I went with some friends to a park in Hastings today to see the Moving Wall. It was an extremely hot day, but another friend who is a Vietnam vet was volunteering at the traveling exhibition, and his wife was working it as well. So we drove down in air-conditioned comfort to view it.
The Moving Wall is a half-size replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC and has been touring the country for almost 30 years. Even at half size it is somber and sobering. All those names, starting in 1959 and going forward year by year–it’s overwhelming in some ways. I have never visited the memorial in Washington, but I can see it would be an even sadder but fitting tribute at full size.
I was talking with Jose and some of the other volunteers as we stood under a tent to escape the sun. They asked if I knew someone whose name was on the memorial. I started to say no, because none of my family members had died, and my high school class was the last one to experience the draft, but none of them were called up.
Then I remembered. I had a POW bracelet when I was in high school, and I remembered the name on the bracelet. It was Col. Gregg Hartness, an Air Force pilot, shot down over Laos and missing in action. Had he ever come home, or was he on the list? I looked in the directory, and there he was. Jose helped me find his name on the wall.
It really took me back to those dark days when the war was winding down, but people were still dying, still going missing. I had sent off to get a POW bracelet to make my stand clear–anti-war for sure, but remembering the soldiers who were sent off to fight a senseless war. I was so grateful that my own family members were spared. And I was in high school, so I had that unpleasant adolescent smugness about making a noble gesture. I remembering thinking, “Well, the war will be over soon and he will come home, so I won’t have to wear it long.” Then I found out Col. Hartness was missing in action. He never came back.
I still have the bracelet with his name on it. It was strange to stand in that sweltering park and see his name again.