The Magic and Healing of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial
Wall Magic: An indescribable coincidence at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Such experiences may include: veterans reconnecting after years apart; a woman meeting the family of a veteran she wore a MIA bracelet for; a father meeting the nurse who tended to his dying son). Every visit to The Wall is unique and each person has their own story of healing. This is just one story.
I can’t fully describe what happened; I don’t know how.
The first time I saw it (or rather experienced it) was at the dedication in Washington in November, 1982. It rained all the way from New Jersey, but cleared up shortly after our bus arrived. We were a rag tag bunch of Nam vets from VVA Chapter 12.
We lined up on the Mall, marched up Constitution Avenue, and were funneled into the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. It took my breath away! Finally, something positive.
After the ceremony, we were permitted to see it, touch it, cry next to it. To this day, it is hard to describe the feeling. Too many layers, too many emotions.
I felt compelled to return and I did, every year, until the 1990s.
In 1983 I visited The Wall with several vets who were attending the Founding Convention of Vietnam Veterans of America. I was one of the two delegates from New Jersey. I had a newly acquired friend. Lynda Van Devanter. Over the years she would be schooling me on women veteran issues. On that night, however, she was just one of us, except that it was more difficult for her. She told me how lucky we men were to know the names of our comrades who had died. She didn’t remember the names of the many who had taken their last breaths in her arms, as she tended to them, in the wards of Vietnam. She couldn’t touch the names nor feel the imprints. She would be joining them in 2002, rapacious Agent Orange taking another.
I returned each year on Veterans Day, compelled by an internal force. I felt guilt that I had not done enough, seen enough, experienced enough in Nam. Although I was in combat, I wasn’t a grunt. I had been slightly wounded during a rocket and mortar barrage, found myself alone one night, running from Charlie, finally catching up with my unit, and had tasted fear that shook me to my core. None of this mattered. There was a hole in me that could not be filled.
In November, 1992, I returned to The Wall for the 10 year anniversary of its dedication. Restless still, I went to an area that only had a couple of people. I placed my hand on a panel and started crying. That’s when I heard the voice. “It’s OK, you don’t belong here.” Startled, I looked around. No one was anywhere near me.
A peace came over me. The Wall had spoken to me. The guilt was gone.
I only returned on Veterans Day, 1993, because of the dedication of the Women’s Memorial and to see my friend Lynda. I got to see the pride in her eyes.
I have never gone back since that day. I have never felt the need. My comrades who rest there healed my spirit in 1992. I didn’t belong with them. I was truly home.
This blog post was written by Bob Hopkins, 3/13th Artillery, 25th Infantry Division, Vietnam, 1968-1969