It is there, like a roll call of time, to bear silent witness and tribute to all who served in America's longest and most ghastly war.  It is there to bring together the torn threads of recognition and reconciliation.  It is there to testify to the greatest outpouring of emotion ever witnessed in the nation's capital.  At its dedication, in 1982, one hundred and fifty thousand converged to become part of the fifty-six hour candlelight vigil as the fifty-eight thousand names were read.  This black gash in a city of white monuments stands as a stark reminder of a time that we must never forget.  Unlike its neighbors, this memorial honors no single leader, nor does it send any political statement.  It has been called “the most profound evocation of the Vietnam experience.”  One cannot step onto the walkway without feeling the tangible human cost.  It is a place where the present and memories of the past collide…

It is July in Washington, DC, and the heat and humidity are in a photo finish.  This oppressive heat radiates in waves from the pavement and bounces off the black mirror.  I walk into the blackness of it.  Fifty-eight thousand faceless names march by solemnly, silently.  Name, upon name, upon name in an endless procession, each with a private and all too brief story behind the thing etched forever, gray against black.  The walkway descends as the black wall rises to an overpowering ten feet, creating a world of its own.  There are no sounds of traffic anymore.  Tones are hushed.  Casualties of war are everywhere.  Memories are as numerous as flowers.  Medals abound.  The music is there, too - or is that from inside?

Suddenly it is difficult to see.  This huge, silent army becomes a monstrous blur.  The stones on the walkway are hot and they burn my knees, but the granite is, oh, so cool to the touch.  The tears come publicly, but this is a very private moment.  One name has a face.  There you are old friend, best friend.  The music is louder now and voices muddled. C an you hear Phil and Don singing our song again, love?  I miss you….you've been gone so long.  Are you okay?  We were so young, so innocent, and so idealistic.  And only one of us ever aged.  It is happening all around me but no one intrudes.  Time warps and for one brief moment it is Camelot again…

In the words of the design committee, the Vietnam Veterans' Memorial on the Mall shall be “a place of quiet reflection, and a tribute to those who served their nation in difficult times.  All who come here can find it a place of healing.”

May it continue to be so and may we never forget.  Sleep well, my love…


Judy Paul, RN
©December 1990

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