Monday, May 24, 2010

LZ Lambeau

Veteran's Cemetery, Beloit, WI

This past weekend, the football field in Green Bay, WI, was transformed by an event called LZ Lambeau, a welcome-home celebration for those Wisconsin veterans of the war in Vietnam, many of whom never received a welcome home before. Some were spat upon. Many had psychological problems, such as PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder); having suffered some from PTSD myself, albeit to a much lesser degree than any war veteran, I give them my empathy.

Had I not been involved all weekend in Madison with concerts and meetings, I would have gone to the LZ Lambeau event, no question. I probably would have met some old friends there: those men and women just slightly older than me, who survived the Vietnam War. I was approaching the age of having to register for the draft when that unpopular war came to and end. The War affected my entire and childhood and teenage years; it was on TV all the time, I was having to think about it all the time, you couldn't avoid. The Armed Forces recruiters were allowed in those years to come into the high schools and give batteries of aptitude tests, and to try to recruit from among the students. I took a series of those tests; I was told that I was in the top 1 percent of those tested (I never fully understood what their tests were looking for), and they tried hard to recruit me. I was polite in my refusals, although silently inside my own thoughts I was suspicious and mistrusting. I told the truth when I said that what I wanted to do was go to college, which is what I did; and then the war, and the draft, were over. So even though I didn't go to war, the war was everywhere, affecting everything we saw and felt and did during those years. And for years afterwards, there was confusion, and horror at home. Veterans were not embraced with open arms; they were not welcomed home. In some cases, they were vilified and rejected. Some never survived the return "home," and died by their own hands, or in situations in which they made their own deaths happen in other ways. A loss of a whole generation of men and women, wasted.

rose at the Moving Wall

I haven't been back to visit Washington, D.C., in many years; so I haven't stood at The Wall, the Vietnam War Memorial. The next time I'm in D.C., that will be my number one priority. In the meantime, the Moving Wall has visited my small town in Wisconsin, on its gradual progress around the country. I visited it, in the rain, when it was last here, and was deeply moved by it. This image of a rose placed before the Moving Wall, in memoriam, in my very town, just reminds me that war affects everybody, everywhere. There is no escape.

There are still broken hearts to be mended. Perhaps there always will be. It has been my highest hope that some veteran, attending the LZ Lambeau event, will find some sort of peace, some quite healing, some soft grief, and be able to go with their lives, changed for the good.

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Blogger Jim Murdoch said...

I’d never heard of that before, Art. Not sure how I feel about it. Every town here has its war memorial. I can’t say I’ve stood in front of one and felt anything but then I was never bought up with a reverence for objects. It’s what I find so hard to grasp when it comes to Catholicism, the veneration of things. I’m not against erecting something to help us remember but I hate the idea of having to go and stand before something to remember. I went with a guy once to visit his mother’s grave at New Year and watched him pour out a shot of whisky and put it on her gravestone. I never said anything but I didn’t get it. But then I’ve never been one for ceremonies either.

5:06 AM  
Blogger Art Durkee said...

Most war memorials are crap: self-serving patriotic evocations of nationalistic fervor. What made the Vietnam Memorial in D.C. so different, and so controversial, is its simplicity.

It is a long v-shaped trench dug into the earth, two wings of stone with walkways. The walls is made of polished black granite, into which are inscribed the names of those who died, in slabs organized by year.

Why the Wall works (that's nickname, it's official name is the Vietnam Memorial) is that, as you look at the names inscribed in the stone, the mirror-finish reflects your own face back at you, and also reflects those around you, so that anyone standing there will see their own selves among the names of those who died. It's a powerful way of making connection with those who died. People often break down in grief, when visiting the Wall. And there are almost always things left there, mementoes and little memorials. I understand they've built a whole building to store all mementoes that have been left there.

People need ritual and ceremony. It's how that mark changes in their lives, and it enables them to move on rather than stay stuck in grief, or in the past. Everybody has little rituals and ceremonies they practice all the time, whether or not we call them that. Public ceremonies tend to be bigger and more bombastic, but small private rituals, like leaving a flower at the Wall, are no less significant to those who enact them.

11:13 AM  

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