On Veterans Day 2010, my husband took our children, three young grandsons and me to Arlington National Cemetery. He wanted them to see and hear how our lives had been over 40 years ago when we, young newlyweds, arrived at his first military assignment The Old Guard. We passed his former barracks, the parade field, the Officers’ Club, and the chapel from which he and his Company daily performed so many funerals for too many young heroes.
As we walked the paths through the cemetery, our grandsons, ages 5,6, and 8, stopped frequently to kneel beside graves and read inscriptions. They whispered question after question to their PopPop. He softly spoke about Veterans Day, war, soldiers, and love of country, as he answered each one.
Walking the length of The Wall, the little boys quietly held onto their grandfather’s hands. They wondered about the pictures, small stuffed animals, flowers, letters, and mementos placed in front of some panels, and why a young man was etching on a paper. Their small fingers traced into soldiers’ engraved names. Standing back, each grandson noticed his own reflection, then the faces of people walking behind them. Looking higher, they gazed up at the sky and images of white clouds drifting across black granite.
Thousands of veterans were at The Wall that day, standing around quietly talking among themselves. Many wore denim, leather, or field jackets decorated with military patches and badges. Others wore caps that identified their units in Vietnam. Upon seeing a small group with 1st CAV insignias, my husband instinctively moved towards them. The family stayed back and watched them shake hands.
For many years I have noticed that when Vietnam War combat veterans greet each other, a look of shared loss almost too great to bear often passes between them. Many of you have seen that too. Though our experience as an Army couple lasted only 3 years, its effect on us was profound. Almost half a century since the war ended, that look that surfaces in them so easily, continues to haunt me. And it became a compelling reason why I wrote Prelude to Reveille: A Vietnam Awakening,