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The Traveling Wall
John A. Wilson
“Honey, did you see this?”
I looked up from my crossword puzzle to find my wife looking up from the morning paper at me. My breath
caught in my throat for a moment. After seventeen years of marriage I still react that way
whenever I look up
and see the sparkle in those pretty brown eyes.
“See what?” I asked as soon as I was able to do so.
“It says here that the Vietnam Memorial Wall is coming here. I thought that thing was permanent in
Washington, D. C.”
I tried to keep my voice as even as I could as I answered her.
“There’re two replicas of The Wall that travel around the country. They’re called ‘The Traveling Walls’.”
I quickly looked back down at my crossword puzzle, but suddenly I couldn’t quite focus on the paper before
me and my breathing was seriously constricted. The Wall was coming here, to our little town. A
emotions erupted through me. No longer would distance be an excuse for me to avoid the questions about
The Wall, questions that I wasn’t sure I wanted to know the answers to. Would I really
be able to stand and
face that wall? Will I be able to handle seeing the names of men that I knew inscribed on it? How about the
names of the two men who struggled to draw their last breaths in my arms?
“Let me see that,” I was finally able to say. “When is it supposed to be here?”
“In a couple of months,” she told me as I looked over her shoulder at the story that she was reading.
I looked at the dates that the wall was going to be in my hometown. It was almost two months to the day. I
read the story slowly to give myself as much time as possible before I had to look up into my
wife’s eyes. I
didn’t want her to see the storm that was raging behind my eyes. I had told her stories about what I had
experienced in Vietnam, but not all of them. Even if she knew all of the things that
haunted my mind from that
terrible era in my life, there was no way that she, or anyone else, could understand the feelings that went
along with those stories.
For the next two months I thought long and hard about how I would approach The Wall for the first time. My
thoughts ranged from sick dread to hopeful anticipation. One part of me didn’t want to see such
reminder of what I had been through; another part looked forward to facing the ghosts that haunted my
dreams. My rational mind told me that I needed to face those ghosts, but my heart was a
Finally the day came for The Traveling Wall to arrive. I was very quiet over breakfast, still not sure whether
or not I could go there. There was, of course, a huge ceremony scheduled for that morning
recognize The Traveling Wall’s arrival in our little town. There was no doubt in my mind that going to the
ceremony was out of the question. I couldn’t sit and watch a bunch of local politicians
talk about the
memorial knowing that, to them, it was just a bunch of names on a wall. Only one of our city councilmen was
a veteran and he had already announced that he would not attend the ceremony.
Many people had expressed disappointment that he would not be there, but I understood.
Fortunately the opening ceremony for “The Traveling Wall” was held on Friday afternoon. I planned to go
see it late that night. That evening I sat in front of the television not really paying much
attention to what was
showing. My mind wandered over names and faces long forgotten, but now remembered with amazing
clarity. These were men that I had known; now they were ghosts that I had to face.
I watched old movies until far into the night. Finally at 2:00AM I was ready to go. I drove down to the
baseball field where the wall was set up, even at this time of night the stadium lights were all on, the
the wall in it was as bright as day. There was a volunteer on duty and a few people in groups of two or three
gathered in front of the wall. I stepped through the gate and onto the field. The
stadium lights reflected off the
polished surface of the wall, which, from a distance, appeared to be just a long black shiny slab of
took a deep breath and slowly began to approach “The Wall.”
As I drew closer I began to see the names engraved on the wall’s surface. A few steps later I could make out
the individual names. I stopped and allowed my eyes to focus on one particular name. The
name that my eyes
picked out at random was not familiar to me. I had not known that person, but he was still a
comrade-in-arms. This stranger had experienced many of the same hardships that I had. He
had offered his
life to defend the ideals that he had held sacred and had lost that life. Slowly I let my eyes roam over more of
the unfamiliar names; I felt closer to these people than those who were not over there could
My roving eye suddenly stopped. The name that I was looking at was
not unfamiliar. I had
known this man. We had been through boot camp together. I could see his face. I remembered a day on the
rifle range. I remember him sitting on a bench behind the firing line working in his range book. I didn’t even
know that he had been in country. Tears filled my eyes as I thought about his smiling face, his youthful energy,
and his cocky attitude all forever stilled in that distant land.
My teary eyes moved on as I read the list of honor. My heart filled with pride for all of these young men that
had given their all. I silently read some of the names. I could only wonder at what these young
like and where in that God-forsaken place did they pay the ultimate price for out freedom. Suddenly a name
seemed to jump out at me. We had been friends; we were on patrol together when
he got hit. He had been
alive when we loaded him on the med-evac chopper but we heard later that he had died on the way to the
My eyes moved again and there, not far from the one I was just looking at was the name that I was really
looking for and was dreading to find. I raised my hand until my fingertips almost touched
the marble. Strong
emotions fought inside my head. I wanted to reach out and touch his name, but something held my hand
steady where it was. With all the effort that I could muster, I forced my hand forward until my fingertips, then
the palm of my hand touched the wall where his name was engraved. Suddenly my emotional dam
wide open. All of the pain, the regret, and guilt that I had bottled up for so many years poured forth and
streamed down my cheeks in a sudden torrent.
I don’t know how long I had stood there with my hand against the wall with tears streaming down my face
when I felt a hand gently touch my shoulder. I slowly turned my head and through my tears I
saw the warm
loving eyes of my wife.
“I thought this was where you were,” she whispered gently. “I will leave if you want me to, but I’m here for
you if you want me to stay.”
With extreme effort I pulled my hand from the wall and put my arms around the woman who has loved me
and comforted me after my nightmares for over seventeen years. “It’s all right now.” She
whispered as she
put her arms around me. And strangely enough, it was.
If you would like to contact the author, or visit his homepage, his URL and icq number are listed below.
John A. Wilson
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