I would have addressed this letter to The Wall, as requested by the Full Disclosure campaign, but, let's face it, this corner of Constitution Gardens has never meant more than Panel 2W to me. Since I first stood on the cobblestone near the vertex of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, transfixed, late at night in 1984, my focus has always been 2 West. In fact only a millisecond of blind luck, much later at night, prevented my name from being one of the 685 exploited service members immortalized on this particular slab, chronologically arrayed behind my aging reflection.
Over the years, whenever I scanned row after row of Panel 2W's forever young, from apex to a reverent half-kneel, my line of sight always gravitated to Row 122 and the etching of best friend and childhood protagonist Richard C. Halpin's "special place in history." And like so many Vietnam combat veterans I have always second-guessed my chance exclusion from such "prominence" with every visit. A row 121-123 inscription of my own should have resulted from another shoot down the same night forty-three years ago over the Gulf of Tonkin. The missile should not have missed my aircraft, but it did. I should not have been that lucky, but I was. And decades later, sheer terror has morphed into a reminiscent "Why me?" hybrid.
The Wall has never been a friend of mine, certainly never revered. Now more tourist attraction than sacred ground, and decades after its commemoration, it ranks high among the US military's most effective recruitment tools, right up there with the National World War II Memorial. Someday even surviving reluctant warriors will have their own Honor Flights, with top priority given to the frailest Vietnam vets, those most inflicted with Agent Orange maladies. Think of the endless marketing opportunities for the next fabricated fight for freedom.
Like all war tributes though, the Wall and future walls will omit the victims - innocents caught in fields of fire; the millions of demonized "others" who will die to expel US invaders; and the countless casualties on both sides, living and dying for decades to come, like discounted detritus.
But 2 West, my friend, we'll always have our special bond, sharing it only with aging family members and acquaintances. I'll see you soon, but again don't expect tears. Grieving never seems to help.