WHEN WAR SEEMS IMPERSONAL, like simply a list of stats and battles, we need only read the names and hear the stories.
I remember the few stories my father shared of his time on the front lines during the Korean War. He watched his buddy blown apart by a mortar the day before Ray was to return home. Ray’s death haunted my dad. And it still haunts me, a generation removed.
That war story lingered as I visited the Traveling Vietnam Memorial Wall, viewed military equipment, chatted with veterans and walked between rows of crosses Labor Day weekend at the Rice County Fairgrounds in Faribault.
The visuals before me reflected the reality of war. When I looked closer, I discovered how soldiers, even in the thick of the Vietnam War, personalized gear and equipment. War became as personal as chemical agent paper, bullet holes in a boat, an eight of Spades playing card and the nickname “Gator” on a helmet.
Nothing is more personal than a name. Nearly 60,000 names are inscribed upon the Traveling Vietnam Memorial Wall.
More names were printed upon labels and posted upon crosses at the fairgrounds, some nameplates accompanied by photos of dead soldiers.
I remembered some of those soldiers from media reports. They were sons and daughters. Buddies. Classmates. Husbands, fathers, brothers, uncles.
War is difficult and horrible. There is no denying that. Men and women die. Families grieve. And soldiers live with the aftermath of their war experiences, physically and/or mentally wounded. We can make it easier for them by remembering, by honoring, by thanking and by caring for them.
I don’t recall ever thanking my dad for his service in Korea, for the great personal sacrifices he made. I wish I had. He’s been dead for 13 ½ years now, his war stories and trauma mostly buried with him. If only I had understood in 2003 what I understand today—that he suffered greatly and that I should have listened with more compassion and understanding.
FYI: This concludes my series of posts focused on the Traveling Vietnam Memorial Wall exhibit in my Minnesota community.
© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling