Friday, June 11, 2010

Miss Ellen Takes Me to a Peaceful Place

This week, unbeknownst to me, Miss Ellen had an agenda. On Monday she went South instead of North and East instead of West. We ended up in a fabulous green park with sidewalks, trees, water, and wild ducks: a restful place.

The Vietnam Women's Memorial
Two minutes later, I saw Glenna Goodacre's very fine statue of the women of the Vietnam War. This is our nation's Pieta: one nurse holds a soldier in distress. One nurse grieves. One nurse stands, looking for incoming rescue or disaster. Her back is straight. Her hand is on the first nurse's shoulder. 

The Wall
I parked Miss Ellen in the vicinity of the Lincoln Memorial and went there first (to discuss another day). Then I ventured to the Wall.  It is just as magnificently stark and stern as ever, just as reflective of the surroundings as ever. The grass that grows there is green lawn, but has the look of nature, not a golf course. The visitors are all casually dressed, of all races and family situations. Strollers. Canes. Walkers. A lot of tennis shoes and cameras.

Red carnations lay below the names. Tributes are still laid there: one page with a pink plastic Rosary for all the mothers who prayed for their children in Vietnam. One class must have visited, part of a field trip. Each student had written something to the soldiers and left a gift. One model of a Navy destroyer was accompanied by a note:  "because you had to be tough outside and had life within".  An angel Christmas ornament. "My favorite from my collection, the one my grandma gave me, she is in heaven with you."  Those were the ones that I remember.

Also, there were a few petitions. Not large petitions, as you might make for a saint to cure your disease or get Uncle Tommy to straighten up, but petitions that they watch over our soldiers now. That they help guide us that still live. The reflection begins at the wall's polished granite and extends to its visitors.

The Vietnam Veteran's Memorial Wall states, and explicitly limits, a stark truth. Its starkness causes people to respond to it. I remember how afraid many people were to have Maya Lin's design built, because it was something new in style, not fluffy or pictorial, not creating grandeur. I love this memorial because it creates greatness out of simplicity. It invites us to answer back. It influences us to touch our own better nature.  Ms. Lin had in mind the feeling of an epic poem, a list of warriors such as in our great mythologies, and she was right. But I don't think she could have known the personal response it would call forth, year after year, even  from people who have no memory or connection to the war.

The Three Soldiers
The Three Soldiers' statue by Frederick Hart is undergoing restoration. Parts of its bronze has worn away. In a sensitive move, the statue remains on-site, in a temporary building with windows, so you can still see it. It looks like the restorers clean up after themselves daily, so that we get the best view possible. What I saw, the arms of all three, their veins almost lifelike, are losing luster. I had the feeling those arms had been stroked many times by those seeking to recapture, momentarily, the people they loved.

The National Park Service is taking good care of our memory and heritage at the Vietnam Veteran's Memorial. I found Miss Ellen. She and I passed through the green and trees again, listening to the evening calls of water birds.


The Bug said...

It is peaceful. But so HARD.

Ann T. said...

Dear The Bug,
Yes it is, I so agree. The three artists have managed to convey so much.

Thanks for stopping in and
Have a Great Weekend!
Ann T.

The Observer said...

Ann T:
Thanks so much for this. I've never seen the real wall. I have seen the traveling wall. Even in miniature, the simple structure of a wall of names is incredibly moving.

The itty bitty town where I went to high school lost a child to 'Nam. The man's sister taught in my school and his father drove the school bus. When I found his name on the wall, I felt the loss a little more closer.

Someday, I hope to go to Washington DC to see everything. Meantime, I'll let you be my virtual tour guide--ably assisted by Miss Ellen, of course.

The Observer

Ann T. said...

Dear The Observer,
I love seeing these things. I think residents sometimes don't take advantage of the good things in their cities, and I have been really bad about that.

Sometimes the pictures don't turn out. The summer vacation season has begun, so many of the monuments are too crowded for an unobstructed view. For instance, in the Lincoln Memorial, the more expensive post card is a better shot--well-lit, and unimpeded. But being there, even when it is crowded-- you feel the space, the awe, and the solemnity. It's truly grand.

I would say the same for the Vietnam Memorial. Both need people, but both are awesome (in the traditional sense of that word).

Thanks for writing in,
I will probably write about it again sometime.

Ann T.

Bob G. said...

Been to the wall a few times when I lived in philly.
Don't get there at all these days out here in Indiana..
. I felt as though I was right back there again.
(a sobering experience to be sure)

Beautifully conveyed.

Ann T. said...

Dear Bob,
Thank you for those words. I agree that it is sobering. I took much hope in the offerings of the school field trip, that it will continue to be relevant for another set of generations.

Thanks for stopping in!