Visiting the Vietnam Veterans Memorial brings back memories of fallen this Memorial Day

Time had caused the father to stoop a little, but he didn’t look as old as his 80-something years. He walked with confidence.

His children and grandchildren accompanied him on this warm spring day. The crowd quieted as visitors walked down the National Mall toward the low, black stone monument.

While many of the Dad’s high school friends had served in the military, he had not served. A club foot made him 4-F—unfit for military service. At 11, he listened with his family on a table-top battery-powered radio to the news of the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Although my father did not glamorize war, he held the American military in the highest esteem and raised his children to respect those who served. He traveled to France to see the Normandy cemeteries and beaches. He often quoted Churchill, “Never was so much owed to so few by so many.”

Dad taught school for more than 35 years. He loved his work and his students. On his first visit to The Wall in 2006, he carefully sought out the names of three boys he taught, three boys who had never come home to Indiana from Vietnam.

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Today, a dozen years later, on another visit to The Wall, Dad looked for another name, a man who had been a second-grade student of his late wife. However, the page that likely carried the young Marine’s information was missing from the registry book.

Dad continued his slow walk down the hill where more than 55,000 names were etched into The Wall, names of those who served our country and never walked with grandchildren on a spring day in our nation’s capital. The Wall was peaceful and quiet, a place that remembers the soldiers and sailors who gave the ultimate sacrifice.

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall
The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall

One of the many veterans who volunteered at The Wall approached Dad and and asked, “Are you looking for a name?”

He gave the volunteer the student’s name. The volunteer had a mobile device and tapped in the young man’s name.

The soldier escorted the retired teacher to the area where the young man’s name was on The Wall, surrounded by hundreds of other names of American soldiers, young, old, white, black, Christian, Jewish, Muslim, from rural America, from urban America, from Indiana and Kentucky.

Although Dad had been talkative all afternoon, telling his two young adult grandsons historical facts about Roosevelt and Lincoln and sharing their awe with the new Martin Luther King Memorial, now he was quiet.

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The volunteer read the young man’s death date from his mobile phone. Dad traced the R in the first name of the Marine Corporal who didn’t make it home.

The Marine was 22 years old when he died. The boy who grew up on an Indiana farm died a man, thousands of miles away, in the steamy jungles of Southeast Asia.

Dad still did not say a word. His family, including his two 22-year-old grandsons who benefit from freedom from the sacrifice of all Americans in all our wars, walked quietly behind him. My father wept for the lost student and quietly walked up the hill and out into the sunshine of the National Mall.

Amy Abbott
Amy Abbott

Amy McVay Abbott is a freelance journalist and author in southern Indiana. Her dad, Bill McVay, is now 93 years old.

This article originally appeared on Louisville Courier Journal: Kentucky should remember fallen soldiers this memorial day