Who will memorialize nameless war victims?
I’ve looked at photographs of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall. I’ve never actually seen it. I can’t bring myself to visit because whenever that monolithic black granite structure enters my dreams, I see nothing but the horror of the unnamed: the thousands of children, their skin ablaze and oozing droplets of napalm; the untold number of women who were raped and murdered; the staggering number of grandparents, their lungs burning from Agent Orange, who somehow managed to survive the onslaught of the colonial French only to die trying to protect their families. They took cover in ditches and rice paddies as B-52s out of Thailand dropped more tons of ordnance than were used during the entire Second World War.
Then there’s the “guerrillas,” those who fought with the Provisional Revolutionary Government and those who traveled down the Ho Chi Minh Trail in their struggle to rid their country of the invading imperial armies of Western democracies. Let’s not forget the people of Laos, Cambodia and Thailand.
Those 58,286 names on the Wall pale in comparison to the unnamed. This fact doesn’t diminish their memory, rather it places their existence within its proper historical context, among millions of people who died at the hands of politicians without morals and corporations intent on profits. I remember the chants on the streets of Washington in October 1967 – “Rich men lie, GIs die” – and it’s the same today as it was then. We haven’t learned a thing.
Memorial Day has always been a difficult time for me, a weekend of fury watching endless news stories about graveside salutes wrapped in red, white and blue. There aren’t any memorial days for the unnamed. There aren’t any memorial days for the thousands of deserters and draft resisters who refused to participate in the slaughter and yet are vilified as traitors and cowards. No one says, “Thank you for your service,” to those of us who spent years in prison or exile.
I’m sorry I won’t be with you this weekend. I just can’t do it. There are too many ghosts hidden behind each of your names, and even after 40 years I just can’t shake their memory.
Bruce L. Beyer