John and Jessie

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Who are John and Jessie? Pretty good question. Very good question. And the answer is, I don’t know. Here’s what I do know. Both were men, most likely youngish and fit. Both were American. Both traveled outside the United States and both were killed in Vietnam. How do I know this? Well John was the first American killed in that conflict and Jessie was the last. Still, how do I know this? Well, the traveling Vietnam wall came to my home town and I visited it last night since I’d never seen the wall at night. And there was John and there was Jessie. The first and the last. Forever etched and forever cut short.

Whenever I see a memorial like that, with the names carved quietly into stone (or hard plastic in this case) I can’t help but imagine the screaming anger and justified indignation behind each name. They were birthed, grew, barely scratched the surface of their lives before whoops, time for war and time to die. There is so much weight and domino effect behind those names. And not just those names, but the uncarved names of the myriads of people who died in violence and war and battle and pillage. Those who do not get a memorial and even the name, cause and time period of their quickened death has been forgotten. So many stolen chances.

Looking at that wall, and trying to see people instead of letters, I can’t help but grin a little and remember that yes, they died, but they were still people. Goofs, assholes, honorable, douche bags, intellects, nerds, athletes, orphans, geniuses, jokers, introverts, artists, romantics, pessimists, farmers, economists, joyful souls and dour spirits. I look at those names and hear the staccato pronunciation in the voice of a Drill Sergeant and the laughing tease as friends take and misshape a name into a dirty joke or dry insult. So many lives hurtled unwillingly toward that wall. Splat into death and cultural immortality.

There are so many meanings and interpretations and soul searching to be done at a place like that. The usual thoughts arise such as “It’s not fair.” “What a waste.” “Those poor parents.” “No more complaining about getting old since I get to do it!” “Better not waste my life since they lost theirs.” And other and sundry such thinkings. All that is of substance, but that was not the primary thought on my brain as I knelt in the grass and watched the flame from the torch reflect off that dark wall. Nope, my thought was a selfish, bitter tasting longing. “I want one! I want a wall!”

These men who died, I honor them. Deeply. Yet none of those names belong to faces I knew.

It is called the healing wall. I want a healing wall. Or if not a wall then something to see and know and trace my fingers across the names that contain the heartbeats and laughter and fights and panic and jokes and shared long boring days and impulsive snowball fights and de-pantsings, and pranks and fear and disgust and sweat and long hard days of work and…and the lives! Their lives! Something to see and touch again. Something more than the remembered empty boots and dangling dog tags. Something tangible. Something I can stare at and rage at and, God help me please, weep at.

24 thoughts on “John and Jessie

  1. What a moving post — thank you for sharing. And yes, we all should have a healing wall…or maybe two or three, just for good measure.

    Beautiful writing…so well deserving of Freshly Pressed. Congrats! :)

    • Indeed. The deaths of any should be honored and remembered. After all, death is the final of all final prices.
      As for politics…well, I’m a bit a-political. Not a fan or hater of either. I do hang around people who affiliate with both parties, and from that experience, I am unwilling to agree to sweeping ‘never’ or ‘always’ statements.
      And I’ll definately check out your site! Thanks for stopping by.

    • It does seem so doesn’t it? I also tend to think that it’s a sort of self-preservation technique. After all, to try to comprehend the horrors of violence and war to everyone who has experienced them is…well, aweful.

  2. powerful words.

    this is the first time i’m hearing of the travelling vietnam wall. just reading a bit about it now on wiki and getting chills. such a moving and powerful initiative to honour these men. thank you for sharing!

  3. Times are different, but those walls continue to add names. My husband is deploying soon and my biggest fear is his name on a wall, a plaque, a symbol of sacrifice. I don’t want a symbol of sacrifice, I want my husband, as so many others do. Even though our husbands are still on earth, though not with us, we still desire something to yell at, scream at, and cry at. This was a powerful piece, thank you.

      • Thank you, dear. It’ll be the first one for our family and thankfully he kids are excited about it. We’ve told them that daddy is doing to be a superhero and fight dragons lol It keeps them from being sad about it (at least at first) and keeps them thinking happy thoughts about their dad being a soldier. We don’t let them watch movies or video games that portray soldiers violently. We don’t want them to have that image of daddy in their heads, ya know?

  4. Sarah

    The Vietnam Memorial is the only war memorial that has ever moved me to tears. My heart goes out to Notes from the Backseat and I hope her husband returns whole in mind and body. How we can continue to have wars after we’ve seen the devastation is beyond me.

  5. Very nice post. I am old enough to remember that War, the controversy and the aftermath of soldiers that made it back. Two of my sisters husbands served, survived and returned home, neither were the same after. One died at 30 and left my sister with two babies to raise alone. The other suffered substance abuse for years, finally worked through it after he divorced my sister, became a talented sculptor and remarried yet again. Lives were lost and damaged whether they served – or not.
    My sister and I raised two of the best daughters a soldier could ever wish for. They visit his grave, have photo’s of him in their homes, tell their children of him, his life, his loves. He did not die in combat, he died on American soil. There is no wall with his name on it, but there are walls with his images. Smiling, holding his girls, as babies, his wife and all the remains of what that war did to him in his face. He was a brother to me and I miss him still today.

    • Thank you for sharing your story. I’m glad that those girls had aunts to take them in.
      PTSD is the invisible wounds, and a horrid one. While it is now recognized, there are precious few answers.
      I feel forever grateful to the Vietnam vets, for the path they paved against the bias of a society so that current vets reap the benifits.
      I am sorry your family had to endure such losses.

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