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  • The first time I visited, it was only 3 years old. It was my first trip to headquarters in D.C. – I worked in the Philadelphia Regional Office at the time - and my boss and I went over to see the Wall after work one day. I hadn’t heard too much about it prior to that, just that it was there, and there was some controversy about it.

    We went there together, but in very short order, we were each in our own worlds, there. I started at the short end on the left side of the wall, with just a few names on each section. That was 1959, when the first Americans died in Viet Nam. As I slowly walked along the sidewalk in front of the wall, the wall grew taller, as the sidewalk went down lower. 1964. 1965. 1966. The wall kept growing higher – filled with names, top to bottom, and all across, as far as you could see, in either direction. Reaching out, you could touch the names inscribed on the wall. You could feel them. By the time you reached the other end, and the wall had become short again, 1975, you had covered 16 years, and 58,000 names, all representing mostly young boys, aged 18 – 22, who had died in the Viet Nam conflict.

    There was a directory of names that you could look up, on either end. I looked up Dave’s name.

    Dave had been my one time protector on the basketball courts of St. Pius X. I was the scapegoat of the crowd there. I was that kid who kept hanging around the court, begging to get picked for games, dying to learn how to play, wanting nothing but to get good at the game, and maybe make some friends. Far too desperate. Way too uncool. I didn’t have a cool bone in my body. Ripe for Scapegoat-dom. They were a tough crew, and they let me have it, everyday. You name it, they did it to me. But I was dogged, and wouldn’t go away. The more they poured it on, the more I became determined to stay and figure it out.

    One of the things that kept me going back there, despite the guys always scapegoating me, was Dave. He was one of the older crowd who occasionally came by to shoot hoops. He’d always stick up for me when the guys were fucking with me, and he’d occasionally take me off to the side to show me some moves and shots. He took some time to work with me, when everyone else just tried to make me go away. He taught me enough game that I eventually got decent enough to stick around, and play. He was one of the good ones. A genuinely decent person who cared about people.
  • Dave was with a tank outfit when we moved troops into Cambodia, in May, 1970. On the first day of fighting, he’d suffered a minor injury from an explosion, but it wasn’t enough to send him back. He stayed with his outfit, and it was about 2 weeks later that they got ambushed, and most of the outfit were killed or wounded. Dave was killed.

    His was my first death of someone who wasn’t old. He was 4 years older than me, 19 at the time. He’d been that kid who always stuck up for me, until I learned to stick up for myself. He’d taken time with me. He’d been a friend instead of a dick, like everyone else was to me. That was when the reality of that war really hit home to me.

    I found Dave’s name in the book, and found his spot on the wall. That was the moment when the enormity of the impact of war really hit me between the eyes. I knew how much that one person I knew, out of 58,000, how much he’d meant to me, and how senseless his death seemed to be. And he wasn’t even family, or someone I was really close to.
  • 10 years ago, on the 20th anniversary of The Wall, I’d heard on the radio that they were going to be reading all 58,000 names on the wall, at the wall, over Veterans’ Day Weekend. I called the number and signed up to be a reader. I was given 30 names to read. I looked them all up. I learned as much as I could about each and every one of the young men whose names I would be reading. I reached out to their families, to let them each know how honored I felt to have the privilege of reading their loved one’s names at the Wall, and how deeply I appreciated their sacrifice.

    My time to read was at 6:00 a.m. on Veterans’ Day, November 11th, 2002. I arrived early, and listened as others read names. It was one of the most moving experiences I’ve ever been a part of. As I read each of my 30 names, I felt like I knew them. I thought of their loved ones. I thought about what I’d learned about them. I wondered, why? What was it for? I hoped that we would always remember the lessons of that war.

    But in the distance, in November of 2002, one could hear the beat of the drums of war, calling for more young men, and women, to go off to fight in more wars. Some things never change. Some lessons never seem to get learned.

    This year will be the 30th anniversary of The Wall. Names will once again be read.
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