As in Flanders Fields, the names of the Vietnam war dead are planted row on row. They rise on 70 slabs of black marble, 57,939 names, inscribed in the order of death -- a perfect memorial to the men who died, and not to the war in which they fought. Call the roll:
Jessie Alba, Titus Toussant, Hiawatha Hicks, Kim Parliament, Peter Cook, Patrick Derig, Daniel Ely.
The memorial has the feel of a cemetery. It is sunk into the Mall, invisible from the street. Nearby are the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument and the places where opponents of the war gathered to protest the very death of the men memorialized here.
It is cold in November and the night comes fast, but it is still not hard to summon up the heat of the war protests: the tear gas fired by the police, John Mitchell barricading the doors of the Justice Department, the medics going through the crowd to help the sick or hurt, the water wagons, the press wagons, the paddy wagons, the chants, the flags, the hardhats, the buses drawn up around the White House, the singing, the folk songs, the vets flinging off their medals in protest, the vet who took me up to Walter Reed Army Hospital to talk to the amputees, a patient there -- a kid -- who asked if I wanted to see his wound. Yes, I said by reflex. He opened his bathrobe. His crotch had been blown away.
Gerald Aadland, James Aalund, Michael Abbott, Paul Abraham, Luther Bagnatt, Marlin Babson.
The monument starts like the war itself, small and unseen. It grows larger, as the war did, by degrees, until it is higher than a man's head, and then, also like the war, it slowly fades until it is gone. It has almost no beginning and no end. The war was like that.
There has been much argument about this memorial. Some say it is too simple. Some say it is too understated. Some say it mirrors the country's ambivalance toward the war. Some say it is an insult to the men who died.
You can get what you want out of the monument, the same as you could from the war. As for me, I am grateful there is no man-on-horseback statue, no paean to heroism, no attempt to make something wonderful out of something tragic. All over the city, iron men on iron horses prance in the parks -- no mention of the dead. It is nice just for once to remember that wars kill kids. It is nice just for once that they have their own memorial.
Leroy Barnes, Wayne Bebo, Kenneth Bills, Paul Binder, George Binko, John Birch, George Bird, Donald Christy, Steven Ching.
During the Vietnam War, Life Magazine once ran the pictures of those who had died that week. The effect was stunning. Suddenly, we were no longer talking about stopping the Commies before they got to San Francisco, but looking into the faces of the dead and wondering why. The memorial asks the same question.
Charles Cohen, Robert Schatzman, Phil Tabb, Victor Waxman, Edgar Udell, Edward McCann, Larry Metcalf.
Visitors approach the monument slowly. Some of them ask guides where they can find a certain name. The guides have books where the names are listed alphabetically. It is a thick book, about the size of the Yellow Pages for a big city. The slabs are numbered. Find the name. Find the number. Find the slab. And then, if you can, find the reason why.
Mark Ferguson, Lynn France, James Gainer Jr., Douglas Glover, Gary Higbee, Dorris Ivey, Edward Iwasko, Floyd Johnson, Walter Karas, Martin Lloyd.
All over Washington, the Vietnam War has been remembered by speeches and wreath layings, parties and news conferences, press releases and ceremonies. The best memorial to any war, though, is the memory of the nations that fought it. After a while it fades and politicians supply a new one. They reshape the past to fit the present, and the gore of war gets converted into parades and flags and simple lessons for school kids. Vietnam, though, now has a memorial to the reality of the war. It's the names of the dead. Call the roll:
Augusto Xavier, David Zywicke, Takeshi Yabiku, Santos Nunez, Jerry Petty, Cary Queen, Eddie . . .