On a cold and cloudy November afternoon, the names of those who died fighting in Vietnam could be heard on the national mall as they were read aloud by volunteers to commemorate Veteran's Day
The Vietnam war was one of the most divisive issues in U.S. political history, and sadly, many of those who fought in it were under appreciated or even vilified for serving in it. But today, those who died in it are being rightly honored each year when their names are read aloud at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. The tradition has a haunting beauty to it. As each name is read, it's hard not to think about who that fallen serviceman was, where he was from, or what his aspirations may have been. Vietnam was a very personal topic for both those who fought there and those who watched it back home, and the tradition seems to capture that aspect still today.
"In many ways, the war remains unsettled, and the celebration I received when I came home I think is a result of the national shame," said Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke, a former Navy SEAL, after reading some of the names himself. "Because when these guys came home, they buried their uniforms, the country was different and I think the monument itself reflects that different in the Vietnam period."
Indeed, Vietnam veterans too often were disregarded when they came home. They were relics of a war that tore the country apart, and that often meant their needs and sacrifices went unacknowledged. In the worst cases, some were blamed for a decision they had nothing to do with. Many a veteran's first memory coming home was being spat on or called "baby murderer" by protesters. Even those who may have disagreed with the war and were drafted into service were given the same harsh treatment.
The Vietnam Veterans Memorial fund was started by a group of veterans in 1979 in order to properly honor those who fell. The iconic black wall was built shortly thereafter on the national mall, featuring the names of those who died.
The wall is noticeably unique compared to other war memorials. It's black, angular design looks almost like a scar in the earth, giving it a somber, yet dignified appearance. Most importantly though, it gives those who died the respect they deserve and ensures that both those who fell and came home are properly remembered.
"It’s a tribute to our veterans, its an important place on the mall for this war, but it's also, I think, an important reflection for our country during this period," said Zinke.