The healing power of the wall is well-documented by thousands of testimonials. Its magical, mystical, spiritual properties have awed many pilgrims to that hallowed ground. The nation quickly embraced their memorial to the fallen veterans of the Vietnam War, and I understand it is now the most visited attraction in our nation's capital. I am not surprised.
My story would not be all that special were it not for the fact that I had to be close to the last die-hard hater of the Wall in 1992. It is true, sad to say, that I despised the "black ditch"; those "anti-Vietnam Vet, WWII, Beer-gutted, VFW types" who supported it; the "gook bitch" who conceived it; and the "ungrateful, hypocritical" nation that erected it.
When I first heard about the Wall, the plan that won, and the concept, I interpreted it as an insult, a further degradation of the Vietnam Veteran. Whereas all of our other monuments stood tall and white, in plain sight, and in regal display; the Wall was a black ditch buried in the ground, off the beaten path, and out of sight. I saw a grand evil conspiracy at work and felt helpless to do anything about it.
I fought the Wall for ten years. I avoided it even during several trips to DC. I would leave a room if the Wall was discussed, and flip a channel at the sight of it. For ten years I resisted its pull.
In 1992, for reasons I could not understand--nor could my wife--I boarded a bus with a two week excursion pass and no particular destination, no agenda, and little money. I zig zagged my way across America and ran out of time in Alexandria, VA. After two weeks of living on a moving bus, with nothing but my thoughts for company, I still had no idea what I was doing or where I was going. I just knew I had to keep going.
I boarded the commuter train into DC the following morning and began walking. I walked and walked and walked some more. I walked from early morning to near nightfall with only one purpose in mind: to keep walking. My footprints covered the mall from one end to the other and on up into Arlington National Cemetery, but never near the Wall. Late in the afternoon, for no apparent reason, I stopped. To my left, across the street, Vietnam Vets displayed souvenirs on tables and black POW/MIA flags stirred in a gentle spring breeze. I could see people descending into the ground. Others ascended from the same point in a somber procession.
My aching feet refused another step that did not lead to that point. Eventually, I carried that bile down the long ramp, turned to face my reflection, reached out, and was crushed.
With a simple touch to a black marble wall, I was reduced to a blubbering organic mass in Reeboks, huddled against the base of a towering slab of names, convinced that I was the most pathetic creature that ever cast a shadow. When I could regain the use of my limbs, I crawled, then stood, then stepped over the chain barrier, then ran into the copse of trees nearby, hid myself and wept.
When the tears could flow no more, I still could not face the Wall. I slinked away without looking back. The Wall, however, was not done with me. It sucked out the poison but the healing had just begun.
I returned to the wall the following morning, dressed properly. I feared another humiliating breakdown, but my feet carried me down that long walk. I followed. With trembling fingers, I touched his name once again. My knees held. I felt warmth, comfort, love, and the presence of a dear friend once thought lost forever.
I spent the entire day in silent communion with my old buddies, had rubbings made, and talked to tourists and my brother vets. The Wall laid to rest the demons that haunted me, the quilt I suppressed, and the pain that numbed my heart. The Wall healed my spirit and returned hope and confidence. I emerged from the pit and stood tall and proud, surveyed the symbols of the country I once loved more than life itself, and loved again.
To Maya Ying Lin, all I can say is, "Forgive me."