Monday, May 25, 2015
The children will know: Remembering the Moving Wall's visit to Carthage
Carthage Press Managing Editor Neil Campbell assigned me to cover the Moving Wall's visit to Central Park in Carthage in October 1992. While another reporter, most likely Nancy Prater or Glenita Browning, did the basic story of how the wall came to Carthage and detailed what the speakers said at the opening ceremony, my job was to capture the essence of what the Moving Wall meant to those who filled Central Park that day.
This is what I wrote for the October 19, 1992, Carthage Press:
It took a bit of imagination and a little more effort for the pre-schooler to figure out you could go up the slide. Everyone else was headed in the opposite direction, so there were a few obstacles in her way. But once she crawled her way to the top, it didn't matter
Some sat silently Saturday as opening ceremonies commemorating the Central Park display of the Moving Wall Vietnam Veterans Memorial were about to begin.
Some stood in the back, also waiting patiently.
Many people walked along the wall, searching for names of friends and loved ones who left to defend their country and never returned.
Some, like the children on the slide, didn't pay attention at all.
"My husband's brother was killed in Vietnam," the woman said, her husband standing beside her.
"What's his name?" her friend asked.
The woman said the name and continued looking at the black wall. "It should be around here somewhere."
"There it is." The three stood silently, staring at the name.
"What are those names?" the four-year-old asked his mother, referring to the listing of the 58,175 men and women who died or are listed as missing in action from the war in Southeast Asia.
"All those people died," the mother said, then she noticed that her son was leaning against the aluminum panels of the wall. "Get off it," she scolded.
"I know," he said. "It's bigger than I am."
As Steve Mason, national poet laureate of Vietnam Veterans of America, was midway into his speech, his words were clearly affecting a man standing in the back of the crowd.
The pony-tailed Army veteran's hands were shaking as Mason spoke of friends he had known...friends who would remain forever 19 or 20 years old.
The veteran's hand, which was holding an informational brochure about the Moving Wall, continued shaking. His wife put her arm around his waist. "It's all right," she said.
A few feet from him, a Vietnam veteran sat in a wheelchair, a result of his stint in Southeast Asia. He did not look at the speaker. He methodically chewed gum, occasionally blowing a tiny, pink bubble. He was not watching the speaker, but he was taking in every word.
As Mason concluded his speech, the pony-tailed veteran took a handkerchief from his back pocket and brushed a tear from his cheek.
Then, he, his wife and most of the others n Central Park, headed for the Moving Wall for the laying of the wreath.
"What are they doing, Mama" a young child asked his mother. The mother explained. The boy took his mother's hand, then reached over and grabbed his sister's hand as the bugler began playing "Taps."
As the ceremony ended, many gravitated toward the wall, again showing their respect and affection for those who made the greatest sacrifices for their country.
The pony-tailed veteran headed in the other direction, his arm around his wife.
The children continued playing on the slide. That was what the men whose names are on the wall would have wanted...for the children to be happy and for them to be free.
"We'll never outlive or outgrow Vietnam," the speaker, Steve Mason, had said a few moments earlier.
Someday, the children will know.