Georgetown Student Stands with The Wall
By Emily DeMaio
It was a cold, rainy Wednesday night as I walked across campus to go do my homework. Around me people had their hoods on and umbrellas up. There was a frenzied rush all around. Not a soul stood in front of the dark structure that rose out of the ground in front of Healy Hall. I thought to myself, “What is this wall that seems to have grown out of the ground?” I saw a nearby sign that read “The Wall That Heals” and had the VVMF logo near the bottom and found myself standing taking in the inspiring presence of the wall, no longer realizing that it was raining I felt a sense of frustration that more people were not doing likewise but instead hurrying to escape the rain. I walked over to the informational tent to gather more information about The Wall as well as why it had found its way to the front lawn of Georgetown. I was met by a smiling face, Erika Ross, who was enthusiastic to give me information. I was eager to share with her the fact that my Uncle Ray served in Vietnam with the 221st Signal Company and immediately texted him to see if he knew that The Wall had found its way to Georgetown. He was thrilled to hear about this and asked me to find the names of some of his closest friends, the Ghost Riders, whose helicopter crashed on May 9, 1970. I looked up his best friend, Doug Itri, and found the other’s names, Ron Lowe, Ray Paradis, Chris Childs, and Larry Young, nearby on the same panel.
This was not my first time finding Doug and the other Ghost Riders; whenever myself or my parents have gone to the actual memorial we have made it a point to find Doug’s name, say a prayer in his honor, and send a picture to Uncle Ray. I used the “The Wall” App to locate his name, but rather than walking straight to his panel, I walked the entire length of The Wall. Yes, I have done this before at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial on the National Mall, but this time was different. Mud squished beneath my boots, releasing a strange sound. The world seemed to be still. As the raindrops caressed the face of The Wall, running over the names, all I could think of were the many tears that had caressed faces in memory of those on The Wall. At each panel, I read a few names, my own small gesture of showing respect for these brave individuals who paid the ultimate price for our freedom. Finally, I reached panel 10W. I ran my finger over the names of Doug, Ron, Ray, Chris, and Larry. I said a prayer in their honor and for all those who loved these brave men and never had the opportunity to say a proper farewell to them. I also prayed for my Uncle Ray and all other Vietnam veterans. I was filled with sadness for these veterans; those who returned from the war with a lack of respect as well as bearing the weight of grief for the beloved comrades that they lost. I snapped a few pictures to send to Uncle Ray and was amazed by their beauty.
I finished walking the length of The Wall in a sort of daze. The sheer number of soldiers lost struck me: panel upon panel of names all lost for our freedom. I continued on to the exhibit that contained letters and stories. They were all so touching and revealed true human emotions, exposing the depths of grief and the scars of war that continue to penetrate the hearts of many today. Tears welled in my eyes as I read the letter a child wrote to an uncle that he never knew. I could see that war does not discriminate; it affects all people in some way, shape, or form, no matter how great or small. As I left, I told myself I would be sure to visit The Wall each day that it was on campus, even if only for a few minutes.
Within my dorm, I was unable to do the homework that I intended to do. I went for a late night run to the monuments with a friend instead, thinking of the many names I had read and attributing my ability to live in freedom to them.
The next day as I checked emails, I found one from Hoyas for Troops, a club on campus that I am involved with. It said that volunteers were needed to man The Wall around the clock while it was housed at Georgetown. I jumped at this opportunity to show a small token of my respect and gratitude for all those who served in Vietnam and to honor my uncle and the memory of those men whom he loved and lost. Remembering the peace I experienced that night at The Wall, I emailed Tim Tetz and volunteered for a time that I knew would be dark and quiet, 6AM Saturday morning. Once again, being in the presence of The Wall brought a calm over me. I was not thinking of the homework I had to do or my other plans for the day. I was simply being. I once again completed my long, slow walk, pausing to read names on each panel. It rained again which, according to Uncle Ray, was fitting seeing as though the climate in Vietnam was much the same. The two hours for which I volunteered flew by. I really enjoyed learning more about The Wall as well as the war itself from Tim and Erika. I was surprised by how little I actually knew in comparison to the knowledge I believed I had from learning about the war in school and from Uncle Ray’s stories.
I saw firsthand what powerful emotions “The Wall that Heals” can evoke and now understand its namesake. I truly hope other Americans will capitalize upon the wonderful opportunity to visit The Wall That Heals when it comes to a city near their homes so as to pay tribute to all those who served and to gain a true understanding of the Vietnam War.
Thanks to a tremendous amount of support from the University President’s office, the Georgetown Student Veterans Association and Georgetown University’s Reserve Officers Training Corps unit (the Hoya Battalion), VVMF was able to bring The Wall That Heals to the Georgetown campus during the government shutdown October 8 – 14, 2013. Learn more here.