In 1987 I took a trip alone to Washington, D.C. I had never been there before. I was excited about seeing the sites: the White House, the Washington Monument, the Smithsonian.
The first day there I spent at the Smithsonian. I really could have just spent my entire time there, it was so interesting, but I decided the second day to go explore the city and visit monuments and go back to the Smithsonian on day three. So on the second day , in the early afternoon, I somehow ended up at the Vietnam Memorial .....THE WALL
And I was taken totally by surprise by how it affected me.
As I walked towards the entrance I could tell there were lots of people there. Suddenly it "loomed" before me. I say loomed because I was not expecting it to be so long or so tall. And when I saw how small the names were, on that massive wall, and that they just went on and on and on as far as I could see - it suddenly really struck me just how many men and women had died there, and I started to cry.
I kept walking down the length of the wall, seeing all the flowers and medals that people had placed on the ground in front of it. My heart was pounding and my hands were shaking. I was totally overcome with emotion. People were making rubbings of the names. There were people everywhere, but no one looked at me funny, for most of them, too, were crying. Perhaps they had lost a son, or a brother, a sister, a father, a dear friend.
See......that's why my reaction to it startled me like it did. I didn't lose anyone close to me in Vietnam. I graduated high school at the end of the war and my classmates were not drafted. My father had served in Korea but was no longer in the service. I wore a POW-MIA bracelet all through high school, but did I really understand what it meant? I am ashamed to say that I really think now, looking back, that I wore it because "everyone else was doing it." I really had no clue.
No, the loss I felt was not of a personal-family nature. It went much deeper. It was the feeling of loss for a nation. And the POW-MIA situation that remains today is a national shame. It both shocks and saddens me that it even exists.
I don't know how long I stood there, but I noticed groups of Vietnam vets with tables set up and literature on the tables, and I tentatively approached one. The man was very nice. He patted me on the hand and handed me a tissue. Then he began to talk about the POW's and MIA's.
For the first time, I listened to the reality of what was happening. Sure, I had heard it on the news, but this was different. Perhaps it was because of where I was, the Wall behind me and a "real life Vietnam vet" standing right before me telling me what they were trying to accomplish. Perhaps it was because I was old enough to really understand what he was saying.
He was selling things to raise money. I bought one of everything, then just gave him the rest of the money that I had brought to spend on souvenirs. It wasn't much, but he said it would help. My kids didn't understand me not bringing them anything home from that trip, but guess what - they lived.
He gave me a sheet of paper with the officials I should contact about bringing the POW's home, so when I got back home I wrote to them. Some time passed and then I received form letters back and that was it. And I didn't really know what else to do, so like most other Americans, I went home, worked, raised a family, and forgot it. It was easier that way. I again became...
Every once in awhile I would hear something on the news about the POW/MIA situation, but I kept hearing that there weren't any living ones left in Vietnam. Of course, this was from our government, and I actually believed them. I had no one telling me any different.
Then.....something new happened. The internet. I had been surfing for 2 years and really enjoying it. Then one day in 1998, I stumbled across a page about the POW-MIA's of Vietnam and suddenly I felt much like that day back in 1987 when I caught my first glance of the wall.
His site sent me in a hundred different directions, reading every POW-MIA site that I could find. I wouldn't take phone calls; I was ignoring everything around me. For days I did nothing but surf through POW/MIA sites. I read everything I could find. I became more and more incredulous that our country, America, home of the free and land of the brave, had actually abandoned them.
I don't think there can be enough POW/MIA sites on the internet. And I don't think there are enough of them on the internet yet. How else could I have gone so long without coming across one? Doc's website has probably touched me more than any other ever has, because it awoke in me something that had touched and meant something to me at other times in my life.
If it was YOUR son, YOUR husband, YOUR father still over there and he had actually been spotted still alive, would you want him back?
What must our men think, when our government does not charge in like RAMBO and scoop them up and bring them home? This entire problem should not even exist. It's shameful of our country to be in this position.
If EVERY AMERICAN CITIZEN DEMANDED SOMETHING BE DONE perhaps our government officials would finally respond.
Nearly 2500 Americans remain missing or otherwise unaccounted for in Vietnam. Since the war ended, over 10,000 reports concerning missing Americans in Southeast Asia have been received by the U.S. Government. Many experts are completely convinced that hundreds of Americans are still held captive.
I also care deeply about how this has affected our veterans who feel that they left their buddies behind. The mental anguish that these Vets have lived with all these years is immeasurable. It is hard enough that they witnessed the deaths of their friends, as it's been in all wars, but to know that friend's bodies were never sent home, that they were last seen alive, that they are still unaccounted for and that they have been abandoned by our government has to be a nightmare to live with day after day. There are nearly 2,500 unaccounted for men and women. WHY?
Our Vietnam vets did not even receive the homecoming they were entitled to. That, too, is a national disgrace. I can't apologize for the Nation, but I can apologize for my own apathy during that time, and I do. Thank you to all you men and women who served us in Vietnam, though that now seems too little, too late. I have always felt myself to be a patriotic American, but what does that mean if we are not patriotic to the PEOPLE who defend it? Nothing. It's totally worthless without it.
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