In September, the Vietnam Wall Memorial travelling exhibit arrived in Verdigre, Nebraska, a Northeast Nebraska Czech community known as the Kolach Kapital of the World. I'd seen the exhibit about 15 years ago when it was in Norfolk, but I ventured to Verdigre with my parents to see the exhibit again (and for a kolach at the wonderful Verdigre Bakery).
We turned into the park and found American flags proudly lining the drive to the exhibit. There were white crosses, representing each soldier from Nebraska who was killed in the conflict.
Arriving at the entry tent, volunteers were available to help visitors find a specific name and guide them to the wall panel where the name is listed. We looked up a former student my mom had taught in Clay Center and a young man from my dad's hometown of Wausa, Nebraska.
The wall itself is an impressive sight: black panels, spanning what seems like the length of a football field, with what also seems like thousands of names etched into eternity, angled into a slight 'V' shape. Reflections of the past staring back at you. It is a spectacular sight.
But there is also something peaceful about it. I've seen pictures of the actual monument in Washington D.C., and people come and leave mementos for the fallen soldiers: flowers, stuffed animals, cards and letters. A few such exhibits of affection and remembrance were at the base of the travelling exhibit, and I wonder if more were there by the time the exhibit left four days later.
Schools from the region visited the wall, and that also made me wonder: Do these students realize the sacrifices these men and women made? Do they even study the Vietnam conflict in history classes? Occasionally, there would be several students standing in front of a panel, an uplifted hand tracing the etching of a name. But most students hung back. Is it out of fear of the unknown? A lack of knowledge about this dark time in our nation's history? Or is it because it hits too close to home? How many of these students are six degrees of separation from someone fighting in Iraq or Afghanistan?