Teardrops for Heroes

The Moving Wall came to Elmira on a very dark, rainy August weekend. People came in bunches, very subdued. The Wall is a good place, a prayerful place, a sad place. The Viet Nam war made that place in many peoples' hearts.

Sunday, August 27, 2006


It was a very rainy Sunday.

People were still at church or in bed. Or so I thought. I thought wrong; mostly in couples, the townfolk filtered through the downpours, not at all in a hurry. The rain was part of it.

Thought the camera would be ruined. My clothes were soaked through, but I didn't notice until I wandered into a local store. A patron looked at me and laughed. Then I realized I must have been a sight.

There would be a lot of rainsoaked Elmirans this afternoon. Many carried cameras, despite the rain.

Except for cropping and sizing, my photos (below) have not been altered. They are presented in no particular order.

The various branches of service. Every effort has been made to keep it all-inclusive. And it should be.

It looks like a flower bed. In a way, it is.

Sacred Ground: Please respect this memorial. NO tobacco, pets, food, drinks, candles. Small memorials welcome. Please, no smoking! Turn off cell phones.

Presents for the future? This burial vault will be interred here at Eldridge Park. Maybe it will be the beginning of a new, permanent memorial.

A medal left for those who didn't attend the ceremony. Please don't let this be survivor's guilt; we owe all our "purple hearts" at least a thank you and an assurance of our indebtedness. Glad you made it home, sir or madam. We need our veterans to build the backbone of our nation.

A gentleman spoke briefly to me about honoring Jay, and here is a memorial to him. Its so important to those left behind that their loved ones not be forgotten. Not just a name on a wall, it is an enormous sacrifice. A small expression of gratitude takes on huge meaning.

Memorabilia from the Viet Nam war. Some things are very familiar, others are simply some other person's memories. They are all linked here, together for posterity.

Actually the Huey is what I saw when I was walking my dog in the nearby running track. We were very familiar with Hueys in the 1970s. They are very powerful helicopters.

I was at the memorial twice this weekend, and there was always a lone person, reading each name. Pronunciation wasn't always correct, but my guess is that would change from region to region. Right now he was reading one "Torres" after another, occasionally tripping over the given names. In another part of the US, perhaps the Germanic names would be difficult, the French names Anglicized. It is good for everyone to remember that all Americans were well represented.

A follow-up story in the paper stated that the list was completed. For the first time in 16 years, all the names were read. 58,253 names, read for the first time in Elmira, New York. They are read in alphabetical order.

Fifty states' flags help give perspective. The men, especially, spoke of just how many flags were staked there.

Reading the instructive notes on the Huey. It was old, brought in on a flatbed, no longer in service. Still brings back the news from that time, though.

A memorial to one of our local heros, left by his loved ones. There were touches like this along the length of the wall. There were also flowers and commemorative teddy bears.

Not a casket, but a burial vault, designed especially for Viet Nam veterans. Why shouldn't they have a resting place made especially to honor them? Who knows what the future will remember about that era?

My overall impression was one of reverence. No tears except the incessant rain. A local man spoke briefly about leaving something for the vault, but he didn't seem sad. The whole experience felt like a prayer, a sacred rite. Purposeful and meditative. I was happy to have visited the wall with these people who braved the flooded streets. It was peaceful and serene, even in the rain.


Want the Wall to Come to Your Area?

The solemnity of the Wall is enveloping and comforting. If you've always lacked closure regarding the Viet Nam war, or if you really don't know how you feel about those years, you must go to the Memorial in Washington or visit the travelling version. There was a feeling of resolution, and, again, closure. Even the setup of the Wall was a big event. This is being properly handled and presented, according our heroes the respect they deserve.

The Wall is all about people, the living and the departed. More photos by professional photographers at the paper here. Memorials are for the living. I cried a lot during the Vietnam years; the television was saturated with it, and I feared for family and friends. And the after-effects on our veterans was tragically visible, even here where they were welcomed with open arms and relief, and have continually been honored by local people. I never felt like crying at the Moving Wall, even though the day was dark, and the rain just poured on us.

The experience was sacramental for me. This blog is not about me, just seen through my eyes and heart: the Moving Wall could be sacramental for you. If you are a veteran, I thank you for putting yourself forward for us. If you still hurt, a pilgrimage to Washington, DC could help ease the pain. The entire city is all about America, and belongs to you.

A trip to DC is impossible for some. Seems like the Moving Wall has been everywhere, but it might be new to you. If your area's not yet seen the wall, contact these people.

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