The summer 2015 class of Newsmax interns hit the streets of Washington, D.C., to explore, report, and learn. This series features a look at D.C., including monuments, memorials, and museums, through the eyes of a Millennial. This piece was written by Erica Baum, a junior at the University of Maryland.
As I stand in front of the Vietnam Wall, I am overwhelmed with one thought that stands out against the others.
That could have been my brother. That could have been my friends.
That could have been me.
As a 20-year-old, the most shocking thing about the memorial is that I can see myself. Literally.
At first glance, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial is a slab of granite engraved to immortalize the memory of the tens of thousands of Americans who served and lost their lives in the Vietnam War. Looking at the stretching black slab of stone that is lined with fresh bouquets of flowers even more than 40 years after the end of its namesake war, seeing the sheer number of names amidst my own reflection is chilling.
“Just the names are so small and there are so many and the space is so large,” Adrienne Haranowicz, 26, told Newsmax.
I cannot point my finger at a name without seeing my reflection amongst the multitude of names, over half of which belonged to an American soldier under the age of 22. The fact that thousands of men younger than me went to a foreign country to make the ultimate sacrifice for their country is both astounding and unfathomable.
The wall, which was designed by 21-year-old Maya Lin in 1981, stands as a harrowing, but necessary, reminder that, had I been born just decades earlier, I would likely have been personally touched by the war.
Looking at the statue of the three young soldiers facing the enumerated names of the fallen and then at the women’s statue depicting youthful metal faces clutching a fallen soldier’s chest, it is impossible not to wonder how Millennials would respond to a war draft today.
“I don’t think that people would respond well because I think that people are used to having more control over their lives now,” Haranowicz, a graphic designer, speculated.
That is not to say that Americans embraced the Vietnam War draft. College protests erupted on university campuses throughout the nation and even led to the Kent State shootings in 1970, in which the Ohio National Guard killed four students and injured nine others after firing into a crowd of protesters, heightening anti-war sentiments.
“I don’t think it would be as emotional as it was back then. I mean we’ve grown in a society where war is all over,” Linda Waffensmith, 64, said while visiting the wall with her husband, who is a veteran.
According to Waffensmith, the wall shows “what our soldiers did for us in the war,” implying that the structure is not just memorializing U.S. forces, but individual men (and eight women), each of whom had their own stories as well as families and friends that mourned for them.
“I really get a big sense of awe,” Haranowicz said.
As an American, the wall serves as a reminder of the men who lost their lives to support their country, even in an unpopular war.
Ken Sarnstom, 64, called the war “an effort of futility” as he searched for a friend and past classmate’s name in the stone.
“I still believe that we need to feel that they all died for a cause,” he said.
Above all, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial does more than remember the Americans — young and old — who served in the war. It is a reminder of the power of American patriotism. Regardless of the Vietnam War’s eventual outcome, the wall shows those who answered their country’s call to service and left behind their loved ones, opportunities, and even their lives.
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