The Great Wall of China is the longest structure ever built. Its total length—including branches—is about 4,500 miles. The wall consists of sides made of stone or brick filled with earth. It’s top is paved with bricks set in mortar. It was erected entirely by hand. The wall was begun approximately 220 years BCE, and construction ended in about the mid 17th century AD. About 50 miles of the wall remains as a tourist attraction that draws thousands of visitors daily.
The Great Wall of China was built to keep Mongol nomads out of China.
The Berlin Wall was built in 1961. It was about 26 mile long, and was made of massive concrete slabs that varied from 12 to 15 feet in height. Pipes, barbed wire, and other obstacles were installed on top of the wall. The East Berlin side was fortified with armed guards, guard dogs, barbed wire, electric alarms, mines, and trenches. East Germany, backed by the Soviet Union, built the Berlin Wall to prevent East Germans from emigrating to the West. The wall came down in November, 1989, and in October, 1990 Berlin was reunited into a single city. Several sections of the wall will remain standing as memorials.
The Berlin Wall was built to keep people from escaping to freedom.
There is another wall, near the Lincoln Memorial, in our Nation’s capital. It is 493 ½ feet long. It is 10.1 feet high at its highest point, and dwindles down to eight inches in height at each end. It consists of 70 panels where over 58,000 names are inscribed on the black granite. The wall was finished in 1982.
The statue of the Three Servicemen was added in 1984 and the Vietnam Women’s Memorial in 1993.
On the wall the known dead are indicated by a circle and the still missing by a cross. The Vietnam Memorial Wall is the most visited memorial in Washington.
There are now several of the “Moving Walls,” that are moved around the country for patriotic events.
Now do you see how easy it was going to be to write this speech? A wall in China to keep people out? A wall in Berlin to keep people in?
And the Vietnam Memorial Wall, built for what? Just why was this wall built? If you ask a dozen people, as I did when I emailed several of my friends, you will get opinions like the following: To make up for the first war the Nation ever lost; To atone for the mistreatment of VN Veterans; To acknowledge, even to expiate, a collective guilt; To cleanse the national conscience.
There is some truth in each of these answers.
Think of WWII Veterans. They were welcomed home as heroes, with parades, and properly so. Korean War Veterans, unlike WWII Veterans, were generally ignored upon their return home, but they weren’t maligned in the streets.
However, Vietnam Veterans were not only not welcomed home, we were maligned, by the very society that sent us off to war. Can you understand that many of us are still angry at the way we were treated?
The idea for a Vietnam Memorial didn’t come from the Government.
In the late 1970s, when the effort for the memorial began to gain attention, the Nation hadn’t yet decided that VN Veterans really weren’t monsters that delighted in killing innocent peasants, especially children. The memorial was built because Vietnam Veterans demanded it.
Jan Scruggs, himself a VN Veteran, started the movement to build the memorial. He did so with minimal public support. But the idea grew, like a spark, fanned by VN Veterans themselves. If the country wouldn’t welcome us home, wouldn’t honor us, we would create a place where we could welcome one another home, and ascribe honor to each another.
So the wall was not built to assuage national guilt, to atone for our nation’s losing its first war, or in response to a public perception of a need to unite the country. At least not in the beginning. It was toward the end of the project that the government and the public adopted the wall as a way of helping to heal America’s wounds.
At this point I ran into a blank wall while writing this speech. So I put my notes aside for a couple days.
After a while I realized that I was answering the wrong question. The question isn’t why the wall was built; like the Great Wall of China to keep people out; or the Berlin Wall to keep people in. It doesn’t matter anymore.
The right question is, what is the function of this wall now? What purpose does it serve? It is a healing wall.
It is a place for us: for the thousands who returned with the deep wounds of buddies lost, and with minds scarred deeply by the unforgettable carnage, and with the worst hurt of all—being treated like second-class citizens by many who wouldn’t raise a finger for America, let alone die for her.
It is a place for us: It’s a place where we can meet a comrade, rub our hand over his name, and tell him that we haven’t forgotten. It is a place for us: It is a place where the cultural constraints against “unmanly” behavior are loosened and we are set free to feel, to remember, and to grieve.
It’s a place for us: It’s a place that bestows honor on heroes once maligned by fellow citizens, where we can experience deep pride in the service that we gave. It’s a place for us:
It is a place of ritual release, where we can look deeply into our souls, deal with the anger and loss, and find poignant closure.
It is a place for us: It is a place where all veterans, whenever their service, can come an reestablish the warm and exhilarating camaraderie that we experienced while wearing the uniform.
It is a place for us: It has become a place where our national leaders gather on patriotic occasions to honor all of America’s veterans.
But it is a place for us: It has become an altar at which the nation expresses regret and asks forgiveness, and where the veteran experiences exoneration, and finds peace.
It is a place for us: I want to close this speech with a song that I wrote. It is a fictionalized account of my love and respect for a neighbor and good friend who died in a fiery helicopter crash in Vietnam in 1967. It’s called,
The Ballad of Monkey Jones
The first time I saw Monkey, He was walking ’cross the street,To welcome us into the neighborhood. Monkey was a sergeant, And I a new L T He tried to teach me everything he could. He was always kidding, And having lots of fun. That is how he said he got his name. But trouble was a brewing. The Asian war was on. And good times never can remain the same. Now Monkey loved his country, And thought that it was right, Regardless of the protest in the land. So when his orders sent him, To Vietnam to fight, He knew the time had come to take a stand. We shipped out together, To face our destinies. Our families came to see us on the plane. We thought what we were doing, Would make some people free. We went to Nam completely without shame. One early jungle morning, A heavy firefight raged. Mortar shells were raining from the sky. I heard Monkey screaming, And crawled up to his place. He said, “LT, I’m surely gonna die.” We stopped the blood from flowing, And bandaged up the wounds, And loaded him into the med-e-vac. But when the chopper vanished, Into the dark monsoon, I knew that Monkey wasn’t coming back. Within our Nation’s capital, There is a long black wall, Where heroes’ names are etched into the stone. Among the many thousands, Who heard the Nation’s call, I found the name of James Montgomery Jones. I bowed my head in sorrow, With memories in my mind, Of youthful dreams that we had shared back then; And knew that I would never, Be fortunate to find, Another time, so wonderful a friend. The years have covered over, The bitterness and pain. The Nation chose to take a different turn. But as I remember Monkey, The question still remains, What lesson does the Country need to learn? To seek for every person, A rich and better life. And swear the Nation never must again, Send its youth to battle, To suffer and to die, In any war that we don’t have to win.
Which brings me up to date, to now, this ceremony with you. We are in a war that we HAVE to win. On September 11, 2001 our country experienced another “Day that will live in infamy.”
Not to belittle the suffering and death at Pearl Harbor, but September 11, 2001 was worse than December 7, 1941.
Evil men killed 3,000 of us. They claim that their cause justifies their violence on innocent civilians, that they are acting on behalf of God.Well, my Muslim friends assure me that Islam doesn’t support such murderous acts.
These men hate America, and are determined to destroy us. They must be defeated. Our government has deployed our sons and daughters to a far away battlefield to find and kill these murderers. We cannot tie their hands, as was done in Vietnam. They must be given every support.
This is a war that America has to win. This wall is stark testimony to the folly of fighting without the will to win. And I refer to the lack of will on the part of our political leaders, not on those who served, sacrificed, and died in that effort.
Since September 11 I have found myself going often to a passage from the Hebrew Scriptures, Isaiah 54. I share it with you now, and perhaps it will come to mean as much to you as it has to me.
"In Righteousness you shall be established. No weapon formed against you shall prosper."
I claim that promise, made to God’s ancient people, for America.
Oh God, make it so!
My fellow veterans, proud patriots, I salute you, whichever your war. The camaraderie that we treasure, the buddies that we lost, the sense of sameness that we experience, the honor we had in wearing our country’s uniform, the sharing of common hardships and challenges, is a bond that I will cherish to my dying breath.
Thank you, and God bless you; and God America!
Henry Lamar Hunt PO Box 463 Candler, FL 32111