“The Moving Wall,” Jeffrey Miller
The Vietnam Memorial came to town yesterday. All two hundred and fifty-two feet of it with its fifty-eight thousand two hundred twenty-five silk-screened names on black, Plexiglas panels half the size of the one in Washington.
A crew of ten set it up in Chandler Park across the street from the train station; by this morning, the brown grass in front of it was already trampled from the procession of people who had been filing by solemnly since last evening and again this morning; in some places, muddy patches had already appeared.
Moving from east to west, from 1959 to 1975, some stopped to read or touch a name on the cold, wet panels. Others bowed their heads and said a prayer. Many simply filed by not sure what they’re supposed to do or say. Those who did speak whispered just a hush below the soft undulating spatter of rain upon umbrellas.
At the base of one of the panels, someone left a small teddy bear, its brown body soggy and limp with plastic eyes glistening in the rain. Two panels down, someone else left a framed photograph of two young boys.
“Happens all the time,” a grizzled, whiskered man in a faded red VFW cap said, warming his hands with a cup of coffee underneath a canopy set up by the Woman’s Auxiliary. “I hear there’s even a special museum for all the stuff people have left behind.”
Men who had been to places like Guadalcanal, Normandy, Bastogne, Peleliu, Chosin, Khe Sanh, and Baghdad—far-away places where their brothers bled and died; men who carried their own personal museums in the scars that ran deep through their souls, nodded their heads in solemn affirmation.
Then they watched one of their own—a father and his son stop along the wall. Together father and son wiped away beads of rain and searched for one name among them all as they gazed at their own silent reflections.
Two elderly women sharing an umbrella, who had stopped next to the man and son, watched the man locate one of the cold names. One of the women turned to the other and asked, “Where did they put all the bodies?”