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.