David Douglas Duncan, the international photographer best known for his portraits of war, went to see the new Vietnam Memorial on the Mall without a camera.
Duncan stood quietly and studied the names on the shiny black granite. He worried that some of the names could not be read in the early-morning rain. He wondered at the variety of ethnic names. He slowly walked the length of the memorial, twice.
Finally, the gray-haired, 66-year-old photographer said: "Here, here is the picture. You see how the walk narrows toward the Washington Monument? If you are careful you can make it so the Monument will be seen against the gray sky."
Duncan, who has produced 15 books of photographs on Picasso, politicians, political conventions, this nation and other countries, as well as on recent wars, held his hands in the air to frame the picture. Then he returned to contemplating the monument, his hand to his chin.
"I think the monument succeeds because it is here," said the World War II marine and former photographer for Life magazine.
"It is a monument, but I feel as though it is a return to anonymity for all these men," he said, referring to the impersonal, grave-like appearance of the memorial.
Duncan read the names aloud -- David H. Finger, Moses I. Kuahiwinui, Forest Hodgkin, Rexford DeWispelaere -- marveling at the combination of sounds, the combination of cultures.
"We look with astonishment at the names. But is it ethnic curiosity, more than respect to a guy who gave his name, that draws us here?" he wondered as a man down the way touched a name on the monument with the point of his black umbrella.
Duncan had come to Washington to promote his latest book, "The Land of Allah." The visit to the memorial was a personal moment squeezed between the public time of radio and TV shows.
He turned and looked at the nearby Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument.
"They are dramatic architecture," he said. "They are harmonious with the Washington landscape. But I don't think of this in terms of architecture. It was great for the families to come and see the recognition. But this monument is not a monument. It is a formalized mass grave."
Duncan said that as a photographer he always chose to go into combat with the U.S. Marines: "Those guys I knew went there proudly, willingly. Those guys did what they thought was right. I never heard one word of resentment from those marines. I always assigned myself to them, because I knew if I ever got hit they would not leave me, or what remained of me, behind."
The man whose haunting images of soldiers in combat, at rest and in death have become classics of war photography took one last look at the controversial memorial to the veterans of the war America lost.
"The lasting monument is the photographs" made during the week of salute to Vietnam veterans, he said. "All the families here. All the emotion. That will be the real memorial."