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.
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.