Vietnam. The name still haunts and, at its mention, a well of emotion rises to the surface from the deepest places within. To this day, I can hardly read about, talk about, or, just now, write about Vietnam without the feelings coming back.
The war. My generation can easily be identified by our knowing recognition of which war is being referred to by this common shorthand. For us, there will always be "the war." It ended our childhoods, focused our lives, commanded our energy, and defined our relationships to our country. The civil rights movement and the war raised us and caused us to grow up.
The wall. A black granite slash in the earth has come to symbolize our pain, gather us together, and begin the process of healing. It is a place like no other, a "monument" different than all the rest. We are drawn to it in some inexplicable way. Fifty-eight thousand one hundred and eighty-three American memories linger here, along with those of millions of unnamed Vietnamese. In a sense, all of our names are somehow written there.
THE VIETNAM Veterans Memorial was 10 years old this November. The same month, the first American president who was against the war in Vietnam was elected. Bill Clinton may have fudged on the facts of his draft history, but he never equivocated on his opposition to the war. That was something you didn't waffle about; it was just too important.
Coming to realize that your country was wrong was a very painful thing for young white Americans who had been taught that it never was. That passage to adulthood shaped a generation, defined friendships, and established covenants.