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Memorial Day and the Vietnam War Memorial

This Memorial Day weekend, as part of an annual rite, veterans will roar into the Washington area on the motorcycles. Many of the older ones  – grey bearded and what remains of their hair in a pony tail – served in the Vietnam War, and will visit the Vietnam War Memorial.

I have come to appreciate the Vietnam War Memorial more than I used to. But I have never really liked it.

I have always seen it as kind of an insult. A sepulchral depression into the earth, its stone facade lists the names of those who died. By throwing at us the names of the dead, the message delivered is clear: This war was a waste, these people died in vain, and your chief emotion in thinking about the war should be regret.

And yet, those who died are heroes who served in a noble cause. America fought the Vietnam War to prevent the spread of communism throughout Southeast Asia. Unfortunately, America did not fight to win and committed too few resources to the battle too late, and lost. Just the kind of incrementalism we see now in President Obama’s war against ISIS.

The results of losing the war proved its merit. Vietnam because communist, its people suffering terribly. In Cambodia, the communist leadership unfurled one of the century’s great genocides. Fortunately, fighting the communists in Vietnam may well have prevented communism from taking root in other parts of Southeast Asia and creating a massive new Soviet-backed bloc.

Many of you may disagree. But the effort of our veterans should still be celebrated, not diminished.

Still, I like the wall better after visiting many times and seeing the families of veterans find the names of their loved ones, sometimes etching copies of the engraving with charcoal on paper. It gives them something to cherish. And the moment is often cathartic, with emotions spilling over and onto the ground before the wall.

But there’s another, lesser known portion of the memorial, the glorious “Three Fighting Men” statue. It provides a welcome contrast to the staid mournfulness of the wall nearby. I thought you might want to read how Ronald Reagan and Jim Webb, who is running for president this year, ensured that something saluting the heroism of our veterans would be part of the memorial.

May God bless those who died for this country. And the wounded, for whom there is no particular holiday.

And may God especially care for those who died in Vietnam. Your deaths were tragic, but they were not in vain. You did not die for nothing.

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59 Responses to Memorial Day and the Vietnam War Memorial

  1. I am filled with tears once again this morning. As well with respect and gratitude.
    Thanks to you as well Keith for the article, and everyday a chance to voice our thoughts.

  2. Oh Lord, those killed in Vietnam didn’t die in vain, not true – of course they did. They died without any honor or tribute from the country they served, they died to support secret political motives of our leaders.
    The military industry profited, political careers were tempered in protests, and those who obeyed the demand to serve were villified and demeaned.
    The orphans of WWII dead were accorded special honors and tenderness, the orphans of Vietnam were made to feel ashamed of their father’s call to duty.

    This memorial, and all the others across the country, that name the dead was small solace to those left behind.
    The war we fought in SE Asia did nothing to stop the creep of communism there, but furrowed a fertile ground for it to foster and grow here in the US. Our own government creeps to communism every day with every government demand of the people. The protesters of the 70s now sit in the WhiteHouse giving advice, and sit in our chair at the UN.

  3. By throwing at us the names of the dead, the message delivered is clear: This war was a waste, these people died in vain, and your chief emotion in thinking about the war should be regret.

    Completely and utterly disagree. I was peripherally involved in this (very peripherally). To me, the wall has a elegiac somber sacred feel–your own reflection thrown back at you involves the visitor. This was done in our name. My friend Nick Krimont is on that wall, toward the middle–at the very beginning of the war. The names start at the center of the V–go right..then pick up at the left end and go back to center. The names are listed by date of death. The sculptor, the late Rick Hart, who did the THREE SOLDIERS, was also an acquaintance–very long story there. Some people do relate better to the more traditional bronze depiction–so it’s there. Jan Scruggs, Jim Webb, Rick, Maya Lin and many many other thoughtful and talented people we involved–and for most, I think it was their greatest achievement in life.

    • Well said Star, I totally agree with you.

      The Korean War was another one that was never deemed a success, but look at the lives lost, and for what ?

      • Agree–but I think we need to quit adding –and for what? Every event is frozen into a section of time and has thousands of roots…No wars seem to make a lasting mark. One exception may be our Rev war–at least we did not revert to English a century or two down the road.

        It really set me back on my heels when I watched an episode of House Hunters International–nice couple looking for an apt in North Vietnam. Time alters cases.

  4. Saw the Wall in D.C. many years ago with my dh. Today is a day of remembrance for all those brave men and women who fought for our freedoms. We must also remember those service members who came back but lost their lives due to Agent Orange.

    Photo of eagle on Fort Snelling gravestone touches hearts, goes viral http://t.co/m5ivNHnXx7— Piper (@MerlinBichon) May 25, 2015

    • Yes, Agent Orange was an awful idea–with long-term ramifications. We can’t see the enemy through the leaves, so let’s kill the trees. I always wonder why no one says, hey, wait a hot one on some of these.

        • Agent orange–the concept–went through a lot of brains and hands–civilian (Dow Chem and others), military (people on the ground, people who would never breathe or bathe in it in DC, etc. It just “caught on,” built up, got sprayed and dumped everyplace and did not even accomplish the goal that well. I see it as a group failure–not just the so-called “evil” military industrial complex’s. But how can we even tease apart the motives at this point (I sound like Hillary)–and people are still miserable every day of their lives from the after efx.

          • I worked for Dow Chemical many years after the Vietnam war ended. The employees in our office had nothing to do with developing the chemicals supplied by Dow in the making of Agent Orange. However, about once a month we would get a call from someone threatening us–saying things like, “I know where you live & will spray your home with Agent Orange.” They never followed up on the threats, but it was frightening.

  5. Many volunteered to fight that war, many were drafted, and went to serve the Country.
    Many ran away.
    It is true that the war was fought by politicians, therein lies the problem.

    Obama is trying to win the war on ISIS using political means. It will not work against an enemy that is determined to eliminate anyone that opposes their beliefs, and are not afraid to die.

    Vietnam was similar.
    They were entrenched in a massive network of caves and tunnels.
    ISIS uses cities and towns, and women and children as human shields.

    The indoctrination of the locals between the two ‘philosophies’ has worked in the past to throttle the Americans from waging all out war because they know we won’t.

    The civilization that the west embraces is a weakness in their eyes that they intend to utilize to their advantage, and they are doing it.

    Obama is a fool to try to reason with barbarians, but his ego does not allow him to make rational decisions.

    Truman was a democrat but he listened to his Generals and Admirals.
    Obama I fear forces his Generals and Admirals to listen to him.

  6. We must not forget the more than 83,000 Americans remain missing from WWII, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Cold War, and the Gulf Wars/other conflicts. Out of the 83,000 missing, 75% of the losses are located in the Asia-Pacific, and over 41,000 of the missing are presumed lost at sea (i.e. ship losses, known aircraft water losses, etc.).

    http://www.dpaa.mil/OurMissing/PastConflicts.aspx

  7. Why didn’t you ask a Vietnam vet how he feels about the Wall? Your pontificating is neither needed or wanted by us who served.