As a child, I heard May 31st described as “Decoration Day.” My family would get together and go to the cemetery where my brother was buried. He had served in the Army and was deployed to Panama.
Although I was two years old at the time of his death, I remember the flag that draped his casket. It looked huge, and I remember how my mom cried as the casket was lowered into the ground. I was too young to understand.
In 1996, Memorial Day took on a new meaning for me. That year, I went to Washington, D.C.
There I was walking towards the Viet Nam War Memorial Wall. From the hill, I could see the entire wall. Something within me wanted to reach it quickly, but it seemed like I was walking in slow motion. I could not get there fast enough. So many names. So many deaths. When I reached the wall, I laid my hand on the first section and didn’t want to move away. Tears began running down my face. Then it hit me.
Had I been born a boy, my name could very well be on that wall. This is not being sexist but a reality of that time. I was not drafted or in the lottery because of my gender.
A few days ago, I went to the website, The Viet Nam Veterans War Memorial, and entered the year of my birth and hometown in the search engine. It returned the names of the boys who died in Viet Nam; boys who were born the same year that I was born. They were 18, 19, 20 years old when they died. During the Viet Nam War, they were too young to vote.
This is not to dishonor those who gave the ultimate sacrifice in all wars. It’s just that the Viet Nam War became personal for me as I looked upon the Wall. I can’t help but feel that at least one of those boys died in my place.