This past Veteran’s Day we visited the Vietnam Wall. It was an amazing field trip.
Only we never left Texas.
War. The girls all listened carefully and respectfully, but part of the way through our Vietnam Wall field trip talk we were interrupted.
By a Vietnam refugee.
At this point he’s no longer a refugee, but he was one of the many Vietnamese who fled when the Americans left Vietnam. He came up to the Vietnam veteran talking to us, and in very quiet English thanked the soldier for fighting for his country. With tears in his eyes the veteran reached forward and hugged the man. They’d never met before, but they shared an unspeakable bond. They cried together, and the Vietnamese man left quietly.
It was a profound experience. One we were privileged to witness, because for so long these veterans have not been treated well.
Making the most of your Vietnam Wall Field Trip
- Before you go talk with your kids about what you are going to see. Remind them how to act respectfully, and that for some of the people visiting, this isn’t just a list of names, these are the names of their friends who died, or their son who died. Remind them to walk while you are there, and to talk in quiet voices.
- Bring a piece of paper and some crayons. You are allowed to make rubbings of the names, and are encouraged to do so. I didn’t know this ahead of time, so we used the crayons and paper they had. If I’d known ahead of time I would have brought several different color crayons and encouraged the kids to make a design of the names they rubbed off.
- If there are veterans there when you visit, take the time to talk to them. Thank them for what they did. If you see mementos left by family members, make sure you leave them be.
Some history of the Vietnam War memorial
I went to Washington D.C. when I was in junior high, and we had maybe two days there, and that is not enough time to see everything. I know I did not see the Vietnam War Memorial then. And even if I had, it would not have been as momentous an occasion as this was, because we were given a history of the war by Vietnam veterans, and told how it was designed. In many ways, visiting the traveling Vietnam War Memorial is more emotional because it is there for such a limited time, that people are more certain to be there when you visit.
That being said, here’s a few things we learned while visiting the Vietnam War Memorial.
- The Federal government held a design competition. The chosen design had many protestors, and many of the original funders of the project withdrew because of their dislike of the design.
- The Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial is set up in chronological order. The names start in the middle of the wall where the two sides join on your right hand side. You follow the list as the wall grows smaller, and then walk back over to the other side to see the list continue. It is a staggering list to walk through.
- A diamond symbol means the person is confirmed dead during the war.
- A cross symbol means they are missing in action. If the man is confirmed to of died, a diamond is super-imposed over the cross.
- A cross symbol in parantheses means the man returned alive. There are no such symbols yet on the wall.
We see this, it’s a heart-tugging image, but the interesting thing, is it just grew up naturally from a soldier’s innate desire to honor their fallen friend. They would take his gun, plant it in the ground, and place his helmet over the barrell, with the boots next to it. It’s simple, and was never meant to become “a thing,” but it captures the emotion, and sense of loss felt.