Vietnam Memorial Reminds us that Life is Beautiful

When we leave offerings at shrines that honor our forbears, we "speak to the dead and the place of the dead in our culture." That's according to University of Michigan professor Kristin Hass, who wrote a book in 1998 on the practice of leaving messages and mementos at the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, DC.

Since the memorial was completed in 1982, "it has become a de facto shrine with more than 100,000 offerings for the dead and messages from survivors left by the millions who visit it each year," according to USA Today.

The National Parks Services catalogues and preserves all the non-perishable items left as offerings at the wall. "It was unheard of for people to come to a site over a protracted period of time and leave objects," said Duery Felton, the collection curator and a Vietnam veteran.

When we speak to the place of the dead in our culture, we're really talking to each other. We're saying that it matters that we are here and that life is precious. This might account for the overflow display of memorabilia on the fence of St. Paul's Chapel near Ground Zero. When we shout "I love you," into the thin air, we hope not only that our departed loved ones will hear but also the stranger beside us. So precious is the gesture that these mementos have also been preserved for museums, according to The New York Times.

We loved, we love, we are worthy of love. We are here. That is all; that is everything.

Though the practice may be new at war memorials, it is not new generally. Two obvious examples make the point. In biblical times, graves were marked by piles of stones. , To this day, Jewish people leave stones at the graves they visit to let others know someone was there before them.

Hikers do the same thing when they add a stone to a cairn trail marker. Adding a stone offsets the effects of severe weather and preserves the marker that it might help guide the next hiker through the woods. Cairns remind us we are not alone and the need to care for each other is timeless.

If a war memorial can remind us that life is beautiful, then it's a beautiful thing. May it challenge our leaders to provide for us a war worthy of our humanity, which is to say no war at all.

A Veteran's Day Reflection from Mr. Lundwall


  1. God Bless the Veterans!

  2. Thanks for dropping by at my blog. Had the chance to visit the Vietnam Memorial in Washington D.C. many times. The memorials are truly inspiring and reminds us of many beautiful and sacrificial lives gone before.

  3. Anonymous6:33 PM

    thank's for your service,so we can be free To all veterans

  4. Anonymous7:18 AM

    The wall helps, but I cannot forget returning from Vietnam and being spat on, and called a "baby killer". Then I found out that the war was limited to the 5:00 news, and it was part of dialogue only as a punchline.

    It's the same today.

  5. Thanks for your thoughts, Greg. Your comment got me thinking about my father, who served in the Army, and the other dads of his generation. As a kid, I assumed everyone's dad served in the military. All my friends' fathers did. That experience left its mark in the shape of self-respect, responsibility, discipline, high standards, and (especially with my dad) punctuality.

    I learned from my Uncle, who served in WWII, being a soldier is nothing like the glossy military propganda. Rather, it's about (here's an old world) chivalry. That's a big concept that requires recognizing, first, that the world is bigger than any one of us.

    When we took my uncle to the submariners' WWII memorial in Groton, CT, he was wheelchair bound and silent from his stroke. All he could do was point to her brother's name among the lost whose names were inscribed there. Broke my heart. To love and be loved in that way is everything.

    You're a man of character; thank you for your service to home sweet home.

    God bless.

  6. I remember the first time I went to the wall. It really hit me in the gut.

    greg, sorry for what you went through. I know its a little late but thanks and welcome home, solider.

  7. Anonymous10:42 AM

    Sandy, thank you for your story and thoughtful, kind comments.

    Digital, it is nice to hear those words after all of these years. Sincere thanks!



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