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August 12, 2011 > Remembrance and honor

Remembrance and honor

Controversy is certain to engulf the United States military when embroiled in conflicts which demand that men and women [and their families] are asked to sacrifice, sometimes with their lives. The prime directive of our nation's military is to defend and protect the United States from enemies, foreign and domestic. This nation's resolve has been tested throughout history, even today, but U.S. involvement in Vietnam came at a particularly sensitive moment. Worldwide communications were growing and expanding, enhanced by television reporters embedded with troops on battlefields, sending real time news in the midst of war.

Those at home could watch raging battles as they sat down to dinner each night. The cruel reality of human suffering was unveiled and reaction toward government actions, troops and the philosophy that propelled the U.S. was called into doubt. Anguish was felt throughout the nation; soldiers were often mistreated by their own country and its citizens. An unsatisfying conclusion to hostilities only heightened the lack of closure. As a memorial was planned to honor those who served, it too sparked controversy; what could adequately express the commitment, honor and sacrifice of those who had served during such a tumultuous time?

Among the entries for a memorial, a stark set of panels was proposed that simply listed the names of lives lost. When constructed, those who visited the memorial were immediately struck by its simplicity and powerful message. Visitors were moved to make rubbings of their loved one's name or a comrade in arms. Others left mementos to express emotions that could not be put into words. Visits to Washington, D.C. almost always included this site and few could come away unmoved.

The problem for some was that although they wanted and needed to see and feel the strength of this monument, distance, health or other factors prevented the trip. There was little to adequately substitute for the experience. Solving this dilemma was not an easy task but Tom and Dee Twigg, both veterans, have done it through a traveling replica of the Vietnam Veterans' Memorial Wall. This downsized display includes all 58,129 names of fallen soldiers and the aluminum panels, side-by-side, extending 46 feet from end to end, reach across decades and generations, both inspiring and heart-breaking.

Tom patiently sits at a computer nearby fielding names and branch of service from visitors who then can visibly see friends, family, loved ones inscribed forever, leave mementos or simply remember. Even those too young or removed from those years, are moved, feeling the power. The somber mood is heightened by murmurs of "thank you" expressed over and over again. Catharsis is palpable; the power of even this replica undeniable. Some come to the "wall" claiming no connection to it, but Tom reminds them that all of us really do whether recognizing a name on it or not.

Through a twist of fate, the traveling wall began where it should have, within the roots of our country. Honoring their historic and cultural ancestry as Native Americans, Tom and Dee attend a Pow Wow at Ft. McCoy in Florida twice a year. At these gatherings, joy was muted with regret by veterans as they thought about missing "brothers in southeast Asia." Dee was asked in 1994 to do something special and, without any idea of what to do, she made that promise.

Easter of 1995, usually a time of family gathering, two members of the family were unable to come for a traditional meal. Visibly distraught by the prospect, one of her children asked Dee why she was so unhappy. She replied, "There is a void there and I am lonely." Her daughter's response, thinking of other dinner tables and missing family members, was prophetic, "How about the parents of MIAs." That instant was the genesis of the dinner table display that evokes images of families waiting for a missing member to come home. Symbolic items are on the table and each can be explained by Dee including black roses, a uniform and butterfly.

Unveiling the dinner table tableau, at the Pow Wow, one woman immediately left to bring her mother, who was very ill, from Georgia to see the display. People were leaving mementos at the table and by the time the woman and her mother returned, the table was overflowing with added items. The old woman, breathing with help of an oxygen tank, said she would like to leave something too. Her only request was to not let what she left touch the ground - two bronze stars and a purple heart! "My son is on the wall in Washington, D.C. and I know I will never get there to put them there but this is an appropriate place."

Dee made the woman a promise that if she came back the next year, the wall would come to her and collect those precious medals. "Our first wall was 12-14 feet long and had little panels we copied from a book," says Tom. "We decided that there were many people - veterans and non-veterans alike - at educational institutions, VA hospitals, and other places that needed to see this wall." This was the beginning, but just as the wall has grown and increased in size, its message and power has no end.

Bringing Home the Wall
Thursday, August 10 - Saturday, August 13
10 a.m. - 6 p.m.
DeVry University East Lawn
6600 Dumbarton Circle, Fremont
(510) 574-1200

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