And never forget the fallen heroes

Bill Cole

November 11, 1992|By Bill Cole

I HAD done three tours of Vietnam, but the journey I made on a cloudy day in October 1987 required all of my strength and courage. It was a journey that would take me along a path where hundreds of spectators had gathered to pay tribute to those who gave their lives in the Vietnam War.

As I started down the path toward that huge black granite wall, I realized for the first time, and it was hard for me to accept, that the ghosts of the war had finally come home to haunt us.

The tears began to trickle down my face. I came unglued. Some of the brothers saw that I was having a hard time and came to embrace me. Arms came from everywhere. Words of encouragement. "We understand." "We're here with you." "You're not alone."

For the first time in almost 18 years, it seemed as if I were alive. I felt love. I felt a connection with other human beings. For a moment I felt trust. All of the camaraderie, the esprit de corps came rushing back. It seemed as if we were some strange and forgotten band of warriors who came marching home from war 18 years after the fact.

Year after year this vigil goes on. Thousands of veterans journey from all parts of the United States to pay homage to fallen comrades. These men feel betrayed and alone. These men who were sent off to fight in an unpopular war now look into the empty faces of the politicians and know that they were betrayed by their own government. But yet each year we come from all walks of life to join in celebration, looking toward the day when the Vietnam War can be put to rest.

The Vietnam memorial wall stands alone, silently reflecting, like some cold, dark mirror. It echoes the sounds of a war that took the lives of 58,000 Americans. Let those who pass before it not forget the terrible sacrifice paid by these fallen heroes.

Bill Cole writes from Baltimore.

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