The Healing Wound

The Healing Wound

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The Healing Wound

It’s a beautiful morning at our nation’s capital.
Constitution Gardens is blooming with life. Flowers of red,
yellow, and pink bob their heads in the gentle summer breeze.
Wise old trees proudly oversee the grassy lawns, while twittering
birds scamper about on their strong, sturdy limbs. People talk
animatedly as they stroll in small groups along the brown, dusty
paths. Children run and jump, stopping occasionally to make
quick poses for parents’ snapping cameras.

As we walk ahead, we notice a shape taking form on the
horizon. It looks like a large gray splinter embedded into the
green landscape. As we come closer, we realize how truly large
this object is, yet it does not rise up from the earth like other
structures in the park. Rather, it sinks down into the lawn, as
if its very size were a giant weight upon the land. Now that we
are upon it, it looks far more like a gaping black wound than a
silver sliver. Its opening begins narrowly and then widens in
the middle, tapering off again at the other end. It is very
dark, and now that we are close enough to touch it, we see that
it is solid and black and hard and dense. The park breezes die
here. Adults cease their prattle. Children stop their play.
Eerily, even the chatter of birds doesn’t reach this solemn
place. All senses tell us that we have entered a sacred site--a
place meant for reflection and contemplation. We are at the
Vietnam War Memorial.

The tip of the gash points to President Lincoln sitting high
above and looking out upon us all. In contrast to the giant
statue of pristine white, the wall that rises by my foot is so
dark that it reflects the ground in which it is burrowed. There
are letters inscribed on the wall. They form names. I read:

I wonder about Floyd. To most people who come here, his is
merely one out of a myriad of names scratched into this cool
granite wall. Does anyone know that Floyd was from Northglenn,
Colorado, or that he was only 20 years old when he died? How can
the thousands of people who see his name here know that he was in
Vietnam for only 12 short days? His helicopter was shot down.
His life was important, yet his death is only the tip of a great
iceberg that chills the hearts of Americans everywhere. There
are over 58,000 more names like his listed on these cold slabs.
The sleek and stark feel of the memorial is enhanced by the

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highly polished surfaces of the granite walls. The names are
etched into the stone in1/2 inch capital letters. They are
printed in Trojan font--somehow suggestive of a link to the
doomed warriors of ancient Troy. Most names are preceded by a
diamond shape, denoting that the death of the individual has been
confirmed. Some names have crosses before them, indicating that
these people are missing in action. There are a total 1,150
MIA’s listed on the wall. Should a soldier come back alive, a
circle will be etched around his cross.

DALE WILLIAMS. . .I am aghast at the numbers of names I see
before me. They go on endlessly. The wall grows taller as we
make our descent. The air feels dead, even as the sun pours its
life giving rays over us. The blanket of silence is only
punctured by the occasional sniffle or whisper. People shuffle
along slowly, stopping at random intervals to catch a name here,
a memory there. Some make up stories to match the men on the
wall. Others have true tales to tell. Everyone plods toward the
vertex of the monolith with a strange mixture of exigency and
trepidation. Our feet grow heavy with grief.

AMBOSINI. There are too many names to read. As hard as I try,
it’s impossible to individuate each one. The names themselves
become one massive, solid block. GEORGEDONALDANDERSONHILAIRE
I bow my head in sadness. There are things lying at my
feet. Little gifts lean up against the walls and more are
scattered across the small strip of grass that lines the base of
the structure. A framed photograph, some baby shoes, stuffed
teddy bears, and a deck of cards. There are letters carefully
folded into envelopes that are sealed forever. There are
flowers, crosses, and ribbons. Little American flags stand
stiffly here, as there’s no breeze to make them wave. All of
these things are tokens of someone’s love for a fallen soldier.
They are the shrapnel of broken hearts. Emotions overwhelm me.
My tears are flowing now.

We are at the very center of the gaping wound. We have
walked nearly 200 feet, yet the names keep oozing out. The walls
now reach over 10 feet high. I feel low and quite, quite small.
I’m torn between awe at the majesty of the monument and the very
horror of its implications. I am able to single out a name at
the very top, where the earth’s soft crust meets the dead stone.
DALE RICHARD BUIS. Killed in 1959, Dale was one of the first
American casualties of the Vietnam War. You were only 37 when
you died, Dale. You were from Nevada, and you had a wife. Did
you have children, too? I was only a baby when you passed away,
Dale. I did not know about wars and death and love and life back

Through bleary eyes, I can barely make out the names on the
next panel. These are men who died much later, when I had grown
from baby bottles to sneaking cans of beer. ALAN PAUL MATEJA (he
died in 1980, while missing in action). . .LEONARD RAY DAVIS. . .
Leonard was an African-American sailor from Phoenix, Arizona. He
died in 1972 from hostile artillery. He was 20 years old. Did
you have a girlfriend, Leonard? Were you contemplating marriage
and a family of your own? What did you dream of becoming,
Leonard? A U.S. Senator? A schoolteacher, perhaps?

OTIS BAKER. . .The wall is angling down now, but the names keep
Ahead of me, there is a man crouched down on his knees. He has
his back to us, and he leans his head against the wall as if to
meld his mind with it. His body heaves in sporadic sobs. Is
he somebody’s father? A brother, perhaps?

I want to join the grieving man. I want to cry for all of
these soldiers who gave their lives for this country. I want to
cry for my uncle and those like him, who came back from Vietnam
crippled by bullets, heroin, mortar, and mental illness. I want
to cry for the unnecessary slaughter of people on both sides of
this very ugly war, because with hindsight, these deaths seem
even more senseless than ever. And so I docry, openly now.
Blubbering and sobbing, my husband and I lean on each other
as we make our ascent back to the open park. We can see the
Washington Monument in the distance, its tip reaching up to the
heavens in supplication. Strangely, I feel as though I have
undergone a catharsis. The greens of the lawn look more alive
than before. Sounds come more crisply to my ear. I feel the
breeze catch my hair. Its freshness is liberating. I am ready
to resume my life.

Before I can leave, though, I must pay a final tribute. TED
OLAND BRAZZEAL. Ted was a Baptist from Yoakum, Texas. He was
killed in 1968 by hostile ground fire in South Vietnam. He was
20 years old. His tour of duty lasted 1 month and 3 days. May
your soul rest in peace, Ted.

Note:Dedicated in 1982, the Vietnam Veterans War Memorial was
designed by then student architect, Maya Ying Lin. Of her chosen
venue for artistic expression, Ms. Ling says, “Architecture is
like a mythical fantastic. It has to be experienced. It can’t
be described. We can draw it up and we can make models of it,
but it can only be experienced as a complete whole.”

Works Cited

Lin, Maya Ying. “Creative Quotations from Maya Ying Lin.”
25 April 2000. Available

Works Consulted

Moser, Don. “Offerings at the Wall.”
Smithsonian Museum.
Reprinted from May 1995Smithsonian Magazine.
“Vietnam Veterans Memorial.”
Smithsonian. 25 April 2000.
Available <

“The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall Page.”26 April 2000.
Available <>.
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