The Wall (A Memorial Day tribute)

Published 6:26 pm Tuesday, May 24, 2011

This upcoming Monday is Memorial Day, the day that our great country annually remembers those who have made the ultimate sacrifice in our too many wars.

I say “too many wars” because one is too many.

Unfortunately, the world can’t seem to go long without one.

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The Great War of the last century was known as World War II. It was a war that I can only read about because I was not born as it was being fought. It was the war of my parent’s generation. I congratulate them on doing tremendous work.

For my generation, the defining war was the Vietnam War. If the mission and goal of World War II was crystal clear, the mission and goal of the war in Vietnam was as muddy as the mighty Mississippi that flows out of its banks today toward the Gulf of Mexico.

The documentaries and movies for World War II were full of stories of heroism and glorious in their depiction of the American effort. It’s unfortunate that Vietnam’s veterans were treated less gloriously and even shamefully as the returned home. If there ever was an example of an American soldier getting the short end of the stick it was the Vietnam vet.

That’s unfortunate because it was not the fault of those who fought and died or those who came back alive. The soldiers of Vietnam were just as courageous and conscientious as any we have ever had. If there was failure in the action of Vietnam it was in the area of politicians.

The first death in the Vietnam War occurred in June 1956. That would be Air Force T-Sgt. Richard Fitzgibbon. The first battlefield fatality was Specialist 4 James T. Davis, who was killed in December 1961. The last death is not so easily determined, but could have been Kelton Turner, an 18-year-old Marine.

In between the first and the last were more than 58,000 American soldiers who deserve to be remembered this Monday as we eat our hotdogs and hamburgers or shop in the malls of this great land. Whatever we do on Monday, we are able to choose because, throughout the years, men and women have sacrificed their time and efforts to participate in our armed forces.

As Memorial Day draws close I would like to share a song/poem/story about the Vietnam War. It is a story about two brothers and how the war affected them. It is entitled “The Wall,” after the touching Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial in Washington, D.C.

The Wall

Billy had a brother, his name was Donny. They were more than blood, they were best friends.

And even though there was a year between them, most folk said that they could pass for twins.

They were always doing things together, but all that changed in 1969.

Billy chose a path that led to college. Donny went to work and stayed behind.

Donny got a letter from the postman. It said “Greetings, I’m your favorite Uncle Sam;

How’d you like to take a short vacation? I’m booking tours for guys like you in Vietnam.”

As soon Billy heard, he called his brother. Said, “Donny, you don’t have to go to war.

Nobody’s gonna think the less about you if you run away and hide somewhere up north.”

But Donny said, “Brother Billy, you’re talking crazy. We’ve never answered questions on the run.

Besides, I’ll be okay, now don’t you worry; it won’t take too long to get it done.”

Donny, he set sail in late December and before he could get his feet too wet.

Charlie hit him right between his blue eyes and Billy got a call he’ll ne’er forget.

After that the years grew hazy for Brother Billy. He let his hair grow long and lost his faith.

He drifted all the way to California. It took him 20 years to find his way.

Finally, he came back to the homeplace. He married an old friend and settled down.

But when things got real quiet, he’d think of Donny and get in his old truck and ride around.

Last year, his company sent him up to D.C. They wanted him to make a business call.

On his time he thought he’d go and see the White House. But his mind was really on a simple wall.

When he got to that place he started shaking. He couldn’t feel a thing inside his head.

Fifty-thousand names were carved into that stone. Fifty-thousand sons of ours dead.

He met an old, old man with silver hair pointing to a name and saying, “That’s my son.”

A veteran with long hair and in a wheelchair said, “That man saved my life in the Mekong.”

He saw a mother with a daughter and her baby. She said, “Darling, that’s your precious Daddy’s name.”

Then Billy turned away and took a moment before he got the courage to face his pain.

Then he saw the name and started crying. Donny was as far as he could read.

All the years of hurt came crashing down upon his mind. He couldn’t stand and fell upon his knees.

Billy felt as if his brother Donny was listening as he’d never done before.

He finally got to say all that he wanted. He knew Someone had opened up a door.

That night as he lay down inside his hotel room, Billy had a peace seldom recalled.

He’d spent the afternoon with Brother Donny; finding friends and reading names upon the wall.

He saw those precious names upon That Wall.