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Always Remember Those Who Have Sacrificed

September 17, 2009
By Jamie Probst, MSW

As I write this article I am staring at a most beautiful though haunting sight. It is not every day that I watch the sun rise, and indeed an even rarer event where I do so while staring at the names and memories of over 58,000 people.

You see, it is 6:15 in the morning, and I am currently sitting in the fallen heroes tent overlooking the Vietnam Moving Wall that is being hosted by the Brocton American Legion. I am here as a volunteer grief counselor during the Midnight to six am shift, one which few people wanted to be awake for.

But I don’t mind. For me it’s a chance to have a more private encounter with the memory of those who are no longer with us. It has now been over 50 years since the first American soldiers died during the Vietnam War.

Even with the passage of time, tears are still flowing freely here. For some the memories of Vietnam are lifetimes ago. For others, those memories are as fresh as they were the day they were made.  I’m far too young to experience any more than second and third hand stories from those days.

But here at 6:15 a.m. in the cold, damp morning during the final hour of my six-hour shift these stories flow freely like fine wine, many of which have only grown richer and more flavorful as time has gone by.

For those unaware the Moving Wall is slightly larger than half size version of the original memorial, which has been travelling the country since 1982. The Vietnam wall itself is comprised of 58, 228 names, all American soldiers who died in combat or who are still missing in action. Our own Chautauqua County is home to 50 soldiers who died during the war.

As the sun crested the tree line I began my final walk along the wall this morning. Walking along I felt the urge to run my fingers over the engraved names on the blackened aluminum panels, which now shine in the rising sun.

58,228 names, but much more than simple names. 58,228 lives, 58,228 families, 58,228 futures.

 It is easy to think of casualties of war as simply numbers, but they are more than that. They are friends, husbands, mothers, brothers, uncles, aunts, grandparents, and children. People who had hopes and dreams of what their lives would be. With the rising sun comes a slight fog that rolls across the open grass.

Flowers, photographs, and letters all lay neatly against the black monument. A sign to all that these soldiers and what they have done for us has not been forgotten.  After solemnly walking past these men, I return to my car to go home to bed. Part of me is relieved that my shift is over. Part of me feels guilty, as if I am leaving these men and their memory alone in this darkened field. I am returning to my routine, and my life, while these men and many of their still living friends are able to do neither.

I don’t claim to be some prophetic person, especially at my young age. But I think I do know one thing. People always talk of giving meaning to a person’s death. I don’t personally feel you can give meaning to death, death is simply an unavoidable part of living.

All men and women are destined to die, that is something we cannot escape. But while all of us die, not all of us truly live and do something great with our lives. It isn’t death we should be giving meaning to, it’s life.

The sacrifices these men and women have made do not diminish in importance over time, and their names should not be forgotten. Instead of treasuring them on certain special occasions, we should be treasuring them always. Every day. Their lives have helped countless suffering people to find something better than they might have otherwise, and that must never be forgotten.

I am truly honored to have spent so many hours here at the wall this weekend meeting so many heroes. If there is anything that I have learned from my time at the wall this weekend it is this: Greater love hath no man, than he who lays down his life for his friends.


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