Even as I sit down to write this letter, I’m not sure what I want to say. I just know I need to say something. I had the opportunity over the weekend to volunteer at the Moving Wall. I know my friends and family are probably tired of hearing about it, but it is all I’ve been able to think about. I wake up in the middle of the night and spend hours trying unsuccessfully to return to sleep because of thoughts 58,260 names on a Wall.
As the first civilian in a long line of service members, I did not grow up ignorant of the military and the sacrifices they are called to make. I knew about the war in Vietnam. I had been to see the Wall in D.C. I was moved to tears when I saw it for the first time. This was different for me, though. This was interactive. This was completely humbling. I was able to meet some amazing people and hear some amazing stories. My own life and experiences seem so insignificant in comparison.
On Sunday, I met Harry Lee Bole’s sister when she came to visit the Wall. Harry was one of our own. His sister was only 13 when he was killed. She told me he was the best big brother in the world. He must have been well loved not only by her, but by many in the community. I took many locals to find his name over the course of the weekend. I know he’ll never be forgotten.
Then there was the gentleman from Savannah that wanted to find the name of a childhood friend. He explained as we kneeled together at the Wall that his friend was pretty much "safe" from the draft, but that he decided to enlist in the Marine Corps. He had said it was something he "just had to do." He never came home, and his friend was completely heartbroken. I know he’ll never be forgotten.
One young woman came out with her friend. She was not looking for anyone in particular, but just wanted to see the Wall. You see, she lost her husband in Iraq in March and understands that each of these names is a real person. A husband and son. Someone, like her husband, who should never be forgotten.
Susie Stephens, the president of the POW/MIA Society here in Georgia was on site the whole weekend educating the visitors on those who never came home from SE Asia… at all. Her brother, Stephen J. Geist went missing in 1974. His body has never been recovered. He will certainly never be forgotten.
Dick Ackerman was a Ia Drang Valley vet that I was able to volunteer with over the course of the weekend. If you don’t know about Ia Drang Valley, read We Were Soldiers Once… And Young (or watch the movie). You’ll be in awe. He was incredible. And funny. And energetic. And he showed me a panel on the Wall comprised largely of his brothers in arms. They will never be forgotten.
Jim Miller was another Vietnam Vet with whom I was able to work closely. This ex-Cav guy was a pistol, to say the least. I never knew if he was going to be cracking a joke at my expense, giving me a hug of encouragement, or tearing up with shared emotion. I hardly ever saw him take a seat despite a bad knee, blistering heat, and long hours of emotional strain. He comforted hundreds over the course of the weekend, and needed a little comforting himself as he remembered his fallen comrades. They will never be forgotten.
I could go on and on, but I’ll spare you. Suffice to say it was an honor and a privilege to be able to work the Wall this weekend. I learned some things I didn’t know before. The best part, still, had to be working with such amazing veterans. I didn’t deserve to be by their sides. They’re so much better than I can ever hope to be, but they let me anyway. For that, and for their service to our Nation, I’ll be forever grateful. I love this country so much that it brings tears to my eyes. I’m so very proud to be an American and it gives me great hope for the future that men of this caliber are around to protect what I hold so dear.
They will never be forgotten.