I took dad down to Southaven, Mississippi to see the Vietnam Traveling Memorial Wall today. The display has passed through here in each on the previous years but this is the first time he wanted to make the pilgrimage.
The sight from the road is at once unimpressive and moving. The tiny white names etched in the black panels blur into haze from a distance. Fifty-eight thousand names written small still take a long display.
We came on an overcast Friday which seemed appropriately somber. Finding parking was easy; much less crowded than the throngs still crowding to see THE AVENGERS movie a few miles away.
I noticed most of the people there were mostly older men; veterans drawn to the memory of a faraway jungle from their youth. Some of their children (like me) accompanied men too old to drive themselves anymore. Some lost the ability to stand on their own; possibly that long ago. Few young people came. Even in a conservative area like the MidSouth, young people have little interest in a war as remote to them as the Civil War was to me in my teens.
The traveling wall is different from the main wall in Washington DC. Of course the panels are lighter and smaller to save weight and the font is smaller, the names closer together. My father pointed out that the names also lacked the unit designations making it harder to find the right Smith or Johnson.
My father had so many names in his mind spread over four tours in country in eight years there was no way to find anyone in particular. To him, all of the names on the panels were brothers in arms and he felt enough just being in their presence.
I didn’t know anyone personally despite having grown up in an Army family during the war. None of my friends’ fathers came home in a box. Inwardly I wanted to see a name that stuck in my mind from the book and movie WE WERE SOLDIERS; Jimmy Nakamura, the young mortar-man who had just found out he was a new dad. I couldn’t find him but someday when I got to the big wall I will look him up.
Eventually it was time to go. The ghosts of the past perhaps appeased for a time, perhaps tired of clinging to the living bid us adieu—for now. The sign at the entrance read “Welcome Home Brothers.” The message was not for me but for the few remaining stragglers like my father absent from muster on the other side. I am content to keep him with us for a little while longer. The other formation can wait; they have all the time in creation to fill remaining files.