Sunday, May 29, 2016

Other Wars; Other Warriors: Korea and Vietnam

 The Vietnam Memorial

  I remember when the Vietnam memorial was being built--A long v-shaped wall of black polished stone with names and names:  those who had perished in the conflict. There it was, just like I had seen it in countless pictures, with, occasionally, a newly placed bouquet of flowers, and children making a pencil rubbing of what I supposed was their own family name.

Since the original wall was dedicated two statues have been added:  One of three solders, standing and looking at the names on the wall, and one of three women soldiers tending to the wounds of an injured comrade.

The Korean Conflict

For me, one of the most moving of the memorials in DC was the one depicting the Korean War. Not because I have any family connection or any thing like that. No. It was seeing all the Korean tourists there. They seemed to make up over half of those who were visiting that day. It seemed to me that quietly they paid an unspoken tribute. They read the plaques in silence, looked into the pool, and posed for pictures in front of the 19 huge statues of soldiers who wearily plod through a terraced field to arrive at a tree-shaded arbor. Beside the soldiers runs another black, polished wall, like the one at the Vietnam memorial, but this one has no names--just faces.  They look out at you as you pass, so full of hope and life and duty, and valor and weariness, fear and resolution.  They seem to mingle with the reflections of those walking by and join in their lives, so to speak, as well they might. For there are many who live and walk the earth who owe their lives to those faces in the wall. The reflecting wall also reflects the nineteen soldier statues, turning them into thirty eight with their parallel images, which is an ironic way of symbolizing the 38th parallel.

I don't speak Korean, but I wondered what the visitors were saying and thinking. Perhaps they understand better what was achieved in their country by that hurried coalition of peacekeeping countries who fought alongside them to attain the border--an uneasy front against invaders. While we sometimes call it a war of truces or a half won war, they still feel gratitude for the fact they have had years of freedom, albeit in the shadow of their neighbor to the north, one of the harshest totalitarian states in the world today.

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