It has been over a year now since my encounter at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial with the young DC motorcycle cop and the orange flames...but my amazement at the bizarre events still lingers. What followed my out-of-character assault on the police officer's small body and large ego, remain to this moment so inexplicable, that I consider them a mystery.

If you recall, my anger and dissociative "out of body" experience resulted in a "415"--cop talk for a disturbance of the peace--which in this case, involved several DC cops, Park Rangers,Secret Service agents and me! Following the eruption of orange flames, I found myself and my flowers unharmed, but very physically restrained in the midst of a circle of angry, adrenaline-pumping cops. I on the other hand was no longer in the grip of my orange rage. There was no anger left, no fear, just a fuzzy, confused feeling--like I wasn't comfortably grounded in my own body yet. I was however, very much aware of the physical sensation of many potentially dangerous hands still on my body, holding me in place. I could sense the intensity of the moment and actually feel the contained, and very controlled threat that surrounded me. Yet at the same time, I had no energy left in me to react. I felt extreme sadness, and was resigned to the fact that I had tried to deliver those flowers but failed. I was also certain I was probably on my way to jail, for having hit that police officer.

I looked at those angry faces surrounding me and said "Oh God, Ican't believe you aren't going to let me take these flowers to the memorial!" I closed my eyes and leaned into the flower wreath as the tears began to stream, silently and uncontrollably, down my face. At that moment of total resignation and hopelessness, I felt their hands suddenly drop away from me. I opened my eyes and saw that all the officers had stepped back, leaving me alone with my flowers in the circle they still formed around me. Then I heard a man say "It's OK. I will personally escort this lady to the memorial". By this time, my knees were wobbly, my eyesight blurred by salty tears, and my hands too shaky to pick up the wreath. I sensed rather than saw the presence of a very tall, friendly person in a dark suit standing next to me. (I never really looked up to see his face, I don't know why.) He spoke again with authority, reassuringly, as he said "It's OK. I am here to help you. Calm down. Take a deep breath. Pick up your flowers and follow me."

I was comforted and relieved at the sound of his voice, and by his repeating "I am here to help you." In a few minutes I was able to control my tears, and wobbly rubberknees, but try as I did, I could no longer pick up that floral wreath I had wielded so effortlessly just moments ago. Finally, he reached in front of me and picked up the wreath. "Come with me", he said quietly. He walked just a half step or so ahead of me, but so quickly that I had trouble keeping up. As we approached the last "check point" manned by yet more Smokey Bear-hatted rangers, one of them stepped forward to say, "Sorry sir, no more flowers, the area is full." My tears had just begun to fill my eyes and sting again when I heard my escort say, "Secret Service".
"Yes Sir, right this way Sir. Where would you like them placed Sir?"

It was like watching Moses part the Red Sea! Barricades were shifted, people were moved aside, space was made, and all with two little words "Secret Service". How simple! Why hadn't I thought of that? At that point he asked me if I had a preference where the flowers should go. I replied, "It doesn't matter as long as they are near the memorial." He then walked away in the direction of the memorial, carrying the wreath to one side of him. The crowd closed in around me again, and I lost sight of him. I waited, and waited, but he never came back for me. I stood there numb and confused. " Where is he?" I wondered. "I am under arrest aren't I?" I waited for what seemed a very long time. In my confused state, I was still afraid to move for fear of being pounced on again. Finally, my head cleared and I said to myself-"Dummy don't just stand here! If he had intended to arrest you, you would be in jail by now. There is still so much to do. Get going!"

So I did, and no one made any attempt to detain me. What a relief! After all, I probably should have been arrested for my unruly behavior that day.

I went back to my hotel, had a double scotch to calm my nerves, and then rejoined my Special Services friends in our hospitality suite to watch the day's events on the evening news. I told them about my frightening experience with the orange flames, and said I hoped the flowers had made it to their destination after all. One of the women spoke up and said, "They certainly did! An earlier news clip of the dedication ceremonies ended with a close up of our wreath. You could read ARMY SPECIAL SERVICES on the wreath as clear as day!"

"Could you see who was carrying it?" I asked.

"No. All you could see was the wreath--the Birds of Paradise actuallymoving across the bottom of the screen and then BINGO, there it was, the full close up of our wreath!

You couldn't see anyone behind it, carrying it. It just seemed to pop into view right in front of the camera. We thought you had arranged it!"

"No' That wasn't my doing," I explained.

"Who was he?" they asked.

I don't know. Was he just a tall, helpful, Secret Service Agent, I wondered? A "faceless" Guardian Angel in tweed, as some of the women later speculated? Or perhaps the whole affair was simply a distortion of my imagination? Where did the flames come from? Did I really see and feel them? Why didn't I look at his face, or ask his name? I don't know--the day was so emotionally charged--I was overwhelmed. But one thing is for certain. Something out-of-the-ordinary did happen to me at the Wall on the day I encountered the Orange Flames--a mystery.

Cathleen Cordova
Vietnam 1968-1969
Army Special Services