From Chicken Soup for the Veteran's Soul


In 1985, seventeen years after my tour in Vietnam, my wife and I made our first visit to Washington, D.C. I was finally ready to go to the Wall. I asked my wife if she would mind if I went by myself the first time. She readily agreed to give me whatever space I needed and said she would stay in the motel room, watching television until I returned. Our motel room was within walking distance of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, so off I went, by myself.

Overwhelmed by the somber significance of the occasion, I forgot to take my camera with me, but I did remember to take my sunglasses, even though it was an overcast day. I knew I didn’t want anyone else to see me if I couldn’t contain my emotions.

It turned out to be everything people had told me it was. A solemn hush permeated the air for two hundred feet on all sides of the monument. People instinctively stopped talking as they entered the unlined boundaries of the outdoor sanctuary. At the Wall itself, I observed men and women of all ages. Some were lovingly tracing a name with their fingertips, others placed memorials at its base, and many simply stood and stared with a look that told me their thoughts were thousands of miles and many years removed from this place. I wasn’t long in joining them.

After a volunteer showed me how to locate a name, I searched for and found name after name of those who fought beside me. Seeing their names etched in granite, I was glad I’d thought to bring the sunglasses. Tears stung my eyes. I felt my jaw clench and my stomach sink. For years, I’d hoped that maybe a mistake had been made and that my comrades-in-arms weren’t really dead. Now, I couldn’t escape the truth any longer—they were dead. Standing that afternoon in front of a wall of black granite sealed it for me. I could play no more mind games. My search for closure and peace demanded that I now deal with the facts.

After some time, when my jangled emotions began to subside, I stepped back a few feet. I wanted to gain greater perspective of the monument as a whole. I took off my sunglasses and began to pay closer attention to the other people who had congregated that day to pay their respects. As I looked from side to side, I had to laugh. All around me were middle-aged men, without their wives, wearing sunglasses.

Stephen C. Klink

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