@postaday 173; #postaday2011.
Today was our second and final day in Washington, D.C. We parked the rental car at Wheaton and boarded the metro to Metro Center. We started at the National Aquarium, a little rinky dink subterranean puddle beneath the federal Department of Commerce. Come on folks, sure, we need to put our money in more important things, but this little droplet of water life deserves much more attention to fulfill its title. There were even videos in portholes. No kids were fooled.
We then took a walk down the mall toward the Washington Monument, and touched it. Then we went to the World War II and the Vietnam War memorials, before proceeding to the Lincoln Memorial. We wrapped up our day at the National Museum of American History where I got to pose with the famous Julia Child display (surrounded by many others).
Although there were crowds everywhere, it was at the Vietnam War Memorial where you knew the people you saw were just one or two degrees away from the dead whose names are memorialized. This long, black and polished angular wall signifies a deep and painful scar cut into the earth, into our history, and into our hearts. Every few feet were people with paper and pencil, shading the stencils of the names of their loved ones. Who are they? Young men cut down in their prime, fighting a war no one wanted, that left a bad taste in the collective American mouth, and didn’t result in a hero’s welcome for those who did make it home. It’s not only a reminder of the many who died, but a reminder of how we still have many, many Vietnam veterans among us. Some survived the transition to civilian life, we see many who don’t.
Yesterday while meeting with Sen. Daniel Akaka, he spoke of a poster he has on display in his office. The poster, which celebrates 2011 as the Year of the Noncommissioned Officer, features him, Sen. Daniel Inouye, and Sen. Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey, as young men in uniform. These Congressmen are the last three alive who served in World War II. Sen. Akaka said to us that when he an his peers returned from the war, the G.I. Bill helped them get through school, and their veteran benefits helped them buy homes. He said that they all had Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, but going to school helped them work that out. He said that the rigors of a college education helped them grow out of the PTSD and readied them for a life beyond the service.
Now America needs to be sure that all of her veterans are accounted for when they return, and that they get the benefits they deserve for the sacrifices they made. It’s very hard to not wince when some older homeless man barks something at you when you’re walking by on your way to work. They’re about that right age where they would have been one of those boys who would have preferred making peace and not war.
There’s something about the Vietnam Memorial that simply pierces your heart. It’s flawless, timeless design combined with the steady stream of somber visitors turns a simple visit into an experience. I’ll never forget it.
By the time I walked through, I had a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes. There are guys here communing with their dead buddies, there are family members whose only chance to ‘do something’ is at this wall. This is where Middle America mourns.