Monday, July 09, 2007

The Wall

A traveling wall came to our town over the weekend. I was surprised, that a small town like ours would be able to pull together something like that. I didn't really give it too much more thought except that it was an opportunity we shouldn't miss and that it would be one of those "educational opportunities" for William.

On the drive there we were wondering why they'd chosen the location they did, which is a huge sports field complex on the edge of town. When we came around the corner and saw it for the first time, we realized why - the display was HUGE, easily taking up several playing fields, plus parking needs.

It was a long walk around to the entrance. The first thing we came to was a large tent filled with art work and information stations. There were a number of people using the telephone book sized volumes filled with names, searching for a friend, a school mate, a loved one, a child. Suddenly I couldn't breath. William looked around a bit longer but I left the tent immediately. I thought if I stayed even a second longer, I would start sobbing. I stood outside and stared at the wall, still somewhat off in the distance.

William was suprised by how large it was, how many names. Later he said when I told him we were going to see a wall that he thought it would be a "wall", y'know, like in a house - like an oversized plaque.

Mostly though, we didn't speak. Mostly, I don't think I could have if I'd wanted. My throat felt full and tight. To open it would have been to open to too much. I don't know what William thought, but he didn't speak either. We walked the length of the wall, each in our own thoughts.

There were a lot of people there, most of them silent as well. Some sitting in chairs provided a little distance away. Some like us, wandering. I was surprised at the number of people and at the flowers, medals, letters, poems, and photographs left leaning along the panels. Even though this wasn't the REAL wall, it was the wall in spirit, and people left offerings and did rubbings on the names of those they had not forgotten, people who have been gone for almost 40, 50, even 60 years! One of the offerings was for a familiar last name, our neighbor. I wonder if it was a brother, or a cousin, or an uncle?

In another soccer field they had a display called The Field of Flags. Each of the small flags you see in the background represents a soldier lost in the current Afghanistan or Iraq conflicts. There were so many flags, I couldn't figure out how to photograph them all at once. At the front of the display was this display for the tomb of the unknown soldier and behind that was a crescent of state flags with a plaque listing the names of those we've lost state by state.

When I was pregnant with my first child, I hoped for a girl. I didn't know anything about boys, told myself. My father was present in my life, but at a distance because of divorce, and my family was, for all the time that I knew it, matriarchal. I remember thinking I wouldn't know what to do with a boy, although when that baby boy was placed in my arms, for a boy it was, I wouldn't have traded him for my pick of baby girls. All these years later, walking around, watching the families, I suddenly flashed on a memory of myself as a young girl deciding (in the innocence of youth believing I had a choice) that I would have ONLY girls, NO boys, because boys went off to war and died. I hadn't thought of that decision for probably 30-35 years but clearly it had been the seed of my undefined wish for my child to be a girl.

Of course the times have changed and now gender isn't completely the issue. We fear for both our sons and daughters.

We discovered the display was open 24 hours a day, so we came back later that night so hubby could see it. It was close to midnight when we arrived and yet there were still people coming and going.

It was a bit easier on this second visit, although it was haunting in a completely different way under the stars, different memories and different thoughts floated through my mind. We spent some time talking to people who we knew, sharing stories and learning more about both the real memorial in Washington D.C. and the traveling one.

I remember how divided the country was back then, the soldiers who did return from Viet Nam were stuck in the middle of a fight in their own country, those for the war, those against it. It frustrates me to a frenzy at how little our country seems to have learned from the past conflicts we have faced but in this one thing, we seem to have finally gotten it right. Although, ironically, the government still isn't doing right by our military people, it seems as if the people of this country support our troups regardless of how they feel about the war. The soldier is not the war. We need to remember that. We need to never forget.


Blogger Miss Elena said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

11:16 PM  
Blogger Miss Elena said...

That sounds so sad. But I'm just wondering, what was the purpose of the wall? Did it display names of those who have died serving our country?

11:28 PM  
Blogger JulieZS said...

When we saw the wall in DC a few years ago, I had almost the same reaction. I oculdn't breathe, and it was so very overwhelming, all those names, all those sons, just gone, poof, for nothing. And now it happens once more. Again for no good reason. We have forgotten. And will continue to forget. For that is how the machine of war continues to grind on.

11:17 AM  
Blogger amy said...

I first saw the Wall in DC as a high school senior, during the first Iraq "conflict." I agree, it's overwhelming to view. That's the point, no?

Also overwhelming for me was the American Cemetery at Omaha Beach.

Any concrete evidence of war, really. It can be so abstract. We need these reminders of the sheer numbers involved.

12:51 PM  
Blogger Miss Elena said...

no problem.
Thank you though!
I'm going to put up a better picture of the finished wings today.
Trust me, they were not easy to make.
I was about half way done when Lisa mentioned that I could just buy some at the festival, but what's the fun in that?
Have fun painting!

2:33 PM  

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