Robert W. Flournoy

THE WALL

The second time I went to the Vietnam Memorial was more meaningful than the first. That initial time in 1982 was a circus. Absolute carnival atmosphere that agitated, angered me. Balloons, snacks, crowded, an absolute lack of the sober subdued holy atmosphere that I expected, and that in my mind the shrine demanded. The place was still relatively new, and it was a summer Saturday with the sun shining which encouraged the throngs to turn out, including, unfortunately, a couple hundred guys who thought that they needed to dress up like bikers in old fatigues which were plastered with ribbons and patches, boonie hats and the obligatory granny shades. And head bands. And drooping mustaches. All carrying on with one another, hugging, power hand shaking, crocodile tears, milling around on the path directly in front of the black depths of that wall, here I am check me out. Dude. Total bull shit. I have found that for every ten guys who tell you they were in ‘Nam, many of them are probably lying, and when it comes to who did what, most of them were airborne ranger CIB gunslinging bad asses who stalked the jungle with cold steel resolve and by God I’ve earned my booze but don’t talk to me too much about it because once established that I am the real deal then we just don’t go there, you know, man? Total bull shit.

Second trip was also a Saturday, many years later, in the fall, nippy with some bluster in the wind, fading color in the hardwoods. A couple of dozen older people pausing reflectively in front of the mirrored, shining sea of names, some hesitantly rubbing the inscriptions off onto various flimsies and fabrics, almost apologetically, standing silently looking down at their work to see if some magic would appear, some who looked at the name they had sought out with a sense of bewilderment, trying to comprehend after 30 years or more. A few guys my age, jeans, sweatshirts, light jackets, graying, thinning hair, standing off a little with arms crossed, unmoving, looking for something that they were not having any luck finding; quiet, pensive, detached.

I stood awhile, apart, eyes glazing off into the distant depths of the marble, wandered off, found a to go coffee and drifted back onto the grass to resume watch for awhile longer. I didn’t seek out the names this time. I knew where they were. And I left.