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
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.
- Vietnam Wall Turned 30 Yesterday (vcasny.org)