You could feel the importance as you stood at the tables filled with memorabilia from the Vietnam era and held in your hand, a creased and faded image of someone's war buddy, a memory taken deep in the jungles of a country so far away. It was being able to feel and touch a heavy metal plaque inscribed with the words "You have never lived until you have almost died and for those who fight for it, life has a flavor the protected will never know", it was viewing the helmets placed there on display, and seeing the postmarks and curved writing upon letters and envelopes sent to loved one, now turning yellow with age. It was being silent and just hearing and absorbing and taking in the tales being told and the stories being shared. Looking around the room I was glad to notice so many faces that I recognized. Although this wasn't my generation, nor did I ever get the chance to meet my own relatives who served, there are still these stories to hear;, voices to listen to; hands to reach out and shake.
I came to pay tribute to a distant uncle that I'd barely known, one who flew a helicopter in a faraway country decades ago. I listened to hear the words of someone who could have been my friend's father, a Vietnam veteran who passed a few years ago - one of those who, tragically, it occurs to me, was unable to have observed an event like this, held in his honor. I saw the posters and flags and banners hung around the room and I thought of my father-in-law who may never feel ready to attend something like this, but was one of those who went when he was called; came back and suffered silently for decades. I was there for the number you see so often that is almost too large to take in, the estimated count of lives lost, numbering more than 58,000 souls.
I came because it's time. It's taken so many years to bring this date into reality, and still more to wait until it becomes a national observance, and that time is something that refuses to stand still. On Tuesday a sense of urgency had come over me - and although I couldn't quite put my finger on why, marking the anniversary date this year seemed more important than ever. I felt so strongly about it in fact, that I fought back the panic which fills me at the thought of rising to speak in front of a gathering of people and somehow, managed to say a few words. It wasn't my first choice to do so but out of the six of us who attended, for some reason it seemed logical for me to be the one to speak - although not without an anxiety nosebleed and sleepless night beforehand. In my hand I held a microphone for the very first time; yes, that's the truth, that I've never used one, since up until now there was nothing which had seemed important enough for me to ever speak into. But looking around the hall of Post 166 yesterday, I realized this was both the place to be and the time to say something, because there won't be so many years and decades and chances left.
We paid our respects; acknowledged the courage and bravery of so many; and we listened. Some of the accounts were familiar because they'd been told last year and perhaps the year before, but it doesn't matter. For a day, it seemed, time could take a back seat and wait it's turn, for these people were here in front of us now and we were privileged enough to hear them speak. I wish that every American would find the chance to stop and for at least a little while, hear what they have to say. If you don't know much about Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day you can read my other blog post about it found here. There are some links and sites listed that you can check out, and you most likely won't have to wait until next March to observe it, because every chance you get to meet a veteran and talk with them is YOUR CHANCE to thank them for their service. Don't wait. Do it now - today; tomorrow; this weekend when your children spot someone wearing a cap that says "I WAS THERE".
P.S. Later in the evening I was browsing the Web and came across a Facebook page dedicated to the events of March 30th. Quietly buried under posts by others, sat a link to a musical composition and video by a man from Arizona. I found his beautiful tribute to Vietnam Veterans titled "19 Years Old" so moving and genuine that I sat in silence and watched it three times. Here's the YouTube link.
Here are some photos from Post 166 that day. At the bottom of this post there is also a slideshow featuring images from the Delmarva area, which you can view here or click to see the larger version on YouTube. Set to a touching rendition of "Amazing Grace", this clip includes visuals of our local veterans memorials, parks and plaques, along with photos taken at observances and ceremonies over the last few years.
- America: Red, White & Blue Flickr album
- Memorials and Veterans 500px collection
- Pinterest board "America"