Newest Review: ... I figured that they were serious, and I should go to ‘The Wall’. Every year on the Sunday before Memorial Day (a national ho... more
A black scar in Americas heart
Sights & Attractions in Washington D.C. (USA)
Member Name: gollygumdrops
Sights & Attractions in Washington D.C. (USA)
Date: 04/06/01, updated on 04/06/01 (67 review reads)
Advantages: Moving, Superb piece of 'art'
Disadvantages: Can get busy, distressing
I'm not old enough to really remember much about the Vietnam conflict, and growing up in England it had no direct bearing on me or my family. My understanding of the conflict was therefore formed by what I had read or seen on documentaries. Sadly my impression of what happened during that period of American history is forever colored by what I have seen in movies like Hamburger Hill, Born On The Fourth of July and Good Morning Vietnam.
Nothing has changed my mind about this being a ‘bad thing’, yet this does not mitigate the sacrifice of men, or more commonly boys who fought in Vietnam, often against their will, or with no real moral conviction.
The Vietnam ‘War’ Memorial was therefore low on my list of things to see and do in Washington. However, on my way there I met up with a group of ‘vets’ who were headed to DC with the sole purpose of visiting this memorial. As some had traveled from the west coast, I figured that they were serious, and I should go to ‘The Wall’.
Every year on the Sunday before Memorial Day (a national holiday in May) bikers from throughout the US congregate in Washington DC for 'Rolling Thunder'. This can result in 50,000 bikes, mostly Harleys, but with a few Indians, Triumphs and Nortons, riding through the capital 5 to 10 abreast at a steady 5 -10 mph. The noise can be heard well out to the beltway, hence 'Rolling Thunder'.
The purpose of the ride is to highlight what plight of US servicemen who many Americans believe to still be held PoW in Vietnam. Whilst I'm not convinced of the logic of the cause, no-one can doubt the passion with which they hold this belief.
Walking down the National Mall from all of the Smithsonian Museums I felt like I was on a trip to see another Washington Monument. Coming from a country packed with monuments to the glorious fallen, I figured I had a pretty good idea what to expect. Boy was I
The Vietnam Memorial is unlike any other military memorial I have ever seen. Carved from black granite, it has the tone of a headstone. The memorial grows from a low level through to neck stretching height, and back down again. The black granite is cut deep into the Washington parkland reflecting the deep scar that the conflict left on the American psyche.
The names carved into the memorial are listed not alphabetically, or by regiment or rank, but by the date on which the men fell. The are not listed in a linear fashion, but roll on from one another. This gives the impression of facelessness and extreme personal intimacy at the same time.
Although I had no personal experience of Vietnam and I knew no-one who lost their life in the conflict I found myself scouring the wall for names. I traced the names of unknown individuals with my fingers and found myself moved to tears. It was not simply their deaths that moved me. I looked at the mementos left by family members and cried for the wives, girlfriends and children they left behind, the children they never had, the women they never loved and the friends they never made.
It is possible to look up individuals by name in a book by the wall. Many visitors took rubbings of the carved names of men they knew. Parents and grandparents pointed out names to children and attempted to explain the loss.
The area available for viewing the wall is small. Only two or three people can fit onto the pathway at any given point. This increases the intimacy of the moment. You cannot help but interact with other visitors. This is no sterile celebration of military glory. This is more like a cemetery.
I would recommend a visit to this monument to everybody. If your time in DC is limited do make this the last stop of the day as it does merit quiet reflection and you are unlikely to want to go on elsewhere after this ‘sight’. But do make it a stop.
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