Michael Marks

THE NAME ON THE WALL

Fifty thousand names were carved across the blackened wall,
each name a silent testament to someone who gave all.
And while I felt a sadness and I thought the loss a shame,
it didn’t feel the clammy chill until I saw my name.

It stood below a William, just above a Robert D,
and as I looked I couldn’t help but wonder, why not me?
What separated my fate from the man who bore my name,
how was it we were different when so much appeared the same?

He gave his life outside Da Nang when he was twenty-one.
Defending fellow soldiers, he refused to turn and run.
He died a day when far away I hadn’t reached thirteen,
and lived without a clue about the things that he had seen.

I looked ahead to junior high, he’d hoped to go to college,
I dreamed of playing football while what he pursued was knowledge.
I’d yet to have a girlfriend’s kiss, he left behind a wife,
and meant it when he told her that he’d love her all his life.

And so I traced my every day, the milestones of my past,
the time that I was given since the day he breathed his last.
I thought about the things I’d seen as through the world I wandered,
and thought about the precious time I all-too-often squandered.

My fingers brushed across the letters etched into the stone,
his sacrifice reminding me of duties of my own:
The duty to remember and to hold my freedom dear,
to be the best that I can be each day of every year.

For service to our nation isn’t just for those who fall;
nor just for those who stand the line when duty comes to call:
It rests upon us all to keep in mind the sacrifice,
to use our precious freedom to be worthy of its price.

I bowed my head and humbly said a quiet word of prayer,
for all of those who hung the flag that billowed in the air.
And from that day I’ve carried what I know to be my call –
to be worthy of the man who put my name upon the wall.

Author’s Note: Memorial Day is a time for our nation to remember that freedom isn’t free, that the liberties we enjoy and often take for granted were paid for in battles around the world. This poem is a tribute to the men and women of the Armed Forces who paid the ultimate price for our liberty, and a challenge to all Americans to make the most of so precious a gift. The incident described is based on an actual visit I made to the Vietnam memorial wall, and the feelings I experienced seeing my name etched in the dark stone. The conclusion, like the experience, is altogether sincere.