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Posts Tagged ‘Soldiers’

-Blog post by Reed Sandridge from Washington, DC

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The Vietnam Veterans Memorial wall to the left reflects the trees that surround the memorial. (photo: Reed Sandridge)

Not even 15 minutes after the sun crested the horizon this past Saturday morning, 20 members of the Montgomery County Chapter 641 of the Vietnam Veterans of America grabbed buckets and brushes and walked down the stone pathway toward one of the most iconic memorials in the United States: The Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

“It started out I guess between 14 and 16 years ago,” Art Wong, who served in Vietnam from 1967 to 1968, told me.  I later discovered that it’s actually been 17 years since he and Mike Najarian, both of  Silver Spring, MD, started making the early morning pilgrimage on the first Saturday of every month between April and October to wash away the grime and dirt that builds up on the 58,261 names engraved on the black granite memorial.

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Photo: Reed Sandridge

“The Wall,” as it is often referred to, consists of nearly 500 feet of black granite from Bangalore, India.  Carved out of the shadowy stone are the names of all military men, and eight military women, who lost their lives (or went missing) as a direct result of military wounds suffered during the Vietnam war.  The sheer volume of names is breathtaking.  An emotional place for many Americans, it is a place that I encourage everyone who comes to DC to visit and pay their respects.

Art was the first person I spoke to when I arrived.  He was kind enough to take a few minutes and let me interview him.  Click below to hear Art’s story as well as see the washing of the wall in the background.

“Wait a minute, don’t wash that section just yet,” Bill Gray, a silver star recipient, said as we washed the grime out of the crevices of the fallen soldiers’ names.  He pulled out a small camera and took a photograph of the name of a guy he served with.  “You can see a perfect handprint touching his name,” he said as he steadied his camera and captured what a loved one had left behind.  He paused and turned to me, “I’ve got six buddies up here.”

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Soap suds slide down some of the 58,261 names that live on the wall. (photo: Reed Sandridge)

The sound of brushes scrubbing back and forth, water hammering against the dark granite and conversations soft enough to be held in church were the only sounds.  The reflection of the mirror-like wall overflows into my mind and I find myself reflecting on those who lost their lives half a century ago.  How old were they?  Where were they from?  How sad their parents, siblings, spouses, children and friends must have been when they heard the news?  How many dreams were washed away as quickly as the soapy water that ran down over the names in front of me?

What impressed me the most about these men, and yes they were all men with the exception of my friend Patricia who also pulled herself out of bed at 0’dark thirty to come volunteer, was how friendly they were.  As we wrapped up our work a few early rising tourists made their way to the memorial.  There was no shortage of hellos, good mornings and respectful nods showering the visitors.

A pair of combat boots pinned with the Purple Heart sits in front of The Wall. (photo: SC Fiasco)

Although it was never spoken, it was clear that this monthly ritual was somehow comforting for the men.  Old friends, both present and in spirit, come together each month to pay their respects and share memories, laughter and tears.  Part of a poem written by Guy L. Jones, 43d Signal Battalion, Pleik Oct. 1968 – Nov. 1969, helps explain this:

A visit to the “THE WALL” will be many things to many people
But to me it has healed my soul
And made me feel proud to have been there.

I will be back on October 16th to lead a group of volunteers in cleaning the Korean Memorial.  If you would like to help out, drop me an email.

UPDATE: I found this MSNBC story about the men mentioned in this blog post…enjoy!

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Memorial surrounded by the Wall of Honor

I have done a poor job this week of updating the blog…but trust me, I have not wavered on my commitment to giving.  In fact, I have some very interesting people to tell you about as I get caught up.  Today is Hari’s story.

Being unemployed has some benefits.  One thing is that I try to go regularly to the different museums and cultural institutions that Washington has to offer.  There is an abundance of information and history here and I have time to soak it up.

I decided to check out the African American Civil War Museum.  It is located on the corner of 12th and U in DC.  A short walk away is the memorial and the Wall of Honor that remembers the 209,145 soldiers and officers who served in the United States Colored Troops.

Hari is the museum’s curator.  He was gracious to spend some time talking with me about the civil war.  Listening to Hari unfold the events that led to the civil war is exhilarating.  Usually when someone tells you about some event that took place deep in our history, it is hard to appreciate the actual event because you don’t have sufficient understanding of contributing events, cultural references, etc.  But Hari anticipated my questions and painted the full picture for me.

Hari at the African American Civil War Museum (Photo: Reed)

He first was drawn to history by his elders in his hometown of Pauls Valley, OK.  The elders took the time to explain to Hari historical events that they had lived through.  In the 8th and 11th grade, Hari discovered that the text books that he was using didn’t accurately portray the involvement of Americans of African descent  in the Civil War.  His teachers at the time, Ms. Bagley and Ms. Wallace respectively, understood that this history was suppressed and taught the true history. 

Hari went on to graduate from the University of Oklahoma.  It was there that he had a Kenyan American professor of African American History who was not only ignorant of the involvement of African Americans in the Civil War but refused to teach it saying that it was not on his syllabus. It was this encounter that fueled Hari’s desire to dedicate himself to researching the involvement of African Americans in the Civil War. 

He received a commission in the Marine Corps and later found himself as an instructor at the Naval Academy.  He realized that there was still a lack of understanding of our own history and felt that Americans need a foundation of common understanding about our own history before we are fully capable of dealing with conflict and struggles in foreign lands.  “If we can not understand what went on her in our own history and what cultural attributes were possessed by Americans” Hari explained, “then it will be impossible for us to do it anywhere else.  The only thing that we’ll be able to do is to kill people when we can not get them to understand our way of thinking.”

Hari left the Marine Corps to dedicate himself full-time to the topic.  I encourage you to stop by the Museum and meet Hari.  If he has time, I know he would be happy to share with you his extensive knowledge of our nation’s history.

Here is a clip of Hari discussing our views on race and how a paradigm shift has occurred in our society’s views about race as it pertains to sports and how this represents a much greater paradigm shift in our society’s way of thinking.

It’s no surprise that Hari decided to donate his $10 to the museum. 

For those of you who can not make it to the museum to meet Hari, he recommended two books to me that you might want to check out:

  • The Great Conspiracy by John Alexander Logan
  • A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn – A note about Mr. Zinn.  He died unexpectedly on January 27th of this year.  He was 87.  He was quoted as saying that he would like to be remembered “for introducing a different way of thinking about the world, about war, about human rights, about equality,” and “for getting more people to realize that the power which rests so far in the hands of people with wealth and guns…ultimately rests in people themselves and that they can use it.”

 

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