GUEST BLOG POST: “The Healing Power of the Wall some 42 years later”
by Bill Shugarts
It was an unusually warm, Spring like day, March 1st at the Wall. While working in the mid-morning hours, a gentleman came up to me and asked if I was a docent. I said yes, and asked him how I could help. He had a lady friend with him and they appeared to be close to my age. He was dressed in a “Peace Outfit” complete with a boonie hat, peace signs, multi-colored peace shirt and a peace belt bucket to boot. He also had a colorfully decorated artificial arm with a hook on the end of it.
He wanted to know if I could take care of his arm that he wanted to leave. He also wanted to know if it would go into the Vietnam Collection and would be protected. I said, yes, I could help him; his arm would be protected while on display at the Wall today and become part of the Vietnam Collection at the National Park Service Archives in Maryland.
I was somewhat startled as he took off the prosthesis he had on his right arm and laid it at the foot of panel 1-W in line with a small American Flag and some paper crosses that had been left at the Wall the previous days. He seemed relieved and his lady friend took a few pictures of him doing this. I asked him politely if he would not mind if I took a couple pictures as well to send to the VVMF folks and the archive folks. He said that would be fine and began telling me his story.
He lost his arm in Vietnam in 1970. His dad and brother had served in the Vietnam War as well. He was quite proud of his family’s service. He had a couple newspaper article clippings he also wanted to leave and placed them inside his artificial arm. I read these and commented on his family’s service and replaced them back into his artificial arm.
Moreover, I was able to let him talk a bit about his family which enabled him to say, “I am closing the chapter on Vietnam now and don’t need this anymore” his eyes misting as he said this and walked away from the Wall. I was trying to hold it together as well and enable him to grieve/heal in this brief conversation.
I then gave him a VVMF contact card in case he wanted to contact them. He then gave me his card that has the word “Peace” on it and a creative graphic circling the famous peace icon. Interestingly enough, his e-mail address on the card begins with “peaceman”. He shared his name, Philip J. Ebert and address as well. He said he and his partner were from Mendocino, CA and never had been to the “real Wall” until now.
The healing power of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall after 42 years for this man’s loss never ceases to amaze me.