matter how many visits! It makes a huge impact…Debra

    • You’re welcome, John. I was so glad to share about it…I do hope anyone who is able will one day have the opportunity to visit. I was also very aware of how much it seemed to mean to the Veterans who were participating in the ceremony. I think they had their own reasons, of course, and then seemed to value the interest and compassion of the public. Any war memorial moves me deeply–I think that’s true for us all! Debra

  6. Dear Debra, . . . like many who commented on this important post of yours, I had never heard of the traveling memorial. I was in Washington in 1991 and saw it then. Silence hovered around all of us who were touching the wall that day and running our fingers over the names of those who’d given their lives in Vietnam. Silence broken by sobbing.

    I thank you, Debra, for letting us know about the traveling wall. I will keep my eye out for an announcement of its arrival in nearby Kansas City. It is so important that we see the memorial wall–lest we forget.

    PS: I’ll be absent from the blogging world during the month of April. However, I’m going to schedule reposts of stories I posted last May and June when I had only a few readers. If you have time, please stop by every Tuesday and Saturday in April. I’d appreciate comments because they will help me decide just what topics to cover in the memoir on which I’m working.

    I regret already, Debra, that I’ll be missing all your April postings. If you have several you’d like me to read when I begin again in May, please go to my blog mention the postings that are particularly important to you. Please know that your posting today was special to me. It brought back my own memories of those years, some of which I’ve share through blogging.

    I’ll start reading again on Tuesday, May 1. See you then!

    • I will pay close attention to your posts, Dee. I will enjoy reading them and getting caught up from when you first began. Life does get busy, and we just can’t do it all. I really do miss favorite bloggers when they need to take a little time off, but then it’s just fun when you reappear! Blessings to you, Dee.

  7. Hi Debra,
    I found the list of stats to be very moving… How did a 15 year old work get all the way to Vietnam without being found out and sent back home?

    I didn’t know the Traveling Wall was in our area. I saw the Traveling Wall exhibition a couple of years ago when we were in Santa Barbara and was very impressed with how authentic it looked.

    I saw the real Wall in D.C a few years ago. It was one of the most moving experiences of my young life. I thought I was lost when I approached it because you cant see anything from the back, just green lawns and it’s only when you turn the corner that you see the black reflective wall and when you get closer you see it’s covered with hundreds and hundreds of names…

  8. I found this a most interesting and moving post, Debra. I hadn’t heard about the Wall, either the original one or the travelling replica, but I can see how much it would mean to so many people to be able to to pay their respects to a loved one there.

    My great-uncle was killed in WW1 and he is commemorated on a memorial which I hope to visit one day. It has almost as many names as the Wall and none of the men on it have a known grave. http://www.greatwar.co.uk/ypres-salient/memorial-menin-gate.htm

    • I’m glad I could share the Wall with you, Perpetua, but I’m really interested in the WWI memorial you linked to. I just checked that out. I would imagine that Europe and the United Kingdom would have some beautiful war memorials that would be worth visiting. When we consider the magnitude of loss in each of these wars, it really is important to at least create a place of honor. My family hasn’t really been impacted by these losses. It seems that the men have always been just out of reach, either older or younger, than available for enlistment. I feel we have been fortunate, and perhaps that’s also why I have such deep admiration for the families who have sacrificed. I don’t take it lightly. What you shared about your great-uncle and the others-no known grave–what a difficult thing for the survivors! Very sobering. Thanks for sharing with me, Perpetua. Debra

      • Debra, in the UK only a handful of towns and villages don’t have a war memorial with names from WW1 or WW2 or, usually, both, often with a frighteningly large number of names for the size of the population. The scattered little community where we are staying at present has 3 war memorials. For WW1 alone, on the 3 are 64 names out of a population in 1911 of about 1600. Four percent!

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