I am a baby boomer, but have often not really felt like one. My age group is on the waning end of that fabled generation and there are several things I feel like I missed out on. Understanding the Vietnam War is one of them. I'm embarrassed to admit I still don't know a lot of the facts and circumstances that led to the war, but I do know that the number of classmates from my recent high school reunion would have been lessened considerably had we been just a few years older.
The Vietnam Memorial in Washington, DC, was intentionally designed to be a scar in the meticulously kept landscape in which it is located. I remember when the design contest was going on for the creation of the memorial and a 21 year old Harvard girl won. She chose black granite as the material for the memorial to be made from so that as we stared at the engraved names, our reflection would look back reminding us of the ultimate price that was paid for our freedom.
As memorials go, at first glance it's not that impressive. But then you realize that each one of the 58,000+ names represents someone's son, husband, father, brother, or friend. Each time I've gone, there's been at least one older man standing soberly in front of a section looking at a specific name with a lost look in his eyes as he remembers things he probably wishes he couldn't. This past Thursday was no exception. As John, Grant, and I were walking slowly down the sidewalk, we heard a lady ask a man who had just taken a picture of a name with his phone if that was the only person he had known from the war. He looked startled that she'd asked him such a question and then he immediately replied, "Oh, God, no...I wish." As we passed him, he began to move forward and with a big sigh and a heavy step, he muttered under his breath again, "I wish."
At that moment I realized how much I have taken my country's freedom for granted. Being Republican or Democrat, conservative or liberal, or even right or wrong didn't matter. What matters is that men and women have either gone when their country sent them or chosen voluntarily to defend their country so that the rest of us can live in freedom and mostly without the fear they never quit living in. If you know someone who has served us in this way, take time to thank them today. If you can no longer thank them on this earth because they paid the ultimate price, then call their family and thank them. Maybe keeping a face before us instead of just a statistic or a name on a piece of rock will remind us that however sick our country might be, we have been blessed and we don't ever need to forget that.
And for the record, Joey, thank you for your selfless serving on my behalf and I'm very thankful that I can see you without having to go to a memorial in Washington, DC.