Vietnam Veterans Traveling Wall

This weekend’s celebration of Veterans Day in Auburn, Washington included a traveling Vietnam Veterans Wall exhibit and mobile museum. As a Gen Xer, what happened in Vietnam has always been a part of my life; my generation was born into it and has had to live with the consequences of it passed down through our parents.

The museum put faces on some of the more than 58,000 men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice in the Vietnam War. Next to veterans’ portraits were notes and letters that provided a window into the era that claimed their lives.


A monument at the Auburn Veterans Memorial Park where the Traveling Wall and Museum were stationed. It honors the five branches of U.S. Armed Forces, the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard.


I believe this is the flame that the American Legion lit in a ceremony earlier that morning. In front of the battlefield cross there is a POW-MIA logo and the memorial plaque behind it is dedicated to the astronauts who lost their lives in the 1986 Challenger disaster. My friends and I remember that all too well.


This shows the flagpoles and some of the mural that is painted on the adjacent Auburn Memorial Stadium. It was good to see conflicts like Kuwait memorialized here. Those are my generation’s triumphs and tragedies.


This is the Wall, a half-scale replica of the Vietnam Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C. It was powerful to see men and women find their loved ones’ names on the wall.


The most touching aspect of visiting the Wall was reading what people had left behind. You can click on these pictures to enlarge them and read these remembrances. These memorialize Carlos Guzman Carbajal and Wayne C. Elledge. They were killed in 1968.


Richard E. Martinez gave his life in 1969. His sister wrote, “Dearest Brother, Son, Father, Uncle, Friend… Thank you for the wonderful memories we shared together. You were a light in our lives that will burn forever. As long as life and memory last you will be remembered. Your loving smile, your gentle face. I love you.”


Christopher James Gray’s high school portrait from 1965 is featured here. He died in Vietnam in 1969. The paperwork in the middle says he was the author’s crew chief and was killed the day the author went on Christmas leave. But he didn’t know what had happened to Gray until January.


This is a section of the Wall. Each one of those myriad names represents an American who never got to finish their life because they surrendered it in defense of others.

Once I downloaded these photos I realized this was also a self-portrait. That struck a chord deep within, because my father was very nearly sent to Vietnam but then stationed elsewhere. I would not have been born if he had been sent to Southeast Asia. IMG_0449

Three letters deftly describe the grisly hell this man went through. And for how many years we might never know.


Another view of the Wall looking towards the stadium, where a marching band competition was going on. Despite the horns and drums blaring on one side of the stadium, there was a heavy, almost palpable quiet hovering around the Wall. It was the kind of feeling that permeates your consciousness while padding softly on a pine needle path through a still forest with scores of unseen eyes watching you.


More of the artwork on the stadium.


There were displays inside one of the park buildings as well. Someone made this phenomenal quilt in honor of our military working dogs. Please understand that many dogs have been wounded and killed in war, and some aren’t even brought home to America when their work is done. They are left behind to God knows what fate after serving their handlers so faithfully.

You can learn more about our outstanding K9s here. You can learn how to adopt a retired military dog at this site. I have a friend who works with Soldiers’ Angels and they have a K9 support team.


This token of remembrance, more than any other, summarized just how much the Vietnam War cost us. That is why I saved it for last. There is such a depth in its simplicity and symbolism.

The note says, “Here’s the Coke we were to have together when we got home. It’s a little late, 30+ years. Still miss you. Semper Fi. Bill.”


It was left for Thomas G. Stevenson, Jr., whose life was taken from him in a rocket attack one February morning in 1969 in Danang.


One entry in the Auburn parade had a sign saying that 22 veterans a day commit suicide. If you are a veteran trying to find peace or a loved one who needs to find assistance, there are people who want to help you. See the Veterans Crisis Line website or call 1-800-273-8255.


The bravest are surely those who have the clearest vision of what is before them, glory and danger alike, and yet notwithstanding go out to meet it.



©2013 H. Hiatt/ All articles/posts on this blog are copyrighted original material that may not be reproduced in part or whole in any electronic or printed medium without prior permission from H. Hiatt/

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