May 29, 2012

An old man visits The Wall

 A little preview of "The Raven Lunatic" for newspapers, written on Memorial Day 2012. Look closely in the picture, and you will see him walking away.

Time had caused the old man to stoop a little, but he didn’t look nearly as old as his eighty-two years. He walked with confidence even with the slightest limp..
He had been to The Wall before, but he wanted to go again on this warm spring day with his children and grandchildren. The crowd quieted as visitors walked down the hall toward the low, black stone monument.
While many of his high school friends served in the military, the old man kept the home fires burning. During World War II, he was too young to serve. And he didn’t go to Korea as he was 4F, born with a handicap that kept him from service.
Though he did not glamorize war, he held the American military in the highest esteem and raised his children to do so. As a younger man, he and his wife traveled to France to see the cemeteries of Normandy and the sands of Omaha Beach. He often quoted Churchill, “Never was so much owed to so few by so many.”
The old man was a teacher for more than 35 years. He loved his work and he loved his students. On his first visit to the Wall in 2006 with his wife and daughter, he carefully sought out the names of the three boys he taught, the three boys from his small town who never came home from Vietnam.
Today he wanted to find the name of one boy, a boy who had been a neighbor. This time was different because this time he came to The Wall without his partner of more than 56 years who had passed away earlier in the year. He wanted to find this boy because his wife, who was also a teacher, taught this boy in second grade in a tiny, rural elementary school that closed just as the wave of consolidations came to Indiana.
The page in the roster book with the boy’s name on it was missing.
The old man continued his slow walk down the hill where more than 55,000 names etched into the stone of those who served our country and never got to go on a walk with their own grandchildren on a spring day. The Wall plaza was peaceful and quiet, always free of politics and derision, a place that remembers the dead who gave the ultimate sacrifice.
One of the many veterans who volunteer at The Wall approached the man and asked him, “Are you looking for a particular name?”
The old man gave the volunteer his former student’s name. The volunteer had a mobile device,and tapped in the young man’s name.
The soldier escorted the retired teacher to the place where the young man’s name was on The Wall, surrounded by hundreds of other names of American soldiers, young, old, white, black, Christian, Jewish, Muslim, from rural America, from urban America.
Though the old man had been talkative all afternoon, telling his two young adult grandsons historical items about Roosevelt and Lincoln, and sharing their awe with the new Martin Luther King Memorial, now he was quiet.
He took his left hand and placed it on the young man’s name while the volunteer read the young man’s death date and place from his mobile phone.
He was only twenty-two years old when he died. The boy who grew up on a Whitley County farm died a man thousands of miles away in the steamy jungles of Southeast Asia.
The old man still did not say a word. His family, including his two twenty-two year old grandsons who benefit in freedom from the sacrifice of all Americans in all our wars, walked quietly behind him,
The old man wept for the lost student, and quietly walked up the hill and out into the sunshine of the National Mall.
© Amy Abbott 2012.