Letter: Wall That Heals evokes pain, reflection

To the Editor: 

When I visit The Wall that Heals in Franklin this afternoon, I’ll be alone.

That’s not the way I wanted it to be, but most of my family members have been to The Wall in Washington, D.C. with me in past years, and those who haven’t have other plans today. But that’s OK.

As a Vietnam veteran, circa 1968-69, it hurts emotionally every time I do visit, to search out names of friends killed in combat, such as lieutenants John White and Marcus Fiebelkorn — both left loving wives and small children when they began their 13-months combat tour of duty.

Just how moving is a visit to The Wall to a Vietnam veteran? Well, here’s a personal reflection upon my first visit to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, penned July 15, 1994, 22 years ago:

Damn black wall!

Why do I cry so before you?

I’m alive – ‘Thank God’ for that

But what of these friends I knew?

Many years have passed

But now – I’m really there again’

With the same strong emotions

And memories flooding back again…

“God, I hate to cry!’

But that’s all I’ve done today

Out of gratitude – grief – and pride

For these my comrades, where’er they lie.

‘Damn black wall!’

But I’m oh so glad you’re there…

If you think this poem overstates what Marines face in combat, read these lines from G.M. Davis’ My War in the Jungle, a recent release and graphic description of combat, 54 years later.

“A close-in ground fight in the jungle runs like a nightmare out of control. The confusion is magnified by the unremitting noise of rifles, grenades, mortars, sometimes artillery, yelling, screaming, crying, and dying. The noise overloads the brain. It is physically painful. Nothing follows logically when your visibility is limited to what the jungle will allow, which isn’t much. You know there are enemy right in front of you that you can’t see, but they are shooting, and you shoot in return. It is total chaos; it is the ultimate madness. For me, it also meant the distraction of being in radio contact with the Skipper, trying to tell him what we were seeing. He had to know what was happening in case he needed to bring more force to bear. I told him, amid all the noise and confusion, that it looked like I could handle it.” Pp. 126 and 127. Lieutenant G.M. Davis.

Yes, these are the type memories I’ll contend with this afternoon. But that’s OK. It’s the very least I can do to honor the memories of more than 55,000 U.S. servicemen killed in action in the Republic of Vietnam all those years ago.

George Allen, lieutenant colonel, USMC retired