That is the number of United States armed forces personnel listed on “the wall” of the Vietnam Memorial. That is a football stadium of people, five small towns, or twenty high schools worth of human lives lost in this conflict.
The moving wall memorial came to our town this weekend and was erected at our local American Legion. Mom and I were at the arrival on Thursday morning in weather more fit for the end of March (cold, windy, damp and overcast) but as I watched the fire trucks, motorcycles and other vehicles escort the wall I couldn’t help but think that this is nothing compared to what they went through. We stayed for a while and watched as the parts were unloaded and prepared for erection; not one person complained about the conditions.
I know one person whose name is on the wall, Robert George Carr, the older brother of a grade school classmate. I still remember the headlines of the local newspaper on the day they published his death. I checked the wall website and found out he was in Vietnam for five weeks when he was killed, he was only 19 years old. I looked around at more names and saddened to find out most were 19 to 22 years old when they died, old enough to give their lives for their country but not old enough to have a drink in their home state.
Having lived through that era as a teenager I saw how the war veterans were treated and realize now that it was probably worse than what they had to go through in some rice paddy half a world away. Our country will always lose young men and women to war; I just hope we never have to erect another wall to remind ourselves of this fact, point to a name and say, “I knew that person…”