No Name on the Wall

"No Name on the Wall"

by Suzanne K. Braun

Copyright 1994 Suzanne K. Braun, All Rights Reserved

It was a warm, bright day in Washington, D.C., as the taxi slowly pulled to a stop to let me out. The taxi driver pointed out the window and said "It's over there." As I got out of the taxi and began my approach to The Wall, I felt as if I was making a solemn pilgrimage to a holy place. As I slowly walked down the path toward the monument, tourists with cameras around their neck whisked by me chattering about the best angle to get a photo.

As I grew closer, I was overwhelmed at the sheer size and shape of the monument. I had always thought of war monuments as tall spires made of limestone with guilded letters that stood as stark and impersonal reminders of a conflict fought so very long ago. The Wall immediately vanquished that notion in my mind and began to take on a life of its own.

As I approached to within several feet of The Wall, I felt as if I was approaching an alter in a church and thought that I should kneel and bow my head. I began to read the names on The Wall and was struck with the idea that I had just begun to read a book that had no ending. What a ridiculous idea I thought - every book has an ending. The seemingly endless Wall began to overwhelm me; and as the clicking of the cameras grew louder behind me, I became annoyed at the lack of reverence that the tourists seemed to show. I wanted to turn to the throng and yell 'If you want a photo opportunity then try the White House' but I didn't, I just kept walking and reading.

I glanced down at the base of the monument where the green grass met the black granite and saw that some people were laying bouquets of flowers in tribute while others were placing letters there. I wondered what the letters said; and who, if anyone, would ever read them. I also wondered if the writers of those letters really intended that they be read or were those letters merely written as an attempt to cleanse their souls. I walked on.

When I reached the pinnacle of the monument, I looked up and felt as if I was looking straight into the heavens. The sun was warm on my face, and I closed my eyes. As I opened my eyes, there appeared before me a woman who was reaching out and touching a name on The Wall. She touched the letters, one by one, and then ran her fingers across the entire name. I watched in amazement as she pulled from her bag a pencil and a small piece of paper. She put the paper over the name that she had so gently caressed and with the pencil, began to rub back and forth until the name on The Wall appeared on the paper. She slipped the paper back into her bag and walked away. I reached out my hand in an effort to touch The Wall, to see if it held some magical healing powers that I was unaware of; but just as my fingers were about to touch it, I quickly withdrew my hand and stepped back.

I was shocked by my own action--it was as if my subconscious had suddenly overtaken all of my conscious thoughts and actions. I began to feel anger boiling within me. I suddenly felt short of breath, and the faces around me started to blur. I walked on a few feet farther and stopped and looked at the names again. I was breathing hard by now, and tears were filling my eyes. It had finally hit me - my brother's name was not on The Wall. I knew that when The Wall was erected, but it didn't really hit me until I tried to touch it. Tears began to run down my face, and I started to panic and began looking around for somewhere to hide, for somewhere to collect myself.

I walked away from The Wall toward a stand of trees where I thought I could just sit for a few minutes while I gathered my thoughts. I felt so utterly alone. The anger within started to overtake me, and I became frightened of myself. I reached in my pocket for my sunglasses to hide the tears that were streaming down my face. The anger was becoming uncontrollable - I thought I was losing my mind.

My thoughts were becoming more bitter and angry by the moment, and it felt as if my head were going to explode. All I could think about was the fact that my brother was shot in the head in Vietnam; but because he died stateside and not on foreign soil, his name was not on The Wall.

I began to think about all the hundreds of thousands of people who had and would walk by The Wall, reading and touching the names, and realized that because my brother's name wasn't there, no one would ever read his name or touch it. My brother had suffered so terribly, both physically and emotionally for so many years before he finally died; and now, his name wasn't even on The Wall as a tribute to him - he was just another Marine buried in his hometown cemetery, and no one would ever know his name. I buried my face in my hands and sobbed uncontrollably.

As the bitter thoughts continued to race through my mind, I began thinking about all those young soldiers that I knew in the Naval hospital and the VA hospitals over the years, some of whom died in those hospitals, and the rest who left there only to meet their end somewhere else. Who was going to remember their names? As I tried to get a grip on my emotions, I glanced back at The Wall and tried to tell myself that The Wall was there for everyone who served, regardless of where they died; but I just couldn't stop thinking that, without his name on The Wall, my brother's suffering and death would go unnoticed forever.

As I turned and started walking away towards the street to hail a taxi, I began to curse The Wall, saying I would never come back; but I knew deep down inside that I would, and I did, and I will again.

To this day, however, I still cannot come to grips with the fact that while my brother's immense suffering and death were the direct results of his injury sustained in Vietnam, his name is not and never will be on The Wall even though it rightly should be. I carry within me the burden that I alone have been left behind to remember his legacy. But when I am gone, who will remember him? While I cannot write his name on The Wall, I can write it here. Please read my brother's name written below. Maybe some of you will even reach out and touch his name on your computer screen - I know I will.