Since my return from the Vietnam war in 1972, I have visited the Vietnam Veteran Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C., and the Rolling Wall (portable panels, half the size of original wall), both in Lexington, Kentucky, and Rockport, Maine.

Each and every time, I was completely mesmerized by the eerie quietness of our dead — 58,220 etched names glared back at me. It was a piece of sacred ground, like our Arlington National Cemetery. As I passed each etched name, in review, stopping briefly here and there, tenderly touching a few names, I saw the magnitude of our dead, the cost of war, losing a decade of talent and promise. And behind each name, I saw something else — my name was not there! Yet, my shadow was in each panel, reflecting my image.

I wondered, “Why him or her? Why not me?” I shadowed every name. My survivor guilt, if left unchallenged, could easily surface, spiraling me into the depths of depression. But, I choose to be a survivor, not just a victim.

Looking over my shoulder, I saw widows, mothers who raised babies alone, sons who never enjoyed sports with their dads or daughters who never danced with their dad. War had robbed so many of so much. The Wall knows that grief is a bleeding agony. Will it never end?

Yet behind each etched name reflects the images of loved ones and the hope that their generation’s promise and potential may be fulfilled. Those images ensure that we post, serve, guard, defend and protect.

The Wall is a poor substitute for a life, but it is a recognition of those who gave their very spark and essence of life. Uniforms from many countries change in style, design and colors, trying to glorify war. Young men and women, primed with the vigor of life, dressed to supercharge their valor. Many military forces will do battle, yet only death awaits, and the Creator, in His mercy.

Robert G. Harris Jr.

CH(COL), USAR (ret.)

Farmingdale