The Wall

The park was luminous; the wind swept up and shook the deep auburn leaves that clung by their last stringy thread to the old stately trees. Red and gold foliage were the colors of the leaves last breathe against the cold blackness and finality of the wall. The black granite Viet Nam wall that stretched long and lay buried in the earth. I felt alive in the cool Washington D.C. air. I felt lucky to be alive, while one boy I knew and had laughed with lay engraved in gray print on the wall. It was confusing to look at, to find a name. The dates of the first deaths started in the middle and went to the tips, an open crescent. The dates and names on each end joined up creating an invisible circle.

I knew this war, this was my war. I was 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22. I scanned. I looked for his name. A year ahead of me, I knew he had died right after he left high school – 1965, one of the first.

A gangly tall boy, happy, always had a smile on his face as I'd be walking down the darkened hallway at my school.

"Hi Linda, how's it going girl? Need a ride tomorrow? Pick you up at eight."

"Wow, sure, that would be bitchen, manana!"

What a nice guy I'd think. Maybe not so bright, but always kind.

We didn't date or even consider it. I was good friends with his younger brother too, just pals, hello, what’s happening, good-bye. I wasn't surprised when he volunteered for Nam. No big college prospects. His father had been a General with three sons, all expected to go down the military path. He was encouraged in that direction.

I stood in front of the wall, tourists were streaming around. I wondered if they also knew someone carved in to the wall. Flowers, wreaths, and notes. I cruised the names, looking for his. There was an older couple, late 70's standing gray, staring, frozen, imagining what could have been, their grandchildren lost, buried in a Veteran's graveyard or their spirit wandering forever on Asian soil.

I couldn't find him, but I stumbled across the book at one end of the wall. The book of names, the date they died, the place of origin, the platoon. Early in the war, soon after he left school, I looked for Bennett.

Then another scene came into my mind. It was 1968 and my twenty-year-old boyfriend and I stood in front of his white round refrigerator in his Los Angeles apartment. He looked awful. His hair was greasy from days of neglect; his skin had a bumpy rash from no washing. I helped dress him. His dirty cords were too short and his white socks showed off scuffed up oddly paired shoes. His faded shirt's buttons were mismatched. He hadn't eaten in 3 days. He slowly opened the door and grabbed the tabasco sauce and drank the whole bottle. Soon it would be time for the xray that would indicate ulcers. This would be used at the draft headquarters to get him out of the war.

I found Danny's name in the book. Bennett, Daniel Joseph, 19, male, single. Hometown: Beverly Hills, California, Casualty date: July 17, 1965, In: Quang Nam, South Vietnam. Hostile ground, Casualty gun, Small arms fire, Body was recovered. Location: Panel: 02E Line: 38. I walked over to the panel, he was up high, the sun was in my eyes. I got up on my toes, I stretched my hand to touch him, what was left of him. He graduated high school in June 1964 and lived only one year and one month before he was ground up by this machine. A medic in a helicoper, saving or shoveling up some of the other names on the wall, maybe two guys down and one over. His life cut so short, and here I am with my beautiful husband and two children, I had time and he didn't.

by Contributing Poet:     Linda Jassim   Copyright © 2014
      ( First published in   2015 )

Bio:   Linda Jassim   earned her Masters of Fine Arts from the American Film Institute in Communications and Film Directing and received a Masters of Landscape Architecture from the University of Southern California.
Former Chair of the Arts Commission in the City of Santa Monica, Linda also had an extensive career as an EMMY award winning TV and film Producer and Director where she produced and directed over 90 productions.

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