by Lad Carrington
For the last several years a number of motorcyclists have been attending an event in Washington DC. This ride is held in conjunction with the Memorial Day ceremonies commemorating all of the veterans who have fought for America in the various wars involving the United States over the last two hundred and some odd years. This event is officially known as Rolling Thunder. If you attend and are near the front of the pack so that you can park and listen as the other bikes arrive, well — you will know why they call it Rolling Thunder. We ride up and assemble with many thousands of others at the Pentagon parking lot for an enormous parade through the streets of Washington, to gather at the Vietnam Memorial Wall.
In 1996 while riding to Washington, I was pondering why I attend this event since I did not have to go to Vietnam, and reflect on why more Americans do not visit the Wall. I realized that the reason I go is because, but by the grace of God, my name would be on that wall. I go because I, and all of us, have an obligation to those who did.
For twelve years I had been giving lectures in public schools and to civic groups about history. Primarily to make our ancestors and their sacrifices and contributions come alive and be real in the public’s mind — not just statistics in a history book. Reflecting upon these years I realized why I go to The Wall and why this monument above all others has so much feeling attached to it.
America was angry when the Vietnam War was over and the public’s illusions were shattered by ten years involvement in a war we were not allowed to win. Angry at the government and angry at the loss of life and the economy. There is not enough space here to go into all of the reasons, but the result was that our veterans returned without the hero’s welcome due them. There were no ticker tape parades through New York or celebrations in small towns all over America. When people are angry they strike out and often focus that anger at the most visible symbols representing the object of that anger. So our men and women returning from Vietnam were denied their just and earned laurels as the heroes they were.
There can be no right or wrong categories attached to those who serve. Those labels are reserved for governments and ideologies. Those who serve and especially those who in their service pay the ultimate price are always in the right, because they have only done what they were asked to do.
So I go to the wall because by the grace of God my name is not written there. I go because I, and all of us, owe something to those whose names are on that wall. Because that wall represents all of the Americans who have paid that price, and the rest of us have inherited the country and the benefits bought by their sacrifice.
You cannot visit that wall without feeling the spirits that are represented there. We should all go there and show those who survived, and if they are looking down on us, those whose names are written there, that even if it is late in coming a grateful nation remembers and stops to say thank you.
While at the wall in ‘96 I wrote the poem that follows and was honored to be allowed to read it at the American Legion in Arlington and at the Writers Project at The Wall. Since then I have been invited back annually and in 1999 was asked to read at the Women’s Memorial as well.
A Name On A Wall
Do you know who I am?
You should for I am part of you
My spirit is forever entwined with yours
And my name is written on a wall.
Do you know me yet?
I once lived and breathed as you
I loved — and someone loved me
And now my name is written on a wall.
But that wall is not all there is of me
For I am a part of all that you are
And you carry me with you
Unseen — as I travel in the wind
My love for our land has taken me many places
Most with names I’d never heard
And I left a part of me at each place
And I left a part of you there too
I was at Alamance and Anzio
I fell at Gettysburg and bled on both sides
at The Little Bighorn
I slept in French mud and sand near Baghdad
And my life ended in Asia leaving my name —
written on a wall
Perhaps you failed to notice as I passed by you
Sometimes I was a man and sometimes a woman
My face in shades of white, red, black, and yellow
And wearing uniforms of homespun, blue, gray,
buckskin, and olive
Do you know me now?
I was called to pay with my life
A heavy tax to bear — but freedom is costly
And only you can make it worth the price
You must make my sacrifice have value
For I am a part of you and your freedom
I am your past, your present, and your future
I am not just monuments or numbers in a history book
And I am not — Just A Name On A Wall.
© Lad Carrington - 5/25/1996