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At the Vietnam Memorial

by Lois June Wickstrom

We found the Vietnam Vets Memorial. You canít see it from a distance. Even the statue of three men is under a tree. It looks like itís installed in a natural fault in the ground, but Eric says he read that the land was cut away to put it in like that. Either way, you walk along a path and suddenly the earth drops away and there it is, all black along one side, growing deeper with each step, names carved into it like a long litany, sort of alphabetical, sort of by date. At the base, people have planted little flags and propped flowers, some fresh, some wilting, some plastic, which just means they were made from long dead ferns. A junior high sent a wreath on a stand. A New England Veterans Association had another wreath, leaning on the wall. People made rubbings of special names, and took photographs of loved ones in front of the names on the black wall. At the deepest point, people are crying and the year 1959 is carved at the top of the rock. Then the path slopes upward in the hot Washington DC sun, the rocks have fewer names because they are shorter. More flags and flowers and wreaths, and photographers. This memorial is right. It is embedded in the earth. People have to look at a reference book at one end of the memorial to find which rock has the names of their loved ones, a reminder that their loved ones were among many strangers. No one has defaced this memorial with grafiti or additional carvings. The last rock, like the first is triangular. The others are all trapezoids. Itís like a big bow forever drawn, or a boomerang forever flightless.