Attending Memorial Day at The Wall
By Leon Franklin, brother of Clark David Franklin, a Vietnam veteran whose name was added to The Wall in 2013. Article originally appeared in the San Antonio Northeast Herald.
We were privileged to go to Washington, D.C. this past Memorial Day to attend the Memorial Day observance and go to The Wall. My brother’s name was added to The Wall this year, 47 years after his death during the Vietnam War.
Arriving at the location of the memorial with our two Navy escorts and their children you see several sculptures standing high above the ground. As you look over a large expanse of green grass you look for The Wall and it is not to be seen, as you walk along the paths you notice a large depression in the ground and you notice something dark low on the horizon. As you get closer, you realize this is The Wall. As one follows the pathway and you approach the wall you notice and the word is passed along to silence your cell phone and a quietness takes over. You immediately know you are entering a very special place that just calls for reverence. All along The Wall are volunteers who are like special guides, they are here to answer any questions and to help one find a name they might be looking for. In our case once I saw my brother’s name and touched it, emotions took over, yes it had been 47 years but at that moment it felt like yesterday that he was lost and those memories flowed forth. Our volunteer asked if I would like to make a rubbing of his name and he provided the paper and a graphite pen. As I started the rubbing a whole new set of emotions flooded me. Yes I’m here, here is his name to be forever listed among the 58,286 names of those who had given the ultimate sacrifice during this war— The Wall just captures you.
As the numerous tourists pass by you suddenly realize there is no din of noise, no loud talking or inappropriate behavior, just quietly and reverently waking by, yes it captures those also.
The memorial Wall is so simple, so plain but it has such a powerful impact. It is not magnificent in height or art. It just captures your heart. The enormity of just seeing all those names representing such a loss of human lives hits home, it’s no longer just a number, each name is special and one can just visualize the individual and know that is someone’s loved one. One of our Navy escorts commented that one of the things that struck him was that all the names on The Wall were all alike, all the same; no rank, every name engraved just like the others.
I was being interviewed by the media, and I was asked what I would say to a person who was coming to visit The Wall. “Know what this Wall represents and don’t anticipate your feelings, you will be taken in by this memorial and your heart will take over.”
The Memorial Day observance was organized and conducted by the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund. Several speakers spoke eloquently about this memorial, what it stands for and how it is a healing wall for those who lost loved ones. A bagpiper played Amazing Grace, the names of the four young men added this year were read and family members of those in attendance were asked to stand and be recognized. Finally Taps was played by a Marine trumpeter.
This was a wonderful trip and would not have happened without the undaunted and persistence efforts of my brother’s shipmate, Jimmie Stokes, the US Navy POW/MIA Division and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund staff and organizers.